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Originally published October 2, 2009 at 5:42 PM | Page modified October 2, 2009 at 10:46 PM

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Washington trying to ignore history, tradition of Notre Dame

Ask Huskies football players about the Four Horsemen, and you'll get a quizzical look or a shrug. That's fine with coaches, who want them to focus on football.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Today

Washington @ Notre Dame, 12:30 p.m., Ch. 5

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Don't ask the Washington Huskies about Touchdown Jesus, Knute Rockne or the Four Horsemen.

As they prepare for today's game at hallowed Notre Dame Stadium, the Huskies hope ignorance is truly bliss.

Though reverence might be expected, Washington coaches are trying to take the tack that it's no different from a trip to Oregon State. All the better to keep the focus where the coaches feel it needs to be — winning the game.

"The Touchdown Jesus thing, I don't really know what that's all about," said defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim.

Oh, they've made it clear who the opponent is this week — ears were ringing from blaring the Notre Dame fight song nonstop for 1 hour, 40 minutes in practice Wednesday. But talk of Notre Dame is limited to the current version with no allusions to Touchdown Jesus or the Four Horsemen.

A week ago at Stanford, coach Steve Sarkisian felt he and the rest of his staff may have made too much of Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart during the week, creating too much of an aura about him among UW players.

"Our guys were hesitant, almost like we were unsure," Sarkisian said of what became a back-to-earth 34-14 loss to Stanford that followed a breakthrough win over USC.

In an era when there is more and more college football on TV than ever, however, the allure of the Irish may be lessening with today's players, anyway. A few of the Huskies say they don't really get what all the fuss is about.

"Just the name itself is kind of big, but I don't have any special interest in it," said UW tight end Kavario Middleton.

When it comes to Notre Dame, the Huskies are better off forgetting history. Washington has lost all seven games it has played against the Irish by an average score of 37-9. Only one game was close — a 29-21 Notre Dame win in Seattle in 1995.

The two teams have played five times since then. But there are no future games scheduled between the two schools, meaning this could be the last chance for the Huskies to beat Notre Dame for quite a while.

To do so, the Huskies will have to play better on both sides of the ball than last week at Stanford, when they were beaten soundly up front, allowing the Cardinal to rush for 321 yards while scoring just one offensive touchdown.

Washington coaches stressed a back-to-basics approach in practice this week and talked of potentially slimming down the playbook for better execution.

Notre Dame has its own defensive struggles, ranking 94th in the nation in total defense, allowing 389 yards per game. So the Huskies should be able to move the ball, especially if they can take advantage of an Irish defense that likes to blitz.

But Stanford exposed a few UW defensive shortcomings that hadn't been as apparent in the first three games. The Cardinal lined up and ran over the Huskies, rushing for 321 yards. Notre Dame might try some of that, as well. Statistically, though, they are much more prolific throwing, ranking 14th in the nation at 297 yards per game.

"They've got all the offense you want," Sarkisian said. "They've got run game, they've got pass game, they've got versatility in the pass game, they've got the Wildcat offense. They've got a lot of offense, and then they've got the personnel to match it."

That may force the Huskies to have to win a shootout, which would put the onus on quarterback Jake Locker to rebound from last week's performance. His worst game of the season included two critical interceptions.

Locker was one of the few Huskies recruited by Notre Dame. Having grown up Catholic, it was something he gave some thought to "but not too much."

Playing there today for the only time, he'll try to keep his mind focused on football and not Notre Dame's football legends.

"I think to go to Notre Dame and play there will be a great opportunity for us," Locker said. "I don't think we can let that distract us either. Obviously we'll go to that stadium and there's a lot of tradition that goes along with it, but we need to understand that it's just another football game."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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