LSU is also looking to right the ship after a disappointing 2008
After losing 10 games combined from 2003-07, the Tigers lost five last season
Seattle Times staff reporter
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When the college football season kicks off Saturday night at Husky Stadium, there will be a team on the field that just can't wait for a new year to start to wipe away the taste of a 2008 campaign that featured an embarrassing number of losses. A year regarded by participants and spectators alike as a disaster of epic proportions, one that resulted in a massive coaching shake up.
The other will be the Washington Huskies.
Oh the Huskies, too, are also on a search for redemption and renewal after a winless 2008 season that was the worst in school history.
But showing just how relative failure can be, the LSU Tigers will likewise take the field that night hoping to begin shaking off the bitterness of a disappointing 2008 campaign.
"We're going into the season with a chip on our shoulder," said LSU sophomore QB Jordan Jefferson in a recent phone interview. "We've got a statement that needs to be made."
And that, apparently, is that an 8-5 overall record is unacceptable, especially when it includes a 3-5 mark in SEC play that was the worst since 1999.
In fact, the losses were the most since 2002, when Nick Saban was in the midst of building a team that would win a national title a year later. LSU lost only 10 games combined from the 2003-07 seasons, including two national titles, before last year's fall-off in the fourth season under Saban's replacement, Les Miles.
The major culprit was a leaky defense that finished ninth in the SEC overall and 11th against the pass and allowed 30 or more points five times.
Miles' answer to fix the problem was to change three of his defensive coaches, including bringing in new coordinator John Chavis from Tennessee.
With six starters back, the hope is that the defense will be much improved this season.
"They are big and fast, that's for sure," UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. "They are a big, physical team."
The Tigers had also had a few offensive hiccups last season, but began to hit their stride late in the year, particularly after Jefferson emerged as the starter for the last two games. The 6-foot-4, 209-pounder was named the Offensive MVP of the Chick-fil-A Bowl after the Tigers beat Georgia Tech 38-3, putting to rest any doubt that the team is now his.
And while he may not be the best running QB on the field next Saturday, Jefferson is mobile enough causing UW coaches and players worry about both his arm and legs. "He can run, no question," UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. "He's a really good athlete."
The Tigers' hopes for this year were further bolstered when three offensive players who had been contemplating leaving early for the NFL decided to come back — 6-5, 325-pound left tackle Ciron Black, 6-3, 209-pound receiver Brandon LaFell and 5-11, 233-pound running back Charles Scott. Each was a first- or second-team All-SEC pick last season.
UW linebacker E.J. Savannah says the major worry for UW is LSU's running game. "They've got big boys, a big running back, big linemen," he said.
UW fans have wondered hopefully if maybe Jefferson — who will be making just the third start of his career — might get rattled by the surroundings and thrown off his game, as used to routinely happen to young QBs at Husky Stadium. Jefferson, though, got his first start at Arkansas and won a bowl game at a neutral field and says "I like playing on the road."
And while some might also wonder if LSU — favored by as much as 17 depending on the line — will overlook the Huskies a bit, Jefferson says the Tigers have all the motivation they need from inside.
"We're not used to losing five games," he said. "So we're going to just try to make sure that doesn't repeat itself."
• UW held one practice at Husky Stadium Saturday morning and now is off until Monday night. A number of players sat out the practice, including starters or key players such as DE Darrion Jones (sick), DT Cameron Elisara (shoulder), WR James Johnson (ankle), RB Johri Fogerson (ankle) and TE Kavario Middleton (hamstring). However, Sarkisian said all players should be back to practice next week. The only members of the two-deep who appear out for the LSU game are backup OT Skyler Fancher (ankle), S Jason Wells (Achilles) and LB Matt Houston (biceps). RB Chris Polk (head) and FB Paul Homer (hamstring) are among those who have returned to practice in the last few days.
• QB Jake Locker, center Ryan Tolar, DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and LB Donald Butler have been named captains in a vote of their teammates.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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UPDATE - 10:18 PM
Washington State's Klay Thompson will play Thursday against Huskies