By Christian Caple The News Tribune
SEATTLE — For all the midseason accolades and eye-popping statistics, there is a simple trait possessed by University of Washington running back Bishop Sankey that most captivates coach Steve Sarkisian.
That is: 40 carries or four, fumble or touchdown, win or lose, Sankey doesn’t change.
“Even when you get after him for something, whether it’s on the field or off the field, he doesn’t blink. He just remains the same,” Sarkisian said. “He’s very calm, he’s very focused. I definitely appreciate that about him.”
If Sankey does indeed remain the same, from a statistical perspective, he could finish this season with the school’s single-season rushing record.
With 899 yards through the Huskies’ first six games — a number that was tops in the nation when the week began — Sankey is 796 yards shy of the single-season UW record set by Corey Dillon in 1996, when Dillon rushed for 1,695 yards in 12 games.
Sankey has at least six games left — and likely seven, assuming the Huskies qualify for a bowl game — to reach Dillon’s mark. And he’s set a high enough pace to think it’s doable.
Well, some might think it’s doable. Sankey says he doesn’t think about it at all.
“I haven’t thought about it yet,” the junior running back said after Tuesday’s practice. “Just trying to take it one week at a time and get ready for each game and try to be productive each week to help the team out.”
Hard to argue with that approach so far. Sankey’s per-game average of 149.8 yards would be more than enough to break Dillon’s record in 12 games. An average of 133 would be enough, too. To set the record in 13 games, Sankey needs to average 114 yards per game the rest of the season.
With an average of 26.5 carries per game so far — including his light, four-carry duty in a 56-0 victory over Idaho State — Sankey also is on pace to break Dillon’s record of 301 carries in a season.
But it’s Sankey’s workload that could determine whether he re-writes UW’s record book. If he continues to receive the same number of carries the rest of the season — take out the Idaho State game, and he averages 31 per game — then it must be concluded that Sankey will have a legitimate shot at the record.
A clearer picture of his chances should develop over the next four weeks. Sarkisian said Thursday that for anti-exhaustion reasons, Saturday’s game at Arizona State — afternoon forecasts call for temperatures in the mid-80s — will feature more playing time for UW’s backups, though it’s not known whether that will mean fewer carries for Sankey.
The Huskies then return home for games against conference bottom-feeders California and Colorado. Neither of those teams plays particularly well defensively. But if UW has big leads in either of those games — a definite possibility, given the matchups — it seems possible Sankey wouldn’t play as much in the second half.
Not that he’d ever ask to come out. Sarkisian said after Sankey’s 40-carry game earlier this season against Arizona — a total the coach said was probably too high — he tried to put Sankey in a yellow, no-contact jersey for the team’s practice the following Monday. Sankey refused.
At the halfway point, the 5-foot-10, 203-pound junior says he feels “pretty good.”
“No injuries or anything like that,” he said, adding that he’s maintained his good health by “stay(ing) in the training room, stay stretching, icing, getting the treatment that I need to get and just taking it one day at a time.”
It became apparent to Sarkisian that Sankey belonged in the “elite” category of running backs last season, when he rushed for 865 yards in the final six games of the season, capped by his 205-yard effort against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
“You just look at the second half of last season into the first half of this season,” Sarkisian said. “I don’t know what those numbers add up to, but I’m sure they’re pretty impressive.”
They add up to 1,764, a total that would set the school record if it were contained within one season.
Sankey still has a chance to make that happen.