Sark shows he belongs

SEATTLE - It was as one-sided as you would have expected a game between a top-10 powerhouse and a team coming off an 0-12 season: 84 offensive plays to 48, 478 yards to 321, 36:52 of possession time compared to to 23:08. It was hardly the stuff of surprise.

But the real shocker in No. 9 LSU's 31-23 win over winless Washington Saturday night in front of a packed Husky Stadium and a national televised audience was that it wasn't the Tigers that stuffed the stat sheet. It was the Huskies that dominated offensively, keeping the Tigers' vaunted threats on the bench.

In fact, the 478 total yards put up by the Huskies was the largest offensive output against a top-10 team at home since they begin keeping records in 1947. But first year Head Coach Steve Sarkisian would have taken 178 yards of offense if it had meant executing in the red zone when the opportunities were there, as well as holding onto the football.

Two crucial turnovers - including a 29-yard pick-six of Washington's Jake Locker by Jacob Cutrera - were 'killers', as Sarkisian called them.

"We play the game to win, and unfortunately we were in the red zone five times and settled for four field goals and a turnover," he said of an eight-point loss that extended the Huskies' losing streak - now at 15 games.

But the bad fog of that streak seemed to be made of the same smoke Sarkisian's Huskies ripped through Saturday night as they took the field, confident they could pull a stunner. And things started out in storybook fashion, as converted safety Johri Fogerson took a screen pass from Jake Locker and motored down the UW sideline 51 yards before LSU's Patrick Peterson could take him down.

Two plays later, Locker found freshman receiver James Johnson, who used a timely block from Chris Polk to scamper 17 yards and into the end zone for a touchdown.

"We wanted to take advantage of their pass rush," Sarkisian said of the first score. "Early on we had a plan to negate some of that, and it paid off. It was a good play for us."

It felt like Miami 2000 all over again. Instead of Rich Alexis, it was Polk and Fogerson. Instead of Marques Tuiasosopo - who was on the sidelines - it was Jake Locker. And instead of young, brash, confident Rick Neuheisel manning the ship, it was young, brash, confident Steve Sarkisian steering a course back toward respectability.

And respect is what he got, especially for calling his first game as a head man.

"I've got to give props to Washington," LSU running back Charles Scott said. Scott, who is on the pre-season Doak Walker and Maxwell Award watch lists, as well as the All-SEC coaches first team, didn't get a lot of love from the Huskies. He finished with 52 yards on 12 carries. "They came out and played a hell of a game, they made a stand against us, and they dominated. We just had to fight back, make a few adjustments and overcome some of the stuff we're not used to seeing."

Scott knows what he's talking about. He was a member of the LSU team in 2007 that won a national championship team. The Tigers know all about comebacks, making adjustments and putting the game away when given half a chance.

They did exactly that Saturday night. And therein lies the difference between the two teams: There's a chasm that divides those that taste success on a weekly basis, and those that struggle just to stay competitive.

Washington hasn't tasted victory in 659 days, so consider UW's 'chasm' something that would make the Grand Canyon look somewhat pedestrian.

That could all change in seven more days, if Sarkisian's Huskies can match the physicality, effort and desire they showed in trying to tame the Tigers.

There's no moral victories, but I'm very proud of our football team," Sarkisian said after the game. "They played hard, they played physical, they fought through adversity, they competed until the last second on the clock, and that's all we could have asked for."

And that last thought was right on the mark. Locker's 9-yard pass to tight end Kavario Middleton found paydirt literally as time expired. The PAT signaled the end of the game, but the losses continue to mount.

But Sarkisian doesn't think these Dawgs are that far away. And next week he should be proven right. "We're going to get faced with a lot of adversity," he said. "Fumbles happen, missed assignments happen. How we respond is going to be the key to us getting better as a football program. Our guys are going to battle until the end. It's not going to take us very long. We've gotten to this point in a short amount of time and we're going to improve."

No moral victories, to be sure. But at the same time, the hard work put in was validated Saturday night on national TV. "We can play as physical as we want with the most physical teams in the country," Sarkisian said. "We can play as fast as one of the fastest teams in the country and we can compete with them. The challenge now is to win those games in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line."

The Tigers gave Washington the blueprint by staying patient, not forcing things and taking advantage of mistakes when the Huskies made them. Terrance Toliver made UW pay big when a blown assignment and a poor angle allowed him to score two long touchdowns. Outside of the junior from Hempstead, Tex. the Tigers' offense didn't carry much bite.

They didn't have to. They stood their ground, they bent but didn't break in the red zone, and when they had a chance to pounce in the fourth quarter, they didn't hesitate. Their 67-yard drive in six plays - punctuated by a Jordan Jefferson 6-yard pass to Brandon LaFell - was a thing of beauty. It melted clock, it moved chains, it took the game out of Washington's hands.

"That team is going to be competing for an SEC championship and possibly a national championship," Sarkisian said. They had the size, speed and natural talent you'd expect to see from a top-10 team.

The Washington Huskies aren't there yet. But in one night, they made up more ground than anyone could have possibly expected. Except them.

"I'm really proud of our guys and I'm proud of their mindset in that locker room afterward," Sarkisian said. "They aren't accepting this. They're hungry. They want to go back and get to work Monday and start getting ready for Idaho."


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