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Blanchette: Sankey’s arrival on scene sparks Huskies

University of Washington running back Bishop Sankey motored for a career-best 103 yards Saturday against Portland State. (Associated Press)
University of Washington running back Bishop Sankey motored for a career-best 103 yards Saturday against Portland State. (Associated Press)

SEATTLE – At least somebody around here knows how to treat the tomato cans on their schedule.

Really, there are but two purposes to the bully school/victim school exercises that clutter up college football’s September: A) getting into the customer’s pocket, and B) rolling up a score that makes it safe to play the Rudys on your roster.

But that Bishop Sankey’s first 100-yard rushing game as a collegian goes into the books as having come against Portland State does not devalue it in the least.

Indeed, that’s the point. Having scheduled for success, you’re supposed to have it.

Just don’t make more of it than it is.

This wouldn’t seem to be much of an issue for Sankey. The son of an Air Force sergeant, there isn’t much more than name, rank and serial number to his post-game debriefings, whether it’s after a 52-13 noogie like the Washington Huskies laid on the hapless Vikings at CenturyLink Field on Saturday afternoon or the grim throttling the Dawgs absorbed in Death Valley a week earlier.

That’s OK. Creativity only really counts between the sidelines.

Besides, it’s a good defense against the risk of being overwhelmed by the weight of circumstance.

Like it or not, he’s the guy following The Guy.

Now, he can feign indifference to any such status updates, demurring that “I don’t really think of myself that way,” when asked about being the Huskies’ new featured back.

“I just try to do what the coaches ask me to do,” he said, “and if (running backs coach Joel) Thomas feels enough confidence to put me out there, I just try to get the job done.”

But he understood this day would come. When he was rewriting Greater Spokane League records as a senior at Gonzaga Prep and reversed on a commitment to Washington State that wasn’t any such thing, he threw in with the Huskies knowing he’d be understudying the star and would be expected to carry the show someday.

Although maybe not the same way.

During the baby steps and swoons on the timeline of coach Steve Sarkisian’s early tenure at UW, Chris Polk was the rock carrying the rock: 38 straight starts at tailback, 4,049 yards, real estate claimed both the hard way and the easy. Plus he brought some real charisma to the job.

It wasn’t imagined that Sankey would have to retrace Polk’s steps solo. Junior Jesse Callier had done his apprenticeship, too, with 700 yards worth of carries through his first two years.

But Callier tore his ACL in the season-opening victory over San Diego State, leaving Sankey as the leader among a bunch of newbies/young’uns.

Now, things have changed a bit since the Polk era. The Huskies have an enchanting quarterback in Keith Price whose feel for the job seems superior to the capable-but-oversold fellow he replaced. There’s a terrific young wideout in Kasen Williams, and an otherworldly hybrid in Austin Seferian-Jenkins the likes of which hasn’t been seen in these parts before.

Tailback is almost an afterthought. Certainly it was last week against LSU, when Sankey struggled to reach 20 yards on eight carries in a 41-3 drubbing.

Struggled, mostly, because he always seemed to have LSU company in his backfield.

This, of course, was why Portland State was such a timely morsel.

Two carries into his Saturday, Sankey had more yardage than he’d managed against the Tigers and the first of two touchdowns to go with it. With 6 minutes still to play in the third quarter, he took a pitch and swept left for his final carry and the last of his 103 yards.

A good day. In one respect, even better than it looked.

“In these games, they know we’re running it and we know we’re running it,” Sarkisian said. “When it turns to a 9-on-7 inside run drill, sometimes it’s harder to run it then than it is in a normal setting.”

But the fact is, running is going to be more difficult for the Huskies, period.

Two offensive line starters have already been lost to injury. Exactly one senior and no juniors remain in the rotation – so, as it is with Sankey and fellow tailbacks Erich Wilson II and Dezden Petty, it’s OJT.

“My approach hasn’t changed,” Sankey insisted. “Before Jesse went down, I always worked like I was going to be the guy and I’ve kept at that.

“I need to get better at a lot of things, stepping out of tackles and making second-level cuts. There are yards out there I can still get.”

Getting them will go a long way toward whether the Huskies take another step in the standings or just tread water.

Dead ahead on the schedule, after a bye: Stanford, Oregon and USC.

Now that’s the weight of circumstance.

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