Long, Strange Trip Reveals Dawgs of Old

It just didn't feel like a Washington football game. The team I was watching was wearing all white. Washington just doesn't wear all white and never has according to those in the know. And when Cole Sager took the field for the opening kickoff, I knew someone was pulling my leg.

The true frosh walk-on from Burlington-Edison had not played in a home game yet, let alone against a team like Notre Dame and their Catholic hordes.

The weather just couldn't make up its mind. It would spit, gurgle, dry out, spit some more, and then unleash some Indiana liquid sunshine on the not-so-happy fans trying their best to watch a wild football game. At times it was like watching a game in a car wash.

And then, walking around the media room trying to gain my bearings, it occurred to me; I was living in a different time and place. The key? Staring right in front of me was a framed Sports Illustrated cover from December 16, 2002. The headline? 'Sportsman of the Year'

The honoree? Tyrone Willingham.

Who was responsible for this wind-up? Are you kidding me? Even ND Head Coach Charlie Weis thought it was probably the most bizarre game he's ever witnessed. It even included a double goal-line stand by Notre Dame, arguably the turning point of the game.

But after the Huskies' 37-30 skull-flattening overtime loss to Notre Dame, it became crystal clear that the team doing their best Casper imitation was indeed the UW team I remembered. After seeing Justin Glenn break his leg going after Golden Tate on a 77-yard run-and-catch (77 of his 242 receiving yards, a UW opponent record), as well as Nate Williams' and D'Andre Goodwin's concussions during the final stanza, that was as physical a display by the Dawgs on the road in quite some time.

They certainly didn't resemble Willingham's Huskies, who would have probably folded their tent as soon the rain started pouring at halftime. And when Tate rolled out that 77-yarder on the first play of the second half, Willingham would have been looking for the nearest exit, never mind his team. The all-whites? Camouflage for a Casper-like departure. And he'd have a pretty good idea where to sneak away, having rehearsed his egress many times as Notre Dame's head man for three years before being unceremoniously dumped in 2004.

But this is Sarkisian's group, one that has taken up the challenge of bringing Washington football back the way Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy, Will Conroy, Bobby Jones and Tre Simmons did with Washington basketball in 2004. Emtman, Hoffman and Smith? That's a Capital Hill law firm, right? If you've been watching Washington football lately, you might not remember the game those Huskies used to play.

"it's a credit to our coaching staff and their ability to teach good football," Sarkisian said when asked after the game about the change in culture that has seen an 0-12 UW team bounce back to two wins in their first five games in 2009. "I'm proud of our guys. They are concerned about going out and playing a brand of football they believe in. And I think we've been doing that."

And as much as Sarkisian loathes the idea of a moral victory, he's got a lot to show his team starting Sunday on how they didn't play their best game and didn't take advantage of all their opportunities, but still took a traditional powerhouse to the wire. It's not what Washington football is all about, but the respect earned by the Huskies on Saturday is something that just wasn't seen last year.

"I'll tell you what, I'm just happy, really happy for these kids," Weis said afterward. "They just keep fighting and fighting and fighting."

Other than the happy part, Sarkisian could have said the exact same thing. He did talk about how proud he was of them for playing hard, and he was right on the money.

Four weeks in a row now, the Irish have struggled through adversity, but they have only lost one game. They are learning their lessons while winning along the way. The Huskies are trying to follow that formula, but this one will sting for a bit - longer than the 24 hours they normally allow themselves to dwell on the day's events.

It won't be easy, but this team will regroup. They did it after the LSU game and won two straight, the second over No. 3 USC. And now after back-to-back losses on the road they come back, battered, bruised and beaten to an Arizona team fresh as a Tucson sunrise after a bye week.

They'll regroup because Sarkisian won't let them do anything else. This team of Huskies battle until the final whistle. It took a weird trip to South Bend, and an even weirder game, to confirm what many already knew: Tyrone Willingham is no Steve Sarkisian.

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