Rain on Friday afternoon soaked the bricks that comprise Red Square, the recognizable center of the University of Washington campus.
This did not stop students from interrupting their slippery walk to classes to gander at the large, orange Home Depot-branded stage being assembled, many passers-by removing iPhones from pockets to snap a quick photo or two of the calm before Saturday’s ESPN College GameDay storm.
Not everyone is as engrossed in those activities. About 24 hours prior, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian stood in a room inside Husky Stadium and told reporters he hadn’t been outside of his “bunker,” as he called it, to see what all the hubbub was about.
He’s glad it’s there. But the UW coach is emphasizing business as usual ahead of the 16th-ranked Huskies’ much-hyped showdown at 1 p.m. Saturday against No. 2 Oregon at Husky Stadium.
“It sure feels normal to me,” Sarkisian said Thursday morning after UW concluded its final full practice of the week. “They still yell at the DJ at practice when there’s a song on there they don’t like. They’re a unique group that way. I think they really focus on themselves and have fun with one another and challenge one another and work with one another. I think they’re just really concerned with what they’re doing. That’s a good place to be.”
Also in a good place, Sarkisian said, is Huskies quarterback Keith Price. The fifth-year senior injured the thumb on his right throwing hand in UW’s 31-28 loss at No. 5 Stanford last week, but Sarkisian said Price took every repetition he was supposed to during practice this week, and should be fine to play against Oregon.
“I think he’s going to go out and play hard and play physical and really give us an opportunity to win. I think he’ll embody everything we want physically, mentally, emotionally from our entire team.”
Even if the thumb were having a negative impact on Price’s ability to throw the ball, he’s not the type to make excuses.
“It’s a little different,” Price said. “But if I’m healthy enough to come out here and practice, I have to be ready to perform.”
The same can be said for UW’s special teams, a group that became an area of legitimate concern this week after allowing a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown— and a just-as-damaging 72-yard return later in the game — to Stanford’s Ty Montgomery.
Changes were made. Kicking off this week, Sarkisian said, will likely be senior Travis Coons, who also handles UW’s punting and placekicking duties. He’ll replace kickoff specialist Cameron Van Winkle, who struggled last week to kick the ball as far as Sarkisian wanted because of a lingering back ailment.
Coons will be likely be joined by several UW defensive starters — star linebacker Shaq Thompson and senior safety Sean Parker among them — on the kickoff coverage team. They’ll try to contain the Ducks’ speed on both kickoffs and punts. The latter is one of Oregon’s biggest strength, where it ranks No. 3 in the nation in yardage per return.
“It’s been obviously a work in progress all week,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve spent a great deal of time on it. We want that to be a strength of ours, and not something that is a weakness, in a sense, and I think that our guys have embraced it. I think they understand it. It’s interesting to see the guys that are really battling and competing for spots, which is exactly how it should be, because that’s how it is on offense and defense. I think we’ll go out and play really well.”
GameDay or firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @ChristianCaple