SAN FRANCISCO – The trip to Alcatraz looked fun. The volunteer services at Glide Memorial Church appeared enlightening. The pep rally was loud.
But now, after a week of activities and a few weeks of consternation over a coaching change, the Washington Huskies are about to play another football game, their last this season before Chris Petersen takes full-time control as UW’s new coach.
Interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo leads Washington into tonight’s Fight Hunger Bowl against Brigham Young at AT&T Park.
“We’ve had a great week,” said Tuiasosopo, the former UW quarterback. “The bowl festivities have kind of been a great reprieve from our situation.”
They can put a positive spin on that situation with another victory, which would be their ninth this season, which would allow them to finish with their best record since the 2000 season.
Fittingly enough, Tuiasosopo was a senior quarterback on that team, leading UW to an 11-1 finish and a victory over Purdue in the Rose Bowl.
Since UW began fielding a football team in 1889, only 16 teams in school history have achieved nine or more wins in a single season, and nine of those teams were coached by Don James. (Included in that total is the 1977 season, which UW finished with an 8-4 record that was later upgraded to 10-2 because of opponent forfeits.)
This isn’t Pasadena, and there’s no Rose Bowl trophy for the winner, but Tuiasosopo is doing his best to get the Huskies to play like the stakes are just as high. He said going against an opponent as strong as BYU should help.
“It’s kind of made our job easy,” Tuiasosopo said. “We don’t have to make up anything to try to motivate them. It’s right there in front of them.”
The Cougars, also 8-4, play faster than nearly every team in the country. They’re one of four teams in the nation that ran 1,000 or more plays in its first 12 games. BYU’s official game notes make mention of the team’s average of 19.41 seconds between plays, which ranks as the second-fastest pace nationally.
That effort begins with sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill, who is the team’s leading rusher (1,211 yards) and has also thrown 19 touchdown passes this year.
“The big challenge is keeping track of him,” UW defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha said. “You’ve really got to keep your eyes open and not have a tunnel vision, because you never know where he’s going to end up. So just being aware of where he is in space and where you are relative to him, (and) just staying low when you’ve got to make contact because this guy’s pretty big, as well.”
Tuiasosopo said he liked the mood of Washington’s practices in the Bay Area this week, and credited the team’s graduate assistants – some of whom are filling in for position coaches who departed for USC along with Steve Sarkisian – for stepping up.
Now the only thing left to do is go play one more time. What happens after that – saying goodbye to current assistant coaches and getting introduced to Petersen’s new staff – doesn’t matter quite yet.
What does, then, is the effort of UW’s players for three-plus hours tonight, particularly seniors like quarterback Keith Price who spent nearly their entire collegiate careers under Sarkisian.
“I think we’ve built something special here,” Price said last week, before the team departed for San Francisco. “And it’s only going to keep going.”
Of the departing seniors, Tuiasosopo said: “I think if you look at the bigger picture in terms of their class, it is a tremendous point I think in University of Washington football history in that it was really at the lowest point in the history of the school there in mid-2000.
“Now we’re at 8-4, and my hope as a former player is that the young guys, the underclassmen really focus on that, not everything else, but what these guys have done has kind of set the stage for them and they keep that legacy going with their hard work and preparation, and (knowing) the importance of trying to be the best, not only on the football field but off it.”