Read this in your best John Facenda voice: For seven years now the tradition’s lain dormant. The Huskies have been whipped and submissive, lying with their jowls on the floor of the conference basement, absorbing humiliations at the hands of their once-cowering rivals down I-5. Washington used to own the Northwest. The caravans were gleaming, with purple and gold pennants and streamers flying proudly from the motorhomes, the yachts idling into the harbor with anticipation of woofing glory.
From 1974-86, the Huskies beat the Ducks 12 out of 13 times, including scores of 66-0, 54-0, 38-3, 32-3. The Ducks were pummeled and plucked, suffering through 2-9 seasons and a 0-0 tie with OSU. In the era of Don James, the Huskies were dominating, hated and feared. They signed every good player in the Northwest. They won a national championship and three Rose Bowls. In all James won 153 games, including 10-4 in bowls, a 12-0 season the National Championship year. They went to another Granddaddy in ’92-93, the year he retired, won another in 2000-01 with Rick Neuheisel as coach, 34-24 over Purdue. They followed with a Holiday and a Sun, but things went dark after that. Some controversy, some bad coaching hires, injury and misfortune, until there were no bowl games for eight seasons. In 2008 they reached bottom, an 0-12 season under Tyrone Willingham. Duck fans seemingly had achieved their dream of a Husky-free Northwest.
Fans have short memories. For seven years the Webfoots have owned the Dawgs, but it wasn’t all that long ago that things were completely different. They used to dance on the “O,” spit in our faces, have fans tackle wide-open receivers in the end zone, conspire to vote us out of rightful bowls. The slights and humiliations are dying with a generation that only remembers success. But the Huskies are ready to rise again.
They’ve already started. They hired Steve Sarkisian in December of the 0-12 season, and it didn’t take him long to restore the culture in Seattle. They’re remodeling the stadium. After winning five games and beating USC in year one, the Huskies made a bowl at 6-6 in year two, beating the Trojans in Los Angeles along the way, avenging a blowout regular season loss to Nebraska to finish with a winning season at 7-6, their first in eight years.
Under the former USC assistant the Huskies rediscovered their toughness, with an offensive attack built around slashing 5-11, 222 tailback Chris Polk. Not a burner like LaMichael James, Polk breaks tackles and moves the chains, pounding upfield for 1415 yards last season, including 177 in the Holiday Bowl, and 284 against archrival Washington State in the Apple Cup. Polk’s determination helped forge a new attitude for the team, and helped the defense by keeping them off the field as the Huskies controlled the ball. Washington didn’t have to depend on their erratic senior quarterback Jake Locker, a formula that allowed them to finish the season with four straight wins. The optimism is palpable at Montlake. Husky fans are starting to remember how much fun it used to be to own the Northwest.
Make no mistake, a team that is capable of beating USC two years in a row can beat anybody on their schedule. In September last year Nebraska pounded the Huskies in Seattle 56-21, outgaining them 546-233. Four months later the same Washington squad won 19-7, with the defense holding the Huskers to 189 yards. A team capable of that kind of transformation is a dangerous team. Oregon’s November 5th date in Seattle is the trap game on the schedule, the enticing morsel of poison complacency sets out for greatness.
Sarkisian’s first challenge in year three is that he’s starting a sophomore quarterback in Keith Price, but Locker, nursing a painful rib injury, wasn’t called on to do much for the Huskies in their four-game win streak. At the Holiday Bowl he was 5-16 passing for 56 yards. Against WSU, 14-22 for 226. Polk carried the load. Price looked poised and smart in an emergency start against Oregon in Autzen Stadium last fall. Though on the run the entire game he threw a touchdown pass and didn’t have a turnover. He had to come off the bench cold against USC earlier in the year, when Locker had to come out for a play, and the freshman calmly tossed a touchdown pass. A 6-1, 195-lb. dual threat from Compton, California, Price was recruited by the Ducks out of high school, completing 143 of 200 (.715) passes for 2,260 yards, 24 touchdowns with just six interceptions and rushing for 579 yards and 10 touchdowns in his senior year at St. John Bosco High. He’s a talented athlete who beat out redshirt freshman Nick Montana for the job in spring drills. His best asset as a quarterback? Other than his uncommon confidence and poise, it’s that he has the senior Polk to hand off to. The Husky offense will ride his powerful legs this season, particularly until Price gets more comfortable as a starter.
In all the Huskies return 15 starters, 7 on offense and 8 on defense, as well as both their kickers. Field goal kicker Erik Folk is a dependable senior and should be an asset in close games. He hit a 54-yarder against BYU, a 52-yarder against Oregon, and is second in Washington history with a perfect 63-63 on PATs. Senior wide receiver Jermain Kearse is a dangerous weapon, one of the conference’s best last season with 63 receptions for 1005 yds, 12 Tds. Those are Jeff Maehl numbers. Kearse had four touchdown catches against Oregon State, nine catches, 179 yards and three tds against Syracuse. At 6-2 208 he’s a true deep threat and a physical receiver. It will help the young quarterback a lot to have such a reliable target. Polk also catches the ball well out of the backfield, nabbing 22 passes for 180 yards last year, important because the coaching staff will want to give the youthful quarterback a safety valve and as many simple throws as possible. Linebacker Cort Dennison leads the defense. He had 92 tackles last year.
The Huskies start their season September 3rd at home against Eastern Washington. They host Hawaii and then travel to Nebraska for the rubber match before returning home to face Cal in their conference opener on September 24th, a pivotal game for two schools with new starting quarterbacks and bowl hopes. Sarkisian’s crew has Oregon and Arizona at home this year but have to travel to Stanford and USC.
Expect the Dawgs to be in the middle of the pack, but they are getting more dangerous all the time. One of these years soon, the streak of Oregon dominance will end. If it happens in Seattle, the goal posts will come down.
Interestingly, a pivotal recruiting battle may make a big difference in Oregon-Washington fortunes over the next several years.
In the state of Washington there are two of the nation’s best offensive tackles, Josh Garnett and Zach Banner, two athletic 300-pounders with five-star potential. Both the Ducks and Huskies want them badly, and each player has both schools among their final choices.]