Huskies go for ninth win amid distraction-filled December

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Quarterback Keith Price (17) and the Huskies are trying to shake off a month full of distractions as they finish their season with the Fight Hunger Bowl on Friday. A win over BYU would be the UW's ninth win of the season and give the Huskies their highest win total since the 2000 season.

Photo by Joshua Bessex

It’s been more than three weeks since Steve Sarkisian abruptly left Washington to take his “dream job” at USC. In that time, the Huskies have been swirling through a nightmare. They’ve lost three assistant coaches, had one player transfer, and answered innumerable questions about their former head coach and the man who will be taking his place. And that’s not even considering an investigation concerning another one of their assistant coaches.

The month of December hasn’t necessarily been easy for the Huskies (8-4, 5-4 Pac-12), and what’s coming next won’t be either. But when they take the field Friday at AT&T Park in the Fight Hunger Bowl against BYU (8-4) at 6:30 p.m., things will return to normal, at least for a few hours.

“Once you’re in between the lines, nothing else matters,” quarterback Keith Price said last week. “You’re not thinking, ‘Oh we don’t have this coach.’ We’re playing for each other anyway. We don’t play for our coaches; we play for ourselves and we play for our teammates. That’s who’s out there. The coaches can only do so much.”

Price is one of 17 players who will be taking the field with the Huskies for the final time Friday night. All signed with the program soon after the infamous 0-12 season, with Price and fellow fifth-year senior Will Shamburger doing so immediately after the winless year. They’ve helped take the Huskies to four bowl games in five years and to their first eight-win season since 2000. A win Friday would give the Huskies their first nine-win year since 2000 when the UW finished its season as Rose Bowl Champions with an 11-1 record.

Marques Tuiasosopo was under center for the Huskies that season, but Friday, he’ll be in a different role for his hometown team. After Sarkisian’s departure, the former UW quarterback was promoted to interim head coach for the bowl game and led the Huskies in their preparations for the game, organizing everything from team meals to team outfits, and doing all the little things he never had to worry about before. It was a change for him, but he’s made an effort to keep the changes on the field to a minimum, even if it seems as if almost everything else around the program is changing rapidly.

“Obviously it’s very emotional for [the players],” Tuiasosopo said of the past month. “What they knew, or what they signed on for, with Husky football, was gone in an instant. … There are a lot of things that we look at getting ready for a bowl game that have nothing to do with getting ready for a bowl game. And so to be able to get back to some normalcy, focus on the things that really matter, which is to get ready, to go play a bowl game, be competitive, and to ultimately try to win the game, it was very important for me to try to do that.”

Tuiasosopo’s future after Friday, as well as that of most remaining assistants, with the UW is unclear as new head coach Chris Petersen continues to build his staff. Things aren’t completely settled on Montlake yet, and it’ll likely take a few more months before they are. But the Huskies insist all the distractions have made them stronger.  

“It’s a big chip on our shoulder,” wide receiver Jaydon Mickens said. “We lost something special but we’re gaining our brotherhood because we know we have to stick together. It makes us more hungry, more focused, more willing to do anything that is necessary to get a win.”

Reach Sports Editor Thuc Nhi Nguyen at sports@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @thucnhi21

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