Funny how quickly perceptions can change in college football. A month ago, with Washington 3-4 and coming off a 52-17 loss at Arizona, the talk about the Huskies largely centered on the question of whether they were treading water in the fourth season under coach Steve Sarkisian.
Now, after three straight wins, including an upset of No. 7 Oregon State?
“I think Sark should be one of the guys thought of as (Pac-12) coach of the year,” former UW coach Rick Neuheisel, now an analyst for Pac-12 Networks, said this week. “They are on the cusp of being an 8-4 team and going to a good bowl. And if you can get a ninth win, that’s an unbelievable springboard to recruiting.”
What stands out to Neuheisel about the coaching job done by Sarkisian?
“The attrition they took on the offensive line was substantial, and the way he and (offensive line coach) Dan Cozzetto have built not only an offense that can generate yards but has Bishop Sankey as a 1,000-yard back, that’s just a phenomenal job by all involved,” Neuheisel said.
Indeed, it might be the manner in which the Huskies reconfigured their offense that has been the key to the three-game winning streak they take into a game today at Boulder, Colo., against the reeling Colorado Buffaloes (1-9).
Washington threw the ball 52 times in the loss at Arizona, the most since Neuheisel was coach in 2002, and ran it just 29.
The Huskies have averaged 31 passes in the three games since (and no more than 33 in any game) while running the ball an average of 38 times.
Sankey, a sophomore out of Gonzaga Prep who is in his first season as the go-to back, has gained 437 yards in the past three games, putting him at 1,011 yards. It’s the fourth straight year UW has had a 1,000-yard rusher (Chris Polk did it the previous three years). Washington had just one 1,000-yard rusher from 1997 to 2008, before Sarkisian took over.
The improved running game also coincided with the Huskies settling on a five-man group on the offensive line – Micah Hatchie at left tackle, Dexter Charles at left guard, Drew Schaefer at center, Mike Criste at right guard and Ben Riva at right tackle – after lots of shuffling earlier in the year, due in part to a slew of injuries.
Sarkisian, asked this week the keys to the improved running game, said: “I think there’s continuity amongst the offensive line. I think it’s Bishop’s comfort level and maturity and growing and understanding the position. And I think it’s our coaching staff understanding what these guys do well.”