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Sports >  UW football

Texas coach Steve Sarkisian recalls ‘a special time, special place’ at Washington prior to reunion at the Alamo Bowl

Dec. 8, 2022 Updated Thu., Dec. 8, 2022 at 8:11 p.m.

Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian and his quarterback Jake Locker leave the field after defeating California, 42-10, on Saturday, December 5, 2009, at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington.   (Seattle Times)
Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian and his quarterback Jake Locker leave the field after defeating California, 42-10, on Saturday, December 5, 2009, at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington.  (Seattle Times)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Washington’s past and present sat side by side.

UW’s Kalen DeBoer and Texas’ Steve Sarkisian participated in a joint news conference in San Antonio on Thursday, three weeks prior to the coaches’ scheduled clash in the Alamo Bowl. Sarkisian, of course, went 34-29 in five seasons in Seattle – from 2009 to 2013 – including a 67-56 loss to Baylor (and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III) in the 2011 Alamo Bowl.

The 48-year-old Californian inherited a winless program and brought the Huskies back into bowl contention … before accepting the same job at USC.

So, nearly a decade later, how does Sarkisian evaluate his UW stint?

“My time at Washington was one I’ll never forget – a special time, special place,” Sarkisian said Thursday, donning a burnt orange suit and tie. “That place was incredible. That fan base was incredible. I don’t take it lightly. You evolve as a coach, obviously, as you go through all of it.

“In the end, man, you hope you leave a place better than you found it. I think that we did that. Coach DeBoer has done a fantastic job with that program. But in the end, it’s like, do I think it was better (when I left) than it was when I got there? Yeah, I think so. And I’m appreciative of all the people there. They’re great people at the University of Washington, and much respect for everybody there.”

That respect resounded in San Antonio. Regarding the 2022 Huskies, Sarkisian said “a couple plays here or there and they’re in the College Football Playoff. So the reality of it is this is a great challenge for us, a great bowl game, great opportunity.”

Oh, and when asked for impressions of his opponent, Texas’ second-year coach emitted an exasperated laugh.

“They score a lot of points,” he said, before motioning to DeBoer and repeating the point. “They score a lot of points. They throw it around. Man, I wish I could do a clinic with coach DeBoer. But Michael Penix, those receivers, they do a heck of a job. Their ability to rush the passer defensively and create havoc on the quarterback are issues.

“But they can score. They score on everybody. It doesn’t matter the helmet. It doesn’t matter who they’re playing. They go score. You’ve got to be prepared to make sure you’re playing four quarters and score collectively against them. Because they can do it at a high, high level.”

Like Sarkisian said, No. 12 Washington (10-2) leads the nation in passing (376.7 yards per game), first downs (27.4 per game), third-down conversions (57.06%) and completions of 10 yards or more (182), and ranks second in total offense (522.2 yards per game) and fourth in scoring (40.8 points per game).

Much of that production can be credited to Penix – who has completed 66% of his passes and thrown for 4,354 yards (the most in the nation) with 29 passing touchdowns, four rushing scores and seven interceptions.

When asked about his prolific passer’s return in 2023, DeBoer said: “We’re excited about the future. It certainly got our momentum going for next year. But we’ve still got work to do this year and we want to close out this season and try to get that 11th win.”

To do that, the Huskies will have to conquer No. 20 Texas (8-4) – and do so in essentially a true road game.

They’ll have to outperform the program’s past.

“This is a great game,” Sarkisian said. “I think that’s what the beauty of the Alamo Bowl is. I know we’re not a New Year’s Six game, but man, to get two top-20 teams battling at a high level on a national stage, this is what it’s about.

“So it’s a great opportunity for us at the University of Texas. It’s a great opportunity, I’m sure, for coach DeBoer and his program at the University of Washington. What a deal for the Alamo Bowl.

“To get these two teams, are you kidding me? So I’m fired up. It’s going to be great.”

DeBoer and Deion

During the news conference, DeBoer was asked how the departures of USC and UCLA in 2024 – plus Colorado’s recent hire of Deion Sanders – will impact the Pac-12’s future.

“That’s loaded right there,” he said with a laugh. “In a time where everything’s just so fluid, from teams leaving and coaches coming in, we’re just always trying to make our league stronger. That’s two great programs (USC and UCLA) that have a lot of history in the Pac-12, certainly.

“So it doesn’t go unnoticed and it’s something we’ll have to navigate and work through as a conference. But I feel like with the strength of who we are – not just the conference but the University of Washington – we’ll continue to thrive and continue to keep our heads in the right direction.

“And certainly with coach Prime (Sanders), I haven’t met him in person, but coach Prime is coming into the league and is going to continue to make that program at Colorado stronger and add value to our league and continue to be a challenge each and every week. With every team, you know you’ve got to bring your best. And that will be the case with Colorado.”

Extra points

• DeBoer was named Associated Press Pac-12 Coach of the Year on Thursday. Six Huskies were also honored. Wide receiver Rome Odunze, left guard Jaxson Kirkland and edge Jeremiah Martin received AP first-team Pac-12 recognition, while Penix, edge Bralen Trice and right guard Henry Bainivalu landed on the second team.

• Sarkisian declined to provide a definitive update on standout Texas running back Bijan Robinson’s Alamo Bowl plans. The 6-foot, 220-pound junior has rushed for 1,580 yards with 6.1 yards per carry and 18 touchdowns, while adding 314 receiving yards and two more touchdowns. Should he declare for the 2023 NFL draft, Robinson would be regarded as a likely first-round pick.

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