SEATTLE - The walk was slow, almost as if it were a trip to the gallows.
The first visible sign of seriousness – of togetherness – the Washington Huskies displayed wasn’t right before kickoff, or in some huddle in the second quarter.
It was right after getting off the team bus almost two hours before the start of the home opener when UW coach Steve Sarkisian directed players and assistant coaches to the “W” in the middle of Husky Stadium for a few words and a prayer.
They were going to be in this all the way, win or lose – slow start or fast start.
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And the Huskies survived an early tumble before hitting the jets and throttling Syracuse, 41-20, in front of 62,418 on Saturday.
With the Huskies going at full speed, big plays followed other big plays – two long touchdown catches by Jermaine Kearse in what was a career day (nine catches, 179 yards, three touchdowns), and a 52-yard scoring run by Chris Polk.
By the time Polk rumbled down the left sideline, with receiver Devin Aguilar the only other player in sight, for his career-long jaunt to give UW a 34-13 lead with 10 minutes, 4 seconds remaining – a week’s worth of angst by the home faithful had expired.
Anxiety that was sensed by the players themselves.
“Whatever (the fans) were worried about, we weren’t at all. We’re a very confident team, and know what we’re capable of doing,” UW safety Nate Williams said. “No matter what anybody said, I was always 100 percent confident. Never did I lose that.”
It just took a while to find it.
The first quarter was a continuation of the 23-17 loss at Brigham Young last weekend – shoddy special teams play, bad field position and little or no emotional spark.
After the Orange was stopped on its initial drive, the Huskies gave them the ball back on Sean Parker’s face-mask penalty before a punt. Eventually, Syracuse grabbed a 7-0 lead on Ryan Nassib’s 28-yard run at the 12:41 mark.
The Syracuse lead grew to 10-0 eight minutes later on Ross Krautman’s 29-yard field goal.
That was when Sarkisian huddled with the offense, and defensive coordinator Nick Holt got into the defensive group to give them a fiery reminder of what the game plan was – so execute it.
“I guess it worked,” UW linebacker Cort Dennison said. “We were two different teams from the first 10 minutes to the last 50.”
Slowly, the offense began moving the ball – and scoring. Erik Folk kicked a pair of field goals to cut it to 10-6.
“Down 10-0,” Sarkisian said, “we stayed the course.”
And the defense and special teams started prying the football out for key turnovers. A second-quarter Syracuse fumble on a kickoff return – caused by Nate Fellner’s hit – led to the Huskies’ go-ahead-for-good score.
On third-and-4, Jake Locker tossed a high pass to Kearse, who brought it in just inside the right pylon for a 5-yard touchdown catch, and the UW led 13-10 at the 4:09 mark.
“I feel I didn’t have that great of a game last week,” said Kearse, whose nine catches all went for first downs or touchdowns. “But I came out strong, and I just tried to get back to where I want to be. I was way more relaxed this week.”
Syracuse had two chances to tie – or in Orange coach Doug Marrone’s estimation, take the lead – in the final four minutes.
The last came in the final seconds with Syracuse holding the ball at the Huskies’ 27.
Marrone called for the offense to take a shot in the end zone, which Nassib never did since he was hit in the backfield and the ball came out for a half-ending fumble.
“I thought we could score a touchdown and get some momentum going in with the lead,” Marrone said. “We lost the time … so that’s my fault.”
Right after halftime, on the play Sarkisian thought “broke the ice” for what turned out to be a splendid half of ball, Kearse took a pass in the left flat, got a block from fellow receiver D’Andre Goodwin and broke two tackles en route to a 57-yard score.
“The first play (of the second half) … kept our team alive,” Sarkisian said. “It was indicative of what we were going to do in the second half.”
The Huskies gained 299 of their 467 yards in the second half.
“I thought we did a really good job as an offense of getting settled in,” Locker said.