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September 12, 2009
The streak finally ends
The 15-game losing streak finally came to a halt as the Washington Huskies earned a win for the first time since Nov. 17, 2007. It wasn't always pretty, but in the end Washington was too much for the Idaho Vandals as they pulled away for a 42-23 win at Husky Stadium.
"This is how it's supposed to be," said head coach Steve Sarkisian. "We're supposed to come in here and answer all the questions about why we won and how we won and what it took."
All it took was Washington scoring touchdowns on it's first five possessions and limiting the Vandals to only field goals in the first half.
After forcing Idaho to punt on their first possession, Washington continued a positive trend of scoring on the opening drive. This time they marched 97 yards on 14 plays, chewing up over five minutes in the process. It was the longest drive for Washington in terms of yards since a 2-play, 99-yard drive vs. Arizona on Oct. 27, 2007.
"I thought on offense we played really well," explained Sark. "We actually started off a little slow. We ran the ball pretty well early and then Jake [Locker] really got playing. I think what woke him up maybe was that third and long play where he scrambled out of the pocket, made the play to D'Andre Goodwin, took a big hit on the play and I think maybe that just kind of started him. He played fantastic all day."
Locker finished 17-of-25 for 253 yards and three touchdowns through the air. He added 26 more yards and another score on the ground.
Still, one of the big questions heading into the 2009 season was if Jake Locker could develop into an efficient passer for Sarkisian's offense. The head coach thinks those questions are being answered on game day.
"I think Jake - and I'm going to keep saying it - has all the tools to be as special a player and quarterback as there is in the country, if not the best," Sark said. "He keeps showing it. He shows it to us every day, and I think as we keep moving forward here, he's going to keep showing it to the rest of our conference and the rest of the country."
That skill was on full display for Husky fans last week. After watching a once storied program hit rock bottom, seeing Locker's progress was an indication of a new era.
It was also a turning point for a team desperately seeking confidence and a win. Locker and his teammate's strong showing against LSU revealed not only to a national audience, but also themselves they belong.
That confidence was on display Saturday against Idaho and for the first time in two years Washington got to enjoy the rewards of hard work.
"I'm happy for them, that they get to reap the benefits and the rewards of winning," said Sarkisian. "I'm really proud of them. They put forth a great effort against an Idaho team that came ready to play and had a great plan offensively. It's exciting. The kids deserve it and hopefully this is the first of many."
It was emotional for the players after the win and with good reason. Many of the younger ones haven't enjoyed a win in college, while the older players have labored through the darkest days of Husky football. For them, this was more than a win, it was redemption and relief.
"It feels great and everyone loves to win," said running back Johri Fogerson. "That's what we are here for. But after going 0-12 to get this first win means so much. Especially for the older guys that it almost brought tears to their eyes. Seeing that makes you want to win even more."
That won't be easy as next week Washington welcomes USC to Husky Stadium. If Washington hopes to pull an upset over the Trojans, they must first tighten the screws on defense. The Huskies gave up 412 yards to the Vandals, with 349 of those coming through the air.
"We weren't able to get to the quarterback early," Sark explained about defensive struggles. "And they did some nice things in just throwing the ball down the field. When things weren't there - a tribute to their quarterback - he checked the ball down to the back and then it was second and five or second and four. They stayed out of the third and long situations."
But today wasn't about what Washington did wrong and instead about what went right. For a team that hasn't won in 15 tries, the only stat that matters is the final score.
"It's all about the win," linebacker Mason Foster reminded reporters. "To get that win for coach Sark, to get that win for us, and the fans for sticking with us is just a great feeling."
With a 15-game losing streak dominating the headlines, the prospect of Sarkisian's first collegiate win was put on the back burner. However, this was a special moment for Sark and marked the first milestone in his young head coaching career.
"It's exciting. I think what happens is the first one you go play and all of a sudden that little monkey jumps on your back. He can grow the longer it takes to get a win. I just kind of got that monkey off my back.
It's just hopefully one of the many milestones you get as a head coach. It feels great and I'm proud of our staff and now we'll move forward."
The win became a reality for Sarkisian as he was drenched with his first "Gatorade" bath as a college head coach.
"Luckily it was water, so I wasn't wearing a purple or an orange or something Gatorade bath. It was actually a little refreshing. It was warm out there today. It felt great. It's another one of those things you think about when you're becoming a head coach. That first locker room speech, your first win and the first time you get doused with the water or Gatorade. It's one of those special moments you will always remember."