BY Art Thiel 08:00AM 12/04/2012

Thiel: Boise St. should prep for 2 Huskies teams

Huskies beat Stanford and lost to Washington State. Boise State is preparing to face Team Neurotica in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian needs No. 8 real bad. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Boise State thinks it drew the University of Washington for the bowl game in Vegas. Hah.

That’s merely its nom de grid. Everyone at Montlake knows the Huskies really are Team Neurotica.

The telltale is beating Pac-12 champion and eighth-ranked Stanford and losing to the league’s worst team, Washington State, in the same season.

Go ahead, Boise State – try to game-plan for two opponents instead of one.

I think the swerve into abnormal psychology is a great bowl-game strategy for UW, but coach Steve Sarkisian insists on lessening the distinction.

After the 31-28 OT Apple Cup debacle, which killed a four-game winning streak, Sarkisian sounded as if credibility restoration was Job One.

“I think so,” he said after practice Monday at the Dempsey Indoor facility.  “We still believe we’re a good football team. We didn’t play a great (Apple Cup) game, and we especially didn’t play a good fourth quarter, when (we) blow an 18-point lead.

“The eighth win is big for us. We want it deeply, and we have to defeat a very good Boise State team.”

The 17-13 win over Stanford Sept. 27 at the Clink proved Washington was a good team as much as the spit-up in Pullman proved the Huskies weren’t to be taken too seriously. A 14-point favorite ahead 28-10 in the final period over a 2-9 team playing without several key players, the Huskies richly deserved the national smirk that accompanied their fall off the edge of the earth.

Climbing back from the abyss, the players were immediately told by Sarkisian to avert their eyes from the fresh wound to happier times.

“I mentioned (Stanford) to the team,” he said. “Stanford (11-2) had one conference loss. To us, in a game that both teams played extremely hard and physical. Their other loss was (20-13 to Notre Dame Oct. 13), a team in the national championship, in a game that came down to an inch, or maybe a bad call.

“It showed us what we’re capable of.  We beat the Pac-12 champions. The thing (to remember about Stanford) is the consistency that they played with. That’s what matters for us. That what we have to strive for, week in and week out, to a standard we set for ourselves.”

Indeed, the Huskies were no Stanford – except for the night they beat the Cardinal.  Sarkisan’s pursuit of consistency would have been aided greatly by older players.

Throughout the season, Sarkisian kept saying the Huskies were “a very serious team” in demeanor, but that poker-face translated on the field into too many players who weren’t sure what they were doing.  The school-record 106 penalties were the most obvious symptom, but a principal cause was a senior class down to seven regulars, the last vestiges of the Tyrone Willingham era, and a typical outcome for teams with a lot of coaching churn. Washington has had five head coaches since 1998, and last year Sarkisian flushed most of his defensive staff, while offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier left after three seasons for Alabama, a little-appreciated blow to the 2012 Huskies.

Despite the change from Jim Harbaugh to assistant David Shaw, Stanford was loaded with fourth- and fifth-year seniors, partly because not a lot of players smart enough to get into Stanford want to walk away from the degree, even if they are PE majors.

While not to diminish the value of football talent and scheme,  much of what Washington needs, once competency is established, can be had with stability and time. Quality senior leadership in college can go a long way toward filling in the lows and flattening the highs.

At the beginning of the season, I predicted the Huskies, beset by injuries and youth, would go 6-6,  a bold forecast based on the principle of maximum security by nestling between wishy and washy.

I did not foresee beating Stanford or Oregon State, nor did I see the faceplant in the Palouse. In his honest moments, neither did Sarkisian. But judging by the Vegas bowl’s choice of Washington over Arizona and Arizona State, both 7-5, it may be that one night in September when the Huskies realized their potential outweighed the night in November when they realized their ordinariness.

That, plus 11,000 happy-to-leave-the-rain Huskies fans prowling the Strip made the Huskies the preferred choice.

“You never know,” Sarkisian said, “when you lose the last one, what taste it leaves in the bowl people’s mouths.”

In this case, Team Neurotica may be the perfect fit for a place where no one registers under their real name.


  • Las Vegas Johnny

    Last sentence . . . very good!

  • Bayview Herb

    The Huskies lost to WSU because they didn’t need the win to go bowling. WSU needed it for their emotional survival. A different Huskie team will face Boise State.

  • RadioGuy

    Come on, Herb. Really? You really think the Huskies mentally checked out of a century-old rivalry game because they’d clinched a berth in a second-tier bowl at best? Maybe the Apple Cup doesn’t mean much to you (I’m guessing you’re not from this state by that viewpoint alone), but I’m willing to believe even a Californian like Steve Sarkisian gets it.
    I hope the “good” Huskies show up in Vegas. Yes, I loved the Apple Cup win for my Cougs (after the way this season went, anything positive was desperately needed), but I want to see a strong program at the UW. Winning a bowl game against a decent, respected opponent would help.