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November 12, 2012

Washington getting back on track




"This is a really cool win for our team."

That was the first statement made to the media by Washington head football coach Steve Sarkisian following Saturday's 34-15 win against Utah.

It was a big game.

It was a big game for sophomore tailback Bishop Sankey and for sophomore tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

For the seniors.

For the team.

In the last home game of the season, on senior night, the Huskies got their sixth win, making them bowl eligible.

Sankey and Seferian-Jenkins broke records.

Junior quarterback Keith Price started to get his swagger back.

But it wasn't just those three players that impressed Sarkisian. He was happy with the playmaking ability of the team in all three phases. And it wasn't about the fact that they became bowl eligible, nor was it about the numbers that Sankey and Seferian-Jenkins achieved. It was about the team ? just like it always is with Washington.

Sankey rushed for 162 yards and two touchdowns Saturday night. This was the fifth time this season he's had a 100+ yard rushing game. With that, he also passed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the year, which makes him the 10th Husky to do so, and the 16th time in UW history that it's happened.

"It's pretty cool," Sarkisian said. "I'm hoping he's got more than that in his tank."

Sarkisian said that if he had been told at the beginning of the season that Sankey would have these kinds of numbers already, he might not have believed it.

Like a lot of people, it's difficult to look at Sankey's stature and think that he can run in-between the tackles.

"Now that we're here and I watch the kid play, he's a stud," Sarkisian said.

Then there's Seferian-Jenkins, who went 99 yards on the seven receptions that added to his career total and broke the record for career receptions by a tight end.

The previous all-time record, 95, was set by Mark Breuner. Saturday night, Seferian-Jenkins caught his 96th ball.

Humble as always, Seferian-Jenkins praised his team, and Breuner, for what he was able to accomplish. In fact, he shifted away most of the attention put on him for making the receptions.

"I look at it as more of a reflection of the people around me, why I've been able to be successful, and it's just a blessing because I have such great people around me," Seferian-Jenkins said.

One of those people is Price, who looked to be closer to his old self.

Price went 24 for 33 attempts, 277 yards and two touchdowns. According to Sarkisian, it was "by far and away" Price's best game of the year.

Sarkisian said, like many have noticed, that Price had been starting to play a bit better the past couple weeks against teams like Oregon State and California.

More so than the way he played, Sarkisian said the old Price was really starting to emerge on the sidelines.

"If you noticed him on the sidelines when we were on defense the last couple weeks, he was very involved, very engaged in the game, he was right there with the defense, wanted the defense to play well," Sarkisian said. "I felt like earlier in the season the weight of the world was on his shoulders."

Saturday, Sarkisian said he was getting his quarterback from last season back.

"He was much more of the leader and the Keith that we grew to know and love a year ago. That guy was starting to come back," Sarkisian said.

Sarkisian noted that yes, he did miss some throws and some reads and had a couple turnovers, but the energy that he brought and his ability to make the decision to throw or run and manage the game made Sarkisian happy to see.

For Sarkisian, it was about time Price had a game like this one.

"It's been a grind for that kid this season. Nobody works harder, nobody prepares more, there's not a better competitor in that room," Sarkisian said. "He's an awesome, awesome kid. He deserved to have a game like this to get going."

Pep in his step. Swagger. Confidence. Call it whatever you want to call it.

Coaches, players and Price himself think it's starting to come back.

"He just has a lot more confidence. I think everyone can see that," wide receiver Kasen Williams said. "Now he's just playing" instead of "trying to live up to expectations."

Price agrees, but knows that he needs to continue to work.

"I'm starting to get it back," Price said. "Obviously, one game doesn't define the season. I have to continue to be consistent and I have to continue hitting open targets and throwing the ball the way that I know how to throw the ball."

Price is learning that he needs to trust his receivers to make plays.

And his receivers are trying to help him believe they will.

"My job is to catch the ball no matter where it is, and I tell Keith, 'when it's in my vicinity, I'm going to come down with it. I'm supposed to make you look good'," Williams said.

So now, they have two more regular-season games to show what they've learned from this season.

Just because they got their sixth win and therefore become bowl eligible doesn't mean they're ready to settle down. This Washington team is ready to keep working.

"All in all, it's a great win against a good opponent. We are happy to be bowl eligible, but there's plenty of work still left to be done for this football team and we realize that, we understand that, and we'll get back to work here and try to go get another one at Colorado," Sarkisian said.

He continued that this season was about taking the next step, and they're not playing just to get bowl eligible anymore. They still have more football to play.

This message has made its way to the players, as well.

When Price was asked after the game what it means to be bowl eligible, his response was simple.

"Nothing.

We got two more games and it's just one game at a time. We can't sleep on Colorado," Price said.

Seferian-Jenkins felt the same, and added that if anything, they're a bit disappointed still with the games they let slip away.

"It means it's just another win, honestly," Seferian-Jenkins said. "We've won six games, and that's great, but we have another two games in our schedule and we need to finish strong, and that's the most important thing right now. I don't think the guys in this room are satisfied at all with six wins."

Next weekend, Washington will travel to Colorado to try and keep their winning streak going and make the statement that they're deserving to go to a bowl.


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