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October 31, 2011

Huskies will need to put aside emotion against Ducks

After a nine-year bowl drought, the Washington Huskies assured themselves they will go to their second bowl game in as many years, but the celebration won't last long.

That's because the sixth-ranked Oregon Ducks are coming to town this week to play the final game in Husky Stadium.

"It was great to get the win and it was a tremendous atmosphere here Saturday night, the blackout against Arizona," Steve Sarkisian said. "We'll move forward, and we'll get ready to play Oregon here Saturday."

Following Saturday's game, renovation will immediately begin on Husky Stadium. The university decided to have several different activities for the following.

The Huskies will recognize the 1991 national champion team. Don James will officiate the coin toss. There will be a commemorative 360-degree interactive stadium photograph taken, and senior day will also take place.

It's going to be a huge night for the Huskies, but Sarkisian knows that he can't let his team get too caught up in the commotion.

"We have to make sure that we're focused on the team of the Oregon Ducks and not get caught up in all the things that are surrounding the ball game and prepare for the Ducks," he said.

The heated rivalry between the Ducks and Huskies hasn't been much of a rivalry in recent years. In fact, Washington hasn't beaten Oregon since 2003. Oregon has also won 12 of the past 16 meetings between the two schools.

Oregon brings a level of speed that no other team can replicate and that's something Sarkisian knows the Huskies have to be ready for.

"They obviously present a great deal of challenges with their overall team speed, whether it's offense, defense, or special teams," he said.

The speed of Oregon is most obvious in the Ducks' rushing attack. Tailbacks LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas all have blazing speed and the Ducks utilize each of them throughout the game.

Both James and Barner are in the top five in rushing yards per game among Pac-12 players.

"If you blink they are in the end zone so we've got to make sure we understand where they are at all times whether it's at running back or in the slot at wide receiver and doing all the things they are doing with those guys," Sarkisian said.

The Huskies have a tailback threat of their own in Chris Polk, whose 244 total yards and five touchdowns against Arizona earned him Pac-12 player of the week honors.

While the Oregon running backs may have more flash and speed, Polk is making a name for himself as a complete back in the Husky backfield.

"Now, where he's at, he's a pure tailback," Sarkisian said. "You guys see where he's lined up. He's in the I formation and he does all the kinds of runs, the powers, the inside zones, the outside zone, the toss play. He still finished runs extremely well. That's why he gets so many yards after contact."

Oregon does have some controversy brewing at the quarterback position. Darron Thomas started last week against Washington State, but was benched in the second half in favor of Bryan Bennett, who lifted the Ducks to victory.

Who starts isn't a concern of Sarkisian's though. He said that "We've just got to defend their offense quite honestly. This is nothing against a Darron Thomas or a Bryan Bennett, but our concerns are a little bit more of 21, 24 and 6 (the numbers of the three tailbacks)."

Saturday night will be an emotional game on many different levels. The last game in the current Husky Stadium, a remembrance of one of the greatest Husky teams ever, a game between hated rivals and recognizing the senior class, a group that went 0-12 just a few years ago.

The fans are allowed to get as emotional as they want for the big game, but Sarkisian said he plans on spending the entire week preparing his team to not focus on what happens off the field on Saturday.

"Whether Lincoln Kennedy is in town or Steve Emtman is in town or it's senior night and how many tickets are being given out to this person or Coach (Don) James is there, there is so much other stuff involved for us to enjoy that experience Saturday night our focus has to be on that game and that has to start today," he said.

If the Huskies do get caught up in everything else they could find themselves in a hole before they know it. Oregon's speed doesn't take a night off and the Huskies will have to play a flawless game in order to send Husky Stadium off on a high note.



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