SAN ANTONIO – Let’s talk about opportunities.
Despite finishing the regular season with a 10-2 record and a six-game winning streak, No. 12 Washington was denied the opportunity to play in the Pac-12 championship game or end its season with a Rose Bowl berth. The Huskies were saddled instead with a four-hour flight behind enemy lines, and an Alamo Bowl date against No. 20 Texas (8-4).
And yet, in San Antonio, opportunities exist.
Opportunities to swim with dolphins at SeaWorld, enveloped in all-black bodysuits. Opportunities to participate in a unique pep rally aboard barges floating the riverwalk. Opportunities to ride in a horse-drawn carriage appropriately illuminated with purple lights, or eat your weight in Mexican food while being serenaded by a mariachi band.
Opportunities, come Thursday, to prove Washington is more than a Pac-12 afterthought.
It’s a future playoff contender, too.
“Yeah, I think it’s just one of those Pac-12 deals where everybody looks down on the Pac-12,” senior safety Alex Cook said Tuesday, when asked why Washington is the Vegas underdog despite owning a superior record and ranking. “It’s OK; we’re OK with that. We’ve been underdogs this entire season. We’ve been not predicted to win in Vegas against multiple teams, and we’re fine with that.
“It’s no big deal. We’re used to it. We’ve been through this. I’ve been through this six years being an underdog. I’m not fazed by this, by any means. I’m actually excited to be an underdog. That’s what it’s all about; underdogs come out on top.”
It doesn’t help, of course, that Pac-12 programs are 1-6 in their past seven Alamo Bowl appearances – with the lone win being a 28-26 Washington State escape against Iowa State in 2018.
Or that Texas is 4-1 all time in the Alamo Bowl.
Or that the Longhorns’ campus is conveniently located just 80 miles northeast.
But UW is looking to seize opportunities, instead of excuses.
“It doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m playing the team, not the fans,” UW junior edge Bralen Trice said, of Thursday’s road environment. “A lot of people think the fans play a big factor, and here (at Husky Stadium) they do. It’s crazy. When we’re away – and this is practically an away game for us – I don’t really pay any attention to it.”
Which is probably why Washington is regarded as a three-point underdog … despite possessing a better record, a better ranking and more available starters in San Antonio. Three Longhorns standouts – running backs Bijan Robinson (1,580 rushing yards, 6.1 yards per carry, 18 rush TDs, 314 receiving yards, two receiving TDs) and Roschon Johnson (554 rushing yards, 6 YPC, six TDs), as well as linebacker DeMarvion Overshown (96 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, five pass breakups, four sacks) – have opted out of the Alamo Bowl to prepare for the NFL draft.
UW, meanwhile, has received comprehensive bowl buy-in – with quarterback Michael Penix Jr., wide receivers Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan, edges Bralen Trice and Zion Tupuola-Fetui and left tackle Troy Fautanu all participating (and all but Odunze having announcing returns in 2023).
On Thursday, the Huskies have an opportunity to send 14 seniors out with a win; to show significant (and overdue) improvement in the secondary; to broadcast their brand on a national stage, against a blue-blood opponent; to make an informal recruiting pitch to the entire state of Texas; to turn the collective head of the College Football Playoff committee, and position themselves for a playoff run
“I really wouldn’t want it any other way, and I know all the guys in the locker room feel that way,” sixth-year senior left guard Jaxson Kirkland said of UW’s underdog status. “Ten wins is extremely special this season, and I guarantee you not a lot of people had us reaching that mark.
“That just goes back to us not listening to the outside noise. In the bottom of our hearts, it’s not what you have, it’s what you know. We know we’re a special group, and we’re just going to keep proving that.”
Sarkisian gives credit
Steve Sarkisian understands how difficult it is to beat Oregon.
In five seasons as UW’s head coach – from 2009 to 2013 – Sarkisian went 0-5 against the Ducks, with an average margin of defeat of 26 points.
So naturally, when asked Tuesday which UW game this season turned his head on tape, the answer was obvious.
“These guys have played well all year. I think one game that stood out to me, because I’ve been in the game, going to Eugene and beating Oregon in a hard-fought game against a really good Oregon football team … that was really impressive, because their backs were against the wall,” said Sarkisian, Texas’ second-year head coach. “Oregon kind of got a little bit of control of the game, had the lead, had the chance to kind of solidify it, and UW kept fighting and finding a way and finding a way, and ultimately got a victory in a heck of a rivalry game on the road.
“Having been part of that game, that’s a huge moment for that football team and that school and the city of Seattle. I know that was a big moment for them.”
Alamo Bowl déjà vu?
UW’s last Alamo Bowl appearance resulted in a 67-56 defeat to Baylor and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III in 2011, in which Washington conceded 777 total yards (including 482 rushing yards) and surrendered a 42-24 second half lead. Husky quarterback Keith Price threw for 438 yards and accounted for seven touchdowns in defeat.
When Sarkisian – UW’s coach that day – was asked if Thursday’s game could follow a similar formula, he said: “I hope it doesn’t go that way again. My neck was sore after that. I felt like it was a tennis match.
“But you know, bowl games, they’re crazy in how they can go. Obviously Washington has got a very explosive offense. These guys are fantastic playmakers. They’ve got a great scheme, really good quarterback, good up front. We’re going to have to score; we understand that. But hopefully we don’t have to get ourselves to 60. That would not be good for us and probably not for them, either. Hopefully it’s just a good football game.”
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