By Christian Caple The News Tribune
SEATTLE — The question was relevant and simple.
Steve Sarkisian’s response was short and telling.
Asked in general terms about California’s defense — which the University of Washington football team will combat tonight at Husky Stadium — the coach quickly made clear he didn’t want to discuss his opponent.
“It’s not about Cal,” Sarkisian said after Thursday’s practice. “This is all about us.”
Point taken. But when the Huskies (4-3, 1-3 Pacific-12 Conference) try to snap their three-game losing streak against the woeful Bears (1-6, 0-4), it will be at least partially about California, whose defense is ranked as one of the nation’s worst.
It’s why many expect the Huskies to win easily, despite suffering blowouts against Oregon and Arizona State in their past two games. Las Vegas oddsmakers peg UW as a 23-point favorite.
The 8 p.m. kickoff time will be the latest start for the Huskies this season. But attendance may be bolstered by the remembrances
planned before the game and at halftime for longtime coach Don James, who died Sunday.
Washington and Cal players will both wear “DJ” decals on their helmets, and UW’s coaching staff will wear a patch on their shirts.
“I think it’ll be a really good atmosphere Saturday night here in Husky Stadium,” Sarkisian said. “I think our fans will be fired up. I know our guys will be charged up. I think we’ll come out with a chip on our shoulder and ready to play good football.”
That likely will mean returning the Huskies’ offense to its run-first roots. Put another way: Bishop Sankey, who needs just 78 yards to surpass the 1,000-yard mark, should have more carries than the 13 he had in last week’s 53-24 loss at ASU.
“You guys know me enough by now (to know) that I love running the ball,” Sarkisian said. “I love giving the ball to Bishop. To go and stand in front of you guys and look at the stat sheet, and he has 13 carries in a critical ballgame in a season, that’s not enough.”
Cal’s defense, plagued by injuries and inexperience, seems susceptible to allowing Sankey a big game. The Bears rank 121st in total defense, allowing 525.4 yards per game. They rank 123rd (dead last) in passing yards allowed per game, 122nd in scoring defense (44.4 points a game) and are tied for 120th in turnover margin (minus-1.6).
“We’re capable of” bouncing back from the losing skid, fifth-year senior quarterback Keith Price said, “We have a good team, a very talented team.”
There had been some question as to wether Price would start, but Sarkisian said during a Friday radio interview that Price will.
Cal coach Sonny Dykes wasn’t sure this week who would start at quarterback for his team, but announced Friday that he’s sticking with true freshman Jared Goff. The Bears do have some decent weapons in the passing game, like receivers Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper. Cal ranks seventh nationally in passing yards per game with 359.9, though their pass efficiency ranks just 80th.
Asked whether this week of practice served as a wakeup call, Sarkisian said: “You get a feeling sometimes one way or the other, then the game comes, sometimes it validates that feeling and sometimes it contradicts that feeling. I’d like to think so, but again I’ll answer that question better Saturday at about midnight, if it was a wakeup call or not.”