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October 10, 2011

Huskies familiar with Buffaloes' pursuit

At 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the Pac-12 Conference, the Washington Huskies are off to their best start since 2006.

But coming off of their bye week, coach Steve Sarkisian isn't proclaiming the program is back to where he wants it to be.

"I'm not sure if we've turned the corner quite honestly," he said.

After taking over the 0-12 Huskies in 2008, Sarkisian has made a quick reclamation project of the program. He led the team to a Holiday bowl victory in his second season and this year the Huskies look primed to go to another bowl game.

With the hot start, Sarkisian is preaching to his team not to become overconfident, using an analogy during his Monday press conference to explain the teams' situation.

"If we are mountain climbers and we are climbing Rainier here, we are pretty inexperienced climbers right now," Sarkisian said. "I don't think we are at a point where we can really look down to see what we've accomplished yet. And I don't think we are at a point to where we can look up to see how much further we have to go. We have to focus on our very next step. We just don't have enough experience on the mountain right now to be focusing on feeling too good about ourselves. Because one false step and we could slide right back down."

The Huskies have some experience this season about being overconfident. In the first game of the season, an inferior Eastern Washington team nearly upset the Huskies in Husky stadium.

Quarterback Keith Price echoed the comments by Sarkisian saying "we're not where we need to be yet, you know, and we have a pretty good team but we know that we could be a lot better and I think that we still have a lot of growing to do."

Price, who is second in the country with 17 touchdown passes this season, spent most of the bye week resting his injured ankle and is feeling much better.

"This is the best I've felt all season, so it's going to be fun this week," he said.

With 1-5 Colorado coming into Seattle Saturday the Huskies are heavy favorites, but Price isn't looking at their record as he prepares for the game.

"They're a good team. We're not getting fooled off their record," said Price. "They're good players on that team, so we're not taking anything for granted."

Colorado could very easily be 3-3, but an overtime loss to California and a late collapse to Washington State cost the Buffaloes two victories.

The Buffaloes are in a similar state that the Huskies were just a few years ago. They have first-year coach Jon Embree, who is attempting to rebuild a program that has struggled in recent years.

"Got a chance to watch some TV copies of some of their games, and to me they are eerily similar to who we were a couple years ago," Sarkisian said. "I think they have talent on their football team. I think they are well-coached, I think they play hard and they are trying to find a way to get over the hump and to win some of these tight ball games."

Sarkisian noted some of the similarities between his 2009 Huskies' team and this years' Colorado team and the way the coaches have to change the culture surrounding the program.

"What we went through, you're changing the culture," Sarkisian said. "You've got a mixture of guys from an older staff that moved on to your influx of young players. I think they've played already 13 freshmen this year. So you are trying to bring the team together and play with a mindset and the beliefs you have as a coach. (They have) a lot of young guys running around making some plays, making some mistakes, very similar."

Colorado brings plenty of heat on defense to get to the quarterback. The Buffaloes are tied for the Pac-12 lead in sacks this season, averaging 2.83 sacks per game. With the mobility of Price being an issue, the Huskies offensive line is going to have to make sure they pick up the Buffaloes' complex blitz schemes.

"They've got a lot of exotic pressures that there's a real NFL influence to their defense with what they do on third-down situations," Sarkisian said. "But they are aggressive on first and second down as well, a lot of five-man pressures. And they do a good job of getting after the quarterback."

Through five games, the Huskies have given up 11 sacks, fifth most in the conference up to this point in the season. Both Sarkisian and Price said that the blame should be split up between the offensive line and Price holding onto the ball too long at times.

The Huskies are likely going to make adjustments to the blitz packages Colorado brings on defense, they'll also have to prepare for a dynamic threat on offense in running back Rodney Stewart.

Standing at just 5-foot-6, Stewart averages 71.8 yards rushing per game, but Sarkisian said he's even more dangerous catching passes, where he averages 69.5 yards per game.

"His stature pays off for him mostly in the screen game because you can't, you don't see him very well and then boom, he's out," Sarkisian said. "And they do a great job of coaching the screen game, so it will be a huge point of emphasis for us this week without a doubt."

Washington knows what it feels like to be at the bottom of the conference. Just a few years ago, the Huskies were right where Colorado stands today.

With a huge game the following week against Stanford, the Huskies can't overlook anyone, because they know anything can happen when you meet a young team seeking an upset.

Quick hits

Price's knees are not an issue at this point, according to Sarkisian. The only thing bothering him is his ankle, but he is expected to practice this week and play on Saturday. …

Sarkisian said that both Nate Fellner and Jesse Callier are back and healthy. …

The biggest injury news from Monday is that Kasen Williams is still hurting from the high ankle sprain suffered against Utah. He will be limited in practice and Sarkisian said he expects Williams to be a game time decision on Saturday. …

Follow UDubNation's Mitchell Larsen on Twitter @MLarsen_Rivals


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