By Christian Caple The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian has spoken of this Huskies football team taking “the next step,” moving beyond the mediocre and into the Pac-12’s upper echelon.
That goal will not be achievable for the Huskies (6-3, 3-3 in Pac-12) without victory this week in a Friday night game against 13th-ranked UCLA (7-2, 4-2) at the Rose Bowl.
Sarkisian didn’t want to label Friday’s game against the Bruins, specifically, as a necessary step in UW’s progression as a program. The coach puts the emphasis instead on the entirety of November, which this year the Huskies hope is a month of redemption.
“I think this month is about the next step, quite honestly,” Sarkisian said. “We think we have a great opportunity to close out the season the way we’re capable of doing it, and this is the next game on the schedule to make that happen.”
It will require an uncommon result. The Huskies haven’t beaten UCLA at the Rose Bowl since 1995 — they won more recently in the Rose Bowl game over Purdue in 2001 — and the Bruins haven’t lost there this season.
And UW hasn’t defeated a ranked team on the road since Oct. 2, 2010, when it won 32-31 at No. 18 USC.
The last time the Huskies went on the road was Oct. 19, when Arizona State blasted past them in a 53-24 beatdown that had some UW fans wondering whether the program was, indeed, trending upward.
UW has won twice since, over Pac-12 doormats California and Colorado, bolstering its record to 6-3 while regaining some confidence and giving its starters some needed rest.
They’ll need it for Friday. Sarkisian said he’s “hopeful” that injured safety Will Shamburger will be able to play, though the short week will make it more difficult. And sophomore linebacker Shaq Thompson, who battled a stinger during Saturday’s blowout of Colorado, is “good to go,” Sarkisian said.
Full strength will be a requirement to beat a Bruins team that has lost only to Stanford and Oregon — both teams ranked in the nation’s top six — and recently unleashed freshman linebacker Myles Jack as a running back to the tune of six carries for 120 yards.
Jack, who played at Bellevue High School, won the Pac-12’s Offensive Player of the Week award. And he still played linebacker.
But he’s just one of many talented pieces for the Bruins — sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley and linebacker Anthony Barr among them — who are again a prime contender for the Pac-12 South championship after winning it last season in Jim Mora’s first year as coach.
Win, and the Huskies will be 4-3 in Pac-12 play with a legitimate chance still to win nine regular-season games. Lose, and they’ll fall below .500 in conference play with another difficult road game at Oregon State next week.
“They’re going to make some plays,” Sarkisian said of UCLA. “They’re going to make their tackles, and we have to be able to move onto that next play and focus on the task at hand. For us, from the next step standpoint, it’s doing that and it’s doing that for 60 minutes against a really good football team on the road.”
OSU game time set
It was announced Monday that Washington’s game at Oregon State on Nov. 23 will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. and air on ESPN2.
The Huskies finish the regular season with a 12:30 p.m. game against Washington State on Nov. 29.