Sankey a warrior, but UW must be wary of wear, tear

SEATTLE — Five minutes after the final whistle, when the postgame TV interview was over, the last Washington Husky player on the field made his way up the tunnel and to the locker room moments after the rest of his team had already done so.

And fittingly, Bishop Sankey was running.

Just in case a school-record 40 carries wasn’t enough work for the junior running back, Sankey decided to leave the field in a near sprint, 50 or so extra yards on top of the 161 he gained earlier to lead the Huskies to a 31-13 victory over Arizona.

“He’s a stud,” right tackle Ben Riva said. “We’re lucky to have him.”

The Huskies are indeed fortunate to have Sankey, who has now gone over 100 yards in seven of his past nine games, dating back to last season.

They also need to be careful with him.

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian knows he must balance the desire to give the ball to one of his best offensive weapons with the need to limit the pounding Sankey takes over the course of a season. That’s why after Sankey’s 35-carry performance against Illinois, Sarkisian told reporters, “That’s too many carries for him over the longevity of the season.”

So if 35 is too many, what the heck is 40 carries? On Saturday, with sheets of sideways rain mucking things up, it was a necessity, though one the Huskies had better hope they don’t have to repeat.

The season is still young, and conference play is just getting going, but early on these Huskies look like a team finally ready to get over the seven-win hump, like a team that could perhaps be ready to contend with heavyweights Stanford and Oregon in the tough Pac-12 North — though we’ll find out a lot more about that in the next two weeks.

But if the Huskies are going to continue to be explosive on offense and be among the conference elite, they’ll need a healthy Sankey to do so, and as Sarkisian himself knows, that means there can’t be too many nights like this.

And while Saturday’s crazy weather played into Sankey’s work load — the Huskies ran the ball 61 times — there is another reason the running back has had massive workloads in two of the past three games: the Huskies run a lot of plays. And if they’re going to go up-tempo all year, that means Sarkisian needs to go out of his way to mix other running backs into the game more often.

“That’s critical for us,” Sarkisian said. “We will continue to get more out of Jesse (Callier). He’s been impressive, he’s getting better and better and better, we saw it there late in the ballgame. We’ll probably implement him more early on, and we need to find that third guy. We need to get Dwayne (Washington)’s confidence back and we need to get (Deontae Cooper) really taking that next step, too. And again, I don’t know if we’re going to have another game this year where we rush the ball 61 times. That’s a lot of rush attempts.”

So yes, the Huskies would rather not have a repeat of Saturday night when it comes to Sankey’s workload, but they sure were glad he was up to the task this time. With an unpleasant fall monsoon passing through Seattle during the first half, Keith Price was not able, nor was he asked, to sling the ball around like he normally would. Price ended the half just 4-for-12 passing for 39 yards, but the Huskies still had an 11-6 lead thanks in large part to Sankey’s 23-carry, 101-yard first half.

“Yeah, he was a warrior tonight,” Price said. “He ran the ball extremely well. … We needed to lean on our run game today. We knew it was going to be extremely hard to throw the ball down field, so we were kind of conservative with that, and Bishop and Jesse did an awesome job.”

Sankey didn’t come into the game thinking he would break Corey Dillon’s school record of 38 carries, but he did know it would be a busy day nonetheless.

“We knew we had to come out and pound the rock with how the weather was,” he said. “I think we did a good job just sticking with it and constantly moving the chains.

“However many times they need me to carry it. When I’m out there, adrenaline’s pumping, and I’m not really thinking about how many carries I’m at or what the limit is. I’m just trying to pick up yards and move the chains.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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