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Published: Monday, November 9, 2009, 12:01 a.m.

A few gems among the rubble of Washington’s season

Despite their losing record, the Huskies have reason for optimism

If the University of Washington football program was looking for an appropriate scene to reflect its 2009 season, the images that unfolded at the Rose Bowl late Saturday afternoon would have been a perfect fit.
There, while addressing a frustrated fan base in a short-of-capacity venue, the head coach took his place behind a microphone and promised those in attendance that he had things headed in the right direction.
“Stick with us,” he said. And then he broke into the school’s fight song, accompanied by the school band and thousands of others.
Except this was not Steve Sarkisian. This was Rick Neuheisel.
The UCLA coach — and, it goes without mentioning, the UW nemesis — was able to provide visual aids to the Bruins fans, having just snapped a five-game losing streak with Saturday’s 24-23 win over the Huskies.
Sarkisian’s post-game address to the media sounded a bit more like an epitaph. He spoke of his disappointment in not giving the senior class a more memorable season, and at times it appeared that, for the first time, Sarkisian had resigned himself to a season of underachievement.
“Somewhere in here, there’s got to be a silver lining of all these games and experiences that we’ve been in,” he said after his team dropped to 3-6 after its fifth loss in six games. “We’re going to grow from them. We’re going to find it.”
But the Huskies, much like Neuheisel’s Bruins, have grown by leaps and bounds this season. The 1-5 record since September’s shocking win over USC has included four games that came down to the final minute. Sarkisian and his staff have adeptly mixed in some younger players — not only to give them experience but also to give the coaches hours of in-game evaluation.
What recent weeks have shown, in addition to a team that’s not ready to challenge for a bowl this season, is that the Huskies do have some building blocks.
The offense has plenty of playmakers among the freshman, sophomore and junior classes, particularly at the receiver position. Sophomore Jermaine Kearse emerged as quarterback Jake Locker’s go-to receiver on Saturday, catching seven passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns, while that role has also gone to freshman James Johnson, sophomore Devin Aguilar and sophomore tight end Kavario Middleton in previous weeks.
Running back Chris Polk, a redshirt freshman, also has a bright future. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound tailback has played through injuries, run hard and shown big-play ability — in Saturday’s game alone, Polk had three carries that went for 26 yards or longer.
The Huskies have also gone young on defense, although that move has yet to pay dividends. Freshmen cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Adam Long have gained valuable experience, while junior linebacker Cort Dennison and freshman defensive ends Talia Crichton and Andru Pulu have shown enough to establish themselves as likely replacements for graduating seniors who are currently in the starting lineup.
The big question, of course, is at quarterback. If Locker opts to skip his senior year and make himself eligible for the April NFL draft — and a few of the so-called experts believe he would be the first quarterback picked — the Huskies might fall back into rebuilding mode for another season. Junior-to-be Ronnie Fouch would have the inside track on Locker’s starting job, but freshman Keith Price and incoming freshman Nick Montana appear to have brighter futures.
If Locker decides to come back for another year, the Huskies could target a winning record as a realistic goal — regardless of how many losses this team has endured over the past seven weeks.
For this year’s Huskies, the big goals seem unattainable. Barring three straight wins at — Oregon State and at home against Washington State and Cal — UW will miss out on a bowl game for the seventh year in a row. The defense has given up at least 400 yards to six consecutive opponents and can’t get a consistent pass rush. The Huskies’ special teams have been inconsistent, and the offense has turned the ball over in some key situations.
Sarkisian does not seem like the type to grab a microphone and plead with the fan base to “stick with us,” but he wouldn’t be too far off base if he did.
The Huskies would still appear to be on the right track, even if they’re stuck in mud at the moment.
And that’s not just Slick talk.
Story tags » Huskies Football

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