LAS VEGAS – Asked Friday to describe Washington’s football season, coach Steve Sarkisian said, “Gratifying.”
“Would I have loved to have won more games up to this point? Sure, that goes without saying,” he said. “But I’m proud of the way our guys came to work every single day through some of the most difficult times and also in the good times. And I feel like we have matured, and matured throughout this season to have handled some of the successes that we had and also some of the failures.”
Exactly how everyone else will describe the season, though, figures to depend a lot on what happens today when the Huskies take on Boise State in the MAACO Bowl at Las Vegas in Sam Boyd Stadium.
Washington appeared on its way to fulfilling its preseason goal to “take the next step” before stumbling in the Apple Cup, losing an 18-point fourth-quarter lead to fall in overtime to rival Washington State 31-28.
That defeat leaves UW with the same 7-5 regular-season record it had a year ago entering the Alamo Bowl, which the Huskies lost to Baylor and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, 67-56.
A win today, then, would allow the Huskies to rightly claim they have taken another step in the rebuilding process that began when Sarkisian took over in 2009 – if not quite the leap some might have hoped for and which seemed possible when UW beat Stanford in September.
But a loss would give UW a 7-6 record, same as the past two years – UW was 6-6 in 2010 before beating Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl – and only ratchet up the pressure to truly make a breakthrough in 2013 when the Huskies will be a veteran team.
“This is huge,” senior safety Justin Glenn said. “We want to take that next step to get eight wins and kind of shoo this thing off into next year.”
Next year will begin with these same Boise State Broncos, who will come to Seattle on Aug. 31 in the first game in the renovated Husky Stadium.
Sarkisian, though, said Friday the oddity of playing the same team in consecutive games – if a season apart – won’t matter today.
“We are just playing this game,” he said. “We will worry about that one nine months from now. We are just trying to play really good football against them and that’s what we need to do if we want to have a chance to win.”
UW could hardly have received a tougher draw, outside of a BCS bowl game, than Boise State, which went 10-2 overall and 7-1 to tie for the Mountain West Conference title.
Boise State did that in what was considered something of a rebuilding year, only adding to its stature as one of the top programs in the country, having won 10 or more games in each of the past seven years, the longest active streak in the nation.
That includes a 4-2 record in bowl games, including the last two years in Las Vegas – 26-3 over Utah in 2010 and 56-24 over Arizona State in 2011.
The Broncos, though, have resisted the notion that Las Vegas might be getting a little stale.
“If you are not excited (to play this game), something is wrong,” cornerback Jamar Taylor said Friday.
Boise State got to 10 wins this season in a different fashion than in past years. With the offense undergoing major personnel reconstruction (notably, Joe Southwick replacing the graduated Kellen Moore at quarterback) the Broncos were led by a defense that ranks among the nation’s best. Boise State is sixth nationally in scoring defense (14.9 points per game), ninth in total defense (304.7 yards), and fourth in turnover margin (plus 1.5). The Broncos have allowed just three passing touchdowns, fewest in the country.
“They don’t give up cheap ones,” Sarkisian said. “Their secondary plays in a manner in which they don’t blow assignments and they communicate extremely well and the effort with which they play is very apparent.”
So the Huskies know they will have to get the running game going to open up at least some passing, while also playing the kind of defense that beat top-10 teams Stanford and Oregon State and turning in a cleaner game than in some of their losses.
And they hope when it’s over they have not only taken another step, but also put the painful loss to Washington State in the rearview mirror.
“I think we are always motivated regardless of what happened previously,” said senior cornerback Desmond Trufant. “But how we lost that game and had that game and let it go, we have that bad taste in our mouth. So we are looking forward to moving on.”