Washington vs. Arizona State: Sarkisian’s Biggest Test


Oct 5, 2013; Stanford, CA, USA; Washington Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian talks with officials during a timeout against the Stanford Cardinal in the second quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Despite our dreams of grandeur, I believe that the majority of Husky fans looked at the first six games of the 2013 season and figured the Dawgs would be 4-2. Those two losses are nothing to be ashamed of; one to a Stanford team on the road that saw UW outplay the Cardinal in every facet save special teams. The second loss, as far as I’m concerned, was to the best team in the country. I have seen every Oregon home game since the early 90s, and this is the best team I have ever seen come in to Husky Stadium – that includes the 2000 Miami team that had something like 50 future NFL players. Marcus Mariota is the best player in college football this year and the Oregon D was straight up nasty. Even so, UW was still down only a touchdown at the beginning of the 4th quarter. There’s no doubt that this is the best Husky team in a decade.

With all of that being said, the game against Arizona State this weekend may be the most important game not only in the Steve Sarkisian era, but in the last ten years for the Huskies. Right now the Huskies are clearly not at the level of Oregon – but they are firmly in the discussion as the top of the second tier teams in the Pac-12. In previous years when UW has had a chance to get a statement win on the road they’ve fallen embarrassingly flat on their face. On Saturday, the next opportunity for the Huskies is a 4-2 Arizona State team with the exact same designs on catapulting into the upper echelon of the Pac-12.

This is a winnable game for Dawgs – ASU got torched by Stanford, specifically by the running game (ahem, Bishop Sankey) and are a typical Pac-12 officials performance away from having a third loss to Wisconsin. The scary thing here is that these are the games the Huskies have found ways to lose in the past. Case in point, UW vs. ASU in 2009. The Dawgs kicked a game tying field goal with 3:50 then got the ball back with just over a minute to play. They went three and out and gave the ball back to ASU with little time left on the clock, only to give up a 50 yard touchdown pass with five seconds to play. Those are the types of things that have happened to this program under Sark on the road. Just when it seems like the Huskies are going to make the leap, they trip over themselves.

That is why I say again, this is the most important game in the Steve Sarkisian era. Losing back to back games to Stanford and Oregon is acceptable because they are great teams, and they didn’t blow the doors of the Huskies as they have in previous years. What will be unacceptable will be a three-game losing streak for the fifth consecutive year under Sark. The Huskies will face the two worst teams in the Pac-12 sandwiched around a bye in the next three weeks after ASU. There has never been a better chance for the Huskies to get to seven wins this fast under Sark and there has never been a better chance to get to nine or 10 wins in a single season, but it starts with beating Arizona State. If the Dawgs do that, we will know that this team has truly grown up and is ready to play on the big stage. Lose and we are staring at a potential fourth straight seven-win season and the inevitable questions about Sark being the right guy.

I really think the Huskies get it done in the desert. There is too much fire power on offense for ASU to contend with and the Husky D, despite getting lit up by Mariota last week, is still a top-20 defense nationally. If I’m wrong, and I hope I’m not, there are going to be more questions than answers for this program. Bow down and go Dawgs.