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Originally published Sunday, November 29, 2009 at 10:00 PM

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Extra bye week pays off for Huskies in the Apple Cup

Washington looked more refreshed than the Cougars, who had just one bye week this season.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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It's tempting to think it might be nice for the Washington Huskies to just head straight into the offseason after Saturday's 30-0 domination of the Apple Cup.

That the first shutout of the Cougars in 45 years would have been a fitting way to end the initial season of the Steve Sarkisian era.

But then, maybe Saturday wouldn't have unfolded the way it did if not for the schedule machinations that resulted in UW still having a game to play this season — Saturday against California at 3:30 p.m. at Husky Stadium.

The Cal game was moved from its original Oct. 10 date as part of several changes made to create two byes in the schedule — off weeks UW coaches felt were critical to allow the team to navigate the season more easily.

Both byes came in the past four weeks, and the Huskies seemed like the more refreshed team against a Cougars team that had just one bye this year (on Oct. 17). That seemed especially true in the second half as the Huskies outgained WSU 274-47 in putting the finishing touches on their most dominating win in two seasons.

And while there was a noticeable difference in the quality of the opposition, Sarkisian also felt there was a noticeable difference in the manner of his team's play from its last game before the Apple Cup, a 48-21 loss at Oregon State on Nov. 14.

Sarkisian had vowed to examine everything about the way the team prepared for the OSU game.

For the Apple Cup, he said there was "a huge emphasis on tempo in practice and our ability to get in and out of the huddle. I felt, looking back and examining that game, we were a little stale at Oregon State. ... We made a big emphasis in practice on playing fast, staying in the game plan fast, doing things upbeat and right, and it showed up."

Sarkisian and UW players said they see nothing but positives in having one more game to play, the third straight year the Huskies will play a regular-season contest after the Apple Cup.

That's something that won't happen next season as the Cougars and Huskies will move the Apple Cup back two weeks — to Dec. 4 in Pullman — to allow each team the chance at two in-season byes.

The Huskies have little to gain against Cal — at 4-7, UW is already eliminated from bowl contention.

"It's big to carry out some momentum and to get a win next week and carry that into the offseason," defensive tackle Cameron Elisara said. "We may not have gone to a bowl game, but we are still playing for all we can."

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And the Cal game can also be viewed as a chance to show whether the good play against WSU is simply the result of playing a feeble opponent or indicative of a few things starting to kick in as the season nears its close.

Cal comes into the game 8-3 overall, 5-3 in Pac-10 play, and needing a victory to solidify its bowl status.

The Bears are third in the conference in rushing, which will be a particular test for a UW defense that turned in its first shutout since 1997.

Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt said after the blanking of the Cougars it wasn't so much scheme but performance that made the difference.

"We might have pressured a little more than we have in the past," he said. "Quite honestly, if you probably broke it down and added it up, it probably would have been the same against UCLA and Oregon State, and things like that. I think the guys maybe executed it a lot better. They were focused. They had a great week of practice."

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

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