There will be no lions, tigers, or bears this week for Steve Sarkisian.
Last season, before the Washington football team hit the road for its first away game of the season against Louisiana State, the UW head coach brought a Bengal tiger into practice to get the Huskies ready for the real thing in Baton Rouge, La. It didn’t help much, as the Huskies got mauled by the Tigers, losing 41-3.
Sarkisian learned his lesson. No more gimmicks and cheap thrills for the No. 19 Huskies (1-0) this week as they head to Soldier Field to take on Illinois (2-0) at 3 p.m. PST for their first road game of the season. Just sweat pants, collared shirts, and your average, run-of-the-mill Friday walk-through: just like at home.
“I think understanding the consistency factor, whether we’re playing at home or away, in the way we approach the ball game, should not change,” Sarkisian said. “I think that our guys are understanding that the same energy, focus, attention to detail, that takes place at home is the same thing we have to bottle up and take on the road with us.”
Under Sarkisian, the Huskies are 19-7 at home, but a dismal 7-18 on the road. The Huskies are favored to win Saturday, but the odds haven’t always been in the UW’s favor when traveling. Last year, the Huskies went into Pullman, Wash., for the Apple Cup to face a Washington State team that was 2-9 entering the rivalry showdown. They lost in overtime. In 2011, the UW went to Corvallis, Ore., and lost 38-21 to Oregon State, who was 2-8 before that game.
The Huskies are confident their past shortcomings won’t haunt them this time though.
“It’s going to be different because it’s 105 new guys on the team and our preparation,” running back Jesse Callier said. “We’ve prepared our butts off, and our coaching staff and our strength coaches have stuck with us in our preparations.”
The UW opened the season with a bang two weeks ago against Boise State with a dominant win before going into an early bye week. In the season opener, the Huskies hung the worst loss of the Chris Petersen era on the Broncos, throwing 38 points on the board and collecting 592 yards in the process. That was all without tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Seferian-Jenkins was sidelined against Boise State due to a one-game suspension stemming from a drunken driving charge in the offseason. He has also been nursing a broken pinky finger, but the 6-foot-6 Sports Illustrated Preseason All-American can assure that both things are behind him. He called the surgically repaired finger an “afterthought,” and after running with the first team offense during the bye week, he’s ready to get his season officially started in the UW’s up-tempo offense. And his teammates can’t wait to have him back.
“It’s going to be huge,” receiver Kasen Williams said. “Without Austin playing, our offense looked that much better than last year’s and now that he’s going to be back, we’re going to be that much more versatile, and be able to put that much more points hopefully.”
The Huskies will have to put up a lot of points to keep pace with Illinois. Under offensive coordinator Bill Cubit’s revamped offense, the Illini have a resurgent offense behind fifth-year quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. Scheelhasse threw four touchdowns during all of last season, but tossed four in last week’s win over Cincinnati alone.
Combatting the 10th-ranked Illini passing attack will be the No. 1 thing on the UW’s to-do list this weekend, but when asked about the tall task, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is sticking to the same messages he’s always preached.
“We play with good eye discipline, great fundamentals, all those things,” the second-year defensive coordinator said.
So the messages stay the same for the Huskies whether they’re on the road or in the confines of Husky Stadium. After a win in the season opener, they hope the result stays the same too.
Reach Sports Editor Thuc Nhi Nguyen at email@example.com. Twitter: @thucnhi21
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