By Christian Caple The News Tribune
SAN FRANCISCO — The trip to Alcatraz looked fun. The volunteer services at Glide Memorial Church appeared enlightening. The pep rally was loud.
But now, after a week of activities and a few weeks of consternation over a coaching change, the Washington Huskies are about to play a football game — their last before Chris Petersen takes full-time control as UW’s new coach.
“We’ve had a great week,” said interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo, the former UW quarterback. “The bowl festivities have kind of been a great reprieve from our situation.”
The Huskies can put a positive spin on that situation with one more victory, which would be their ninth this season, their best record since the 2000 season.
Fittingly, Tuiasosopo was a senior quarterback on that team, leading UW to an 11-1 finish and a victory over Purdue in the Rose Bowl. Since UW began fielding a football team in 1889, just 16 teams in school history have achieved nine or more wins in a single season, and nine of those teams were coached by the late Don James. (Included in that total is the 1977 squad, which finished 8-4 but was later upgraded to 10-2 because of opponents forfeits.)
Of course, this isn’t Pasadena, and there’s no Rose Bowl trophy for the winner. But Tuiasosopo is doing his best to get the Huskies to play like the stakes are just as high. He says going against an opponent as strong as BYU should help.
“It’s kind of made our job easy,” Tuiasosopo said. “We don’t have to make up anything to try to motivate them. It’s right there in front of them.”
BYU, which like the Huskies owns an 8-4 record, plays faster than nearly every team in the country. The Cougars are one of just four teams in the nation who ran 1,000 or more plays in their first 12 games, and BYU’s official game notes make mention of the team’s average of 19.41 seconds between plays, the second-fastest pace in the nation.
That effort begins with sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill, who is the team’s leading rusher (1,211 yards) and has thrown 19 touchdown passes this year.
“The big challenge is keeping track of him,” UW defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha said. “You’ve really got to keep your eyes open and not have a tunnel vision because you never know where he’s going to end up. So just being aware of where he is in space and where you are relative to him, (and) just staying low when you’ve got to make contact because this guy’s pretty big, as well.”
Tuiasosopo said he liked the mood of UW’s practices in the Bay Area this week, and credited the team’s graduate assistants — some of whom are filling in for position coaches who departed for USC along with head coach Steve Sarkisian — for stepping up.
Now the only thing left to do is go play. What happens after that — saying goodbye to current assistant coaches and getting introduced to Petersen’s new staff — doesn’t matter quite yet.
What does, then, is the effort of UW’s players for three-plus hours tonight, particularly seniors such as quarterback Keith Price who spent nearly their entire collegiate careers under Sarkisian.
“I think we’ve built something special here,” Price said last week, before the team departed for San Francisco. “And it’s only going to keep going.”
Price and the other seniors came to UW on the heels of what Tuiasosopo called the program’s “lowest point in the history of the school.” That stretch of futility in the mid-2000s included an 0-12 season in 2008.
“Now we’re at 8-4, and my hope as a former player is that the young guys, the underclassmen really focus on that, not everything else,” Tuiasosopo said.