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Once again, the Washington Huskies are looking for answers on the road.
During Steve Sarkisian’s first four seasons as head coach, Washington is a dismal 7-18 away from Seattle, including 2-5 last year. The Huskies haven’t won a regular-season game outside the Pacific-12 Conference since 2007, when they beat Syracuse.
The 19th-ranked Huskies’ first chance to reverse that trend comes today, when they face Illinois at Soldier Field in Chicago.
“We just can’t make a big deal of it,” UW quarterback Keith Price said. “Everyone likes to make a big deal of us traveling, being on the road. It’s a new team. It’s a new year. We’re going to attack it just like a home game. There’s really no difference.”
Over the years, Sarkisian has tried just about everything to reverse his team’s fortunes on the road, including having the Huskies travel in suits. In one of his more awkward attempts to normalize a road trip, Sarkisian brought a live tiger to practice prior to last season’s game at LSU. He didn’t want the live mascot at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La., to be a surprise to his players.
Washington lost 41-3.
That was the end of live animals at practice.
This season — one where increased pressure for a season record better than 7-6 is nipping at Sarkisian — the Huskies face a harrowing road schedule.
After taking on Illinois today, the Huskies’ schedule includes stops at fifth-ranked Stanford, Arizona State, 16th-ranked UCLA and hard-to-figure Oregon State.
If there is hump-jumping this season, it will come through a road victory against a top-25 team, of which the Huskies have just two since Sarkisian took over.
“We’ve been talking about, it doesn’t matter where we play or the weather or the conditions or the field or what uniforms — or any of that,” Sarkisian said. “To do that, I think that has to apply to the way we travel. So when we’re at home, we wear our sweats with collared shirts, and we’ll do that on the road. So we’re trying to find consistency, and I think we’re getting really close to it.”
The return of All-American tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who was suspended for the season opener, should help. As should the new up-tempo offense, which was brilliant in UW’s season-opening 38-6 win over nationally ranked Boise State.
What’s more, Price said he’s seen a mental toughness from this year’s team that didn’t exist in past years, noting that he and his teammates could easily have gone “in the tank” after his first pass of the season was intercepted — but they didn’t.
“It shouldn’t matter where we play or who we play or when we play,” Price said. “I think that’s the mindset of our team. Anytime, anywhere, any place and hopefully it carries over.”
One thing in Washington’s favor is the fact Illinois has not fared well against ranked opponents in recent years. The Illini have lost five straight and 14 of 15 against ranked teams since upsetting Ohio State in 2007.
The Illinois defense turned in a solid game last week against Cincinnati and has been far better than the unit that gave up an average of 32 points a game in 2012.
But the Huskies’ up-tempo offense is likely to be a tougher test than anything the Illini have seen so far. Washington ran 85 plays against Boise State, 11 more than Cincinnati managed against Illinois.
“It’s kind of what the Pac-12 does, trying to get in a lot of plays,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “Communication is of the essence here.”