SEATTLE – Few believed when Washington coach Steve Sarkisian insisted it wouldn’t take long to vanquish that 0-12 season.
He proved it Sunday when the Huskies returned to the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in six years, one day after upsetting Southern California 16-13.
“We talked a lot early on that it wasn’t going to take us very long, and I firmly believe that,” Sarkisian said.
“I think some people in the world outside our own little domain probably thought that was just press conference speak. But when you get around our kids, you get around our coaches, I firmly believe it’s not going to take us very long.”
Now the Huskies (2-1, 1-0 Pac-10) are ranked No. 24 and have won consecutive games for the first time since the beginning of the 2007 season.
This is largely the same group of players who put together the worst season in Pac-10 history a year ago. But Washington showed signs of renewed confidence in its season opener against LSU, hanging around before the Tigers pulled away late for a 31-23 victory. A week later, the Huskies snapped their 15-game losing streak, beating Idaho 42-23.
Then on Saturday, USC jumped out to an early 10-0 lead.
But Sarkisian, formerly USC’s offensive coordinator, told players this was an opportunity to show how far removed they were from a year ago when a 10-point hole was an insurmountable deficit.
“It’s 10-0. Big deal,” he said. “That’s why we play four quarters. That’s why there is 60 minutes. You don’t win the game in the first quarter. It’s about continuing to compete.”
And compete the Huskies did.
The defense that was gashed for huge runs in the first quarter by the Trojans’ stable of running backs suddenly became stout. They forced turnovers and capitalized on USC’s numerous mistakes.
Offensively, quarterback Jake Locker stayed steady throughout. He led his Huskies to a steely, 68-yard drive that ended on Erik Folk’s 22-yard field goal with 3 seconds remaining, setting off a purple moshpit on the Husky Stadium turf.
“We all just played hard,” Washington safety Nate Williams said. “And the hard work that we put in since the winter time, all the hard work is finally paying off.”
Washington was last ranked on Sept. 28, 2003 – No. 18. The Huskies promptly went to Los Angeles and were routed 46-16 by UCLA, then lost to Nevada 28-17 at home the following week.
Avoiding a similar letdown will be this week’s challenge as Sarkisian prepares for his first road game at Stanford. But even talking about the possibility of a letdown is progress.
“It seems like a long way to go, but we always had it in us. We believed in ourselves, and we never doubt ourselves,” Washington running back Chris Polk said. “We play in the absence of fear and expect the best, and the best outcome will eventually come.”