By Christian Caple The News Tribune
PASADENA, Calif. — The last time the Washington Huskies won at the Rose Bowl, they won the Rose Bowl.
Yes, that January 1, 2001, triumph over Purdue was UW’s most recent victory in this storied Los Angeles suburb.
To find the most recent win as a true road team over homestanding UCLA, travel back to 1995, when Damon Huard was the Huskies’ starting quarterback, the Kingdome was still standing and Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men were dominating the Billboard Top 40 chart.
There are freshmen students at the University of Washington who weren’t alive the last time the Huskies won here. And for coach Steve Sarkisian’s team to prove that this program truly is trending upward, they’ll have to snap that losing streak with a 6 p.m. game tonight against 13th-ranked UCLA.
The Rose Bowl Game, of course, is where the Huskies want to be in the foreseeable future. But for now, they’ll simply settle for their first win at the historic venue in nearly 13 years.
“To get a taste of the venue in the regular season at some point in their career I think is really motivating,” Sarkisian said earlier this week. “Especially if you go out and you play well.”
That’s the kicker. The Huskies are 1-2 on the road this season, beating Illinois before dropping a close loss at Stanford and getting blown off the field at Arizona State.
There might be some extra motivation from the 30-some Southern California natives on UW’s roster, many of whom will be playing in front of more friends and family than usual.
Sophomore receiver Jaydon Mickens, who played at L.A.’s Dorsey High School, said he’s hoping to have “a little student section there for myself,” and that “it’s going to be a fun show.”
The bigger-picture view, of course, takes on more importance. A victory could change the tenor of the Huskies’ season. It would be their seventh win, a benchmark that could then be surpassed with wins next week at Oregon State or the following week against Washington State.
A loss would bring the same kind of criticisms the Huskies — and Sarkisian — have received for years: they can’t beat good teams on the road. They’re a 7-win team, nothing more. They can’t win the games that matter.
That makes this one matter a little more, especially given UCLA’s national ranking and unbeaten home record.
“It’s real special to see my parents and talk to some long-time friends I haven’t seen in a while,” said UW senior safety Sean Parker, a Los Angeles native. “But we’re going down there to play a game.”
And playing at the Rose Bowl for the first time?
“I’ve been there and I’ve seen it before,” Parker said. “I just haven’t played on it. This will be my first time. But I’m poised. Just ready to play.”
The Huskies better be. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is a strong passer who also leads the Bruins in rushing, the kind of player who could give the Huskies’ defense fits if they don’t figure out a way to defend him better than they did Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, a dual-threat guy with a similar style.
The teams seem to match-up well statistically, and, as Sarkisian said, they possess similar numbers in some of the most important categories — turnover margin, third-down offense and defense and red-zone efficiency, to name a few.
“I think these are two good football teams that are getting ready to play,” Sarkisian said. “I think in these types of games, execution is paramount. I think the football is paramount, and then ultimately the team that can make the play, make the play at the critical moment, I think is going to be vitally important.”
Not just to winning, but to the Huskies’ progression as a program.