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Originally published Sunday, September 6, 2009 at 12:33 AM

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UW wins LSU's respect

Washington achieved one of new coach Steve Sarkisian's first goals, earning its opponent's respect

Seattle Times staff reporter

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One game into the Steve Sarkisian era, one goal has been attained by the Washington Huskies.

"We want teams to respect us when they walk off the field," Sarkisian had said Monday at his news conference.

Saturday night, after a 31-23 loss to the No. 11 LSU Tigers, it was apparent that the visitors did just that.

As the teams headed up the Husky Stadium tunnel afterward, LSU running back Charles Scott grabbed the hand of UW defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu.

"You guys are definitely building," Scott told Ta'amu. "Don't worry about that [the loss]. Keep it up."

The task now is to turn respect — and yards — into wins.

The Huskies outgained the Tigers 478-321, the first time since the Cal game in 2007 UW had outgained its opponent, and battled to the end, scoring on their first and last drives.

But two turnovers — including an interception returned for a touchdown — and 11 penalties and too many untimely breakdowns on each side of the ball allowed the visitors to pull away. Washington had to settle for four field-goal attempts on trips inside the Tigers' 20-yard line.

Sarkisian said after the game that "there's no moral victories" and that losing "is unacceptable."

But he also said there was a lot to take away from the game.

"For me, what it did is it validated something I've said since Day 1 ... that it's not going to take us very long," he said. "We have gotten to this point in a short amount of time and we will continue to improve. And I firmly believe it's not going to take us very long."

It looked like it might take UW just five minutes, when the Huskies scored on their opening drive. Jake Locker hit true freshman James Johnson with a 17-yard touchdown pass that had Husky Stadium rocking as it hasn't in years.

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But on UW's next possession, a Locker pass intended for Devin Aguilar was intercepted by LSU linebacker Jacob Crutera and returned 29 yards for a TD to put LSU ahead 10-7. UW never led again.

Locker said he thought Crutera was coming on a blitz and didn't see him drop back into coverage.

"I've just got to follow my progression out," Locker said. "It's a tough loss to take because at times we played so well and we made a couple of big mistakes that killed us."

Locker completed 25 of 45 passes for 321 yards — only the second 300-yard game of his career — as the new Sarkisian offense was on full display. UW hadn't attempted that many passes since 2004, when Keith Gilbertson was still coach.

LSU scored its next two touchdowns on passes from Jordan Jefferson to Terrance Toliver. Each were short or intermediate throws on which Toliver broke tackles — each time through UW safety Greg Walker, playing his first game. Toliver went 45 yards the first time, 39 the second.

"What it really comes down to for us is we've just got to tackle better," said UW linebacker Donald Butler.

The first TD put LSU ahead 17-13 at the half.

The second put the Tigers ahead 24-13 midway through the third quarter.

The Huskies then drove to the LSU 24 and the 14 but could get only three points, and the Tigers put the game away with another Jefferson TD pass with 1:54 to play.

"We were in the red zone five times and were held to four field goals and we had two turnovers, and that's how you lose," Sarkisian said.

Still, the Huskies kept at it, moving 81 yards to score with no time left on the clock on a Locker pass to Kavario Midddleton.

"I'm very proud of our football team," Sarkisian said. "They played hard, they played physical, they fought through adversity, they competed to the last second on the clock. And that's all we could have asked for coming into the ballgame."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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