Huskies need to become road warriors

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian has said since the day he became coach at Washington in December 2008 that he doesn't expect the turnaround to take very long. A 5-7 record last season in his first year appeared to get the train going on the right track. Now his second year begins with a golden opportunity for a significant breakthrough as the Huskies open on Saturday at Brigham Young.

INSIDE SLANT

UW hasn't won a road game since beating Stanford in November of 2007, a nasty streak that Sarkisian knows the Huskies have to stop to make anything of this season.

And while BYU may not quite have the expectations or experience of the squad that went 11-2 a year ago, beating the Cougars would arguably be UW's most meaningful win in years.

It also has the added subplot of being the beginning of Jake Locker's Heisman campaign. The UW senior quarterback has been one of the most highly hyped players of the off-season and the game provides a perfect stage to get a big win immediately.

Sarkisian, though, says he's wary of "putting all our eggs in one basket" and says that "it's a long season and this is just one game."

Indeed, it is, and the Huskies entered the week as three-point underdogs, with odds-makers and the public still unsure about a team that hasn't had a winning record since 2002.

Senior safety Nate Williams, though, insisted this week that the Huskies are ready to turn the corner.

"Last year, we expected to win, but it was still new to us, so that was probably why we couldn't win the tight ones yet," he told the Seattle Times. "We were just coming off an 0-12 year, so we didn't know how to win. But I think after getting a taste of a couple of them last year we know how to win now and it feels really good. We're expecting great things this year."

And Locker isn't all that the Huskies have.

They also return a veteran offensive line with all five starters having significant starting experience; a veteran receiving corps led by all-conference candidate Jermaine Kearse; the first freshman in school history rush for more than 1,000 yards in Chris Polk; and a defense that coaches say was a pleasant surprise throughout training camp.

The Huskies hope all of that is enough to get to their first bowl game since the 2002 Sun Bowl, Rick Neuheisel's last game as coach of the Huskies. The road starts Saturday.
NOTES, QUOTES

--UW made it through camp losing only one player for a significant amount of time -- true freshman running back Deontae Cooper, who tore an ACL and will be out for the year. UW coach Steve Sarkisian, however, said he expects Cooper to make a full recovery.

--Saturday's game will be Washington's last against BYU for the foreseeable future. The two teams were originally scheduled to also play home-and-home in 2011 and 2012, but UW asked out of those games to add one more home game over that two-year span and soften the schedule in an attempt to get back to consistently winning seasons. UW will instead play FCS schools Eastern Washington and Portland State at home in those two seasons.

--The game marks a return to his alma mater for Sarkisian, who was BYU's QB in 1995 and 1996. He said he has not been back to Provo since leaving following his senior season.

SERIES HISTORY: UW leads 4-3 (last meeting, 2008, 28-27 BYU).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Huskies could have one of the best offenses in the Pac-10. It boasts Heisman Trophy candidate QB Jake Locker, returning 1,000-yard rusher Chris Polk, second-team all-conference receiver Jermaine Kearse, and five linemen who logged significant time as starters last season. UW averaged 26 points a game last season and could take a step forward in that category this year with so much talent coming back. Locker looks like an improved passer in his second year in the system of coach Steve Sarkisian, and more comfortable with the receivers around him. The one possible glitch is a line that was improving last year but struggled at times to simply blow defenses off the line of scrimmage. It will need to get better, and keep Locker healthy, for the offense to reach its potential.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The defense is perceived to be UW's weakness this season, especially after losing the two best players from a year ago to the NFL -- end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and middle linebacker Donald Butler. Maybe the biggest question mark is whether the Huskies can find a pass rusher to replace Te'o-Nesheim. UW coaches hope sophomore Talia Crichton will fill the void. Another question is whether junior Cort Dennison, making the move from the outside, can fill Butler's shoes in the middle. Sarkisian says he thinks UW is strong up the middle, however, especially in tackle Alameda Ta'amu, Dennison and LB Mason Foster and senior SS Nate Williams. But UW is inexperienced at free safety with sophomore Nate Fellner and freshman Will Shamburger.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think it will be a unique experience for me and I'm sure Friday afternoon at our walkthrough I'm going to take it in a little bit. But at the end of the day we are going to go play the game." -- UW coach Steve Sarkisian on returning to his alma mater Saturday.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Washington at BYU, Sept. 4 -- Huskies go for their first road win since November 2007 at Stanford in taking on the Cougars in Provo. UW also looking to avenge a 28-27 loss to BYU in Seattle in 2008.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Let Jake run. The Huskies took the reins off Locker late in the 2009 season and that seemed to ignite the offense as UW beat WSU and Cal 72-10 in its last two games. The Huskies will likely look to get Locker 10-12 carries a game this year to take advantage of his unique running ability.

The Huskies figure to try to establish not only Locker but tailback Chris Polk and try to keep the ball as much as possible and keep BYU's offense off the field. UW thinks it has a better defense this year but it would just as soon not test it more than it has to Saturday.

UW is relatively inexperienced at three of four secondary positions, especially free safety, which could prove dicey against an historically explosive offense such as BYU's. The Huskies will have to play smart in the back end and not let little gains turn into big ones.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

QB Jake Locker -- The fifth-year senior has been one of the most-hyped players of the college football off-season. He starts off his season with one of the weekend's marquee games and can zoom to the top of the Heisman lists with a good performance.

RB Chris Polk -- Due to all the attention given to Locker, Polk sometimes gets overlooked. But he rushed for 1,113 yards last season despite playing with a sore shoulder the second half of the year. He had surgery in the winter and sat out the spring. He's 100 percent now, however, and coaches are expecting a big season.

CB Desmond Trufant -- The sophomore looked like a future star last year when he stepped right into the starting lineup at the midway point. Coaches envision him as a shutdown corner able to basically eliminate one side of the field. Those expectations will be put to an early test by BYU's high-powered passing attack.

ROSTER REPORT:

--Freshman RB Deontae Cooper is out for the year after tearing an ACL early in camp. Cooper had been in line to see significant time this season as a backup to Chris Polk.

--Junior defensive end Kalani Aldrich is questionable, at best, while still recovering from off-season knee surgery. UW coaches hoped Aldrich could serve in a rotation at end, but he was still limited as the week began.

--Senior Brandon Huppert, the No. 2 middle linebacker, is out for this game, and possibly a few more, after having a setback in his recovery from knee surgery. With starter Cort Dennison playing through a sprained knee, UW's depth at middle linebacker could be put to the test quickly. The backup entering the BYU game will be redshirt freshman Tim Tucker.


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