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Originally published Saturday, September 5, 2009 at 10:29 PM

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Steve Kelley

Huskies seem to have cleared the air in new era

The blocking was crisper. The running harder. The offensive scheme was more creative.

Seattle Times staff columnist

The change was obvious the first time Washington touched the ball. The stadium was filled with people and possibilities. Everything was clear again, as if Washington football finally was being played in High Definition.

This is a new brand of Washington football.

In this late-night 31-23 loss to LSU, the blocking was crisper, the running harder. The offensive scheme was more creative and the quarterback, Jake Locker, was in the game again, leading the Huskies on an 85-yard, 10 play touchdown drive on their first possession of the season.

So, this is how much better the new era will look:

Chris Polk, who was so disenchanted last season he almost quit the game, rumbled for early runs of 10 and 9 yards. His backup, Johri Fogerson, took a screen pass from Locker, beating LSU's blitz, and going 51 yards.

And finally, operating with an empty backfield, Locker, who missed the final eight weeks of last season with a broken thumb, flung a pass to the future — true freshman wide receiver James Johnson — who danced and cut and sprinted into the end zone for a 17-yard score.

The old stadium swayed. The upper deck felt like a trampoline, bobbing up and down, a good thing, honest. A reminder of the past.

The season only was 4 ½ minutes old, but it seemed as if order had been restored to the University of Washington football program.

It all started at 7:33 Saturday, in the late summer dusk, as the first edition of the Steve Sarkisian Huskies, led by Mason Foster and Quinton Richardson, charged through the Husky Stadium tunnel and into the great unknown.

The long season of waiting finally was over. The season of change had begun. And nobody, not even Sarkisian, knew exactly what to expect.

After all, this was LSU they were facing in the season's opener. Washington was a 17 ½-point underdog and 22 months removed from its last win.

Finally it was time to stop marinating in the mess of last season. It was time to stop talking about the misery of the Tyrone Willingham years.


Everything from the uniforms, to the coach, to the attitude was different about this season. This team was so new, four true freshmen — Johnson, Semisi Tokolahi, Demetrius Bronson, Desmond Trufant — got playing time in the opener.

There was more energy at Husky Stadium than any time since the Marques Tuiasosopo years.

Locker, the offense's North Star, was back from injury. Linebacker E.J. Savannah had returned from his season in exile.

And veterans like defensive end Daniel Te'o Nesheim, linebacker Donald Butler, safety Nate Williams and tackle Ben Ossai were back, wanting to awaken from last season's 0-12 nightmare and feel good again about playing football.

"We want teams to respect us when we walk off the field," Sarkisian said last week.

This first game, this first season, was about regaining the respect lost over the four years of finger-pointing and pouting.

This first game, this first season, was about changing a culture that has been divisive and uninspired. What a difference a year has made.

Sure, the young Huskies weren't spotless. They made too many mistakes to beat a team as good as LSU.

They committed 11 penalties for 83 yards. Redshirt freshman Greg Walker missed a tackle on the Tigers' 35-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Jefferson to Terrance Toliver.

Locker threw a pick six to Jacob Cutrera in the first quarter. And Chris Polk, who gained tough, tough yards all game, lost a fumble inside the Tigers' 5. And in the final minutes, when it needed a stop the Huskies defense broke, allowing a six-play, 67-yard touchdown drive that sealed LSU's win.

Still this night was genuine. The Huskies cleaned the dirty air from last season. For much of the game, Washington clearly outplayed the Tigers. The Huskies finished with 478 total yards to LSU's 321.

From Chris Polk, to Locker, Johnson to Devin Aguilar, on and on, the Huskies made plays. There was the fumble that Mason Foster recovered on the Washington 18. The sack by Alameda Ta'amu. There were the two third-down completions from Locker to Johnson, the next magical Washington pass-and-catch connection.

In their first game under Steve Sarkisian, the Huskies looked like players in college football again. They looked like legitimate bowl contenders.

This is a program on the rise, gaining altitude maybe faster than we could have imagined.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176

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Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation. | 206-464-2176

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