By my count, I had only ever witnessed nineteen victories in-person at Husky Stadium. Nineteen. Not even twenty. Not even a great number. Not old enough to drink, not even old enough to really be considered an adult as far as society’s concerned. Nineteen, Jay Buhner’s number — Jay was great, but he was no Hall of Famer. Nineteen. Meh.
The first victory I ever witnessed live in that stadium? Idaho. The Vandals. And that was back in 2005, by a team that wouldn’t repeat the feat once more at home that year.
I had only enjoyed occasional flirtations with success in the old stadium. My college tenure kicked off with Keith Gilbertson at the helm of an underwhelming Husky squad; it ended a few years later with a winless 2008 campaign. The whole journey fell far short of what I expected, far short of what I thought the ride would be like when I was a kid. It was just plain bad.
In the era of post-graduation, things have gotten better. There will always be those who wish for nothing more than to see head coach Steve Sarkisian fired, but until you live game-in and game-out through the Tyrone Willingham era, it’s hard to muster up the fortitude to call for our current leader’s head. Sitting at the back of an empty student section in a near-empty 70,000-seat venue with the occasional “booooooo” raining down upon a lifeless playing surface, picking at dog-eared programs that were stomped on at halftime by the exiting horde of students, kicking away confetti that signified the home team’s lone score for the day — that was my life each fall Saturday for a period of four straight seasons. So what’s transpired since and what may transpire after will likely never phase me.
Growing up in that environment, one of relative despair and pseudo-hopelessness, has taught me to hope for the best but expect the worst. The generations of Husky fans who precede me might not understand that feeling — they grew up on Rose Bowls and conference titles — but rest assured it’s an emotion shared by the fans of my era.
So it was that entering Saturday night’s matchup with No. 19 Boise State my generational constituents and I walked with less swagger than hope, a nod to the letdowns of our still-fairly-recent past. We wanted a win, we wanted to believe this team would capitalize on the electricity of the moment, the energy coursing through the very first crowd in a stunningly renovated Husky Stadium, but we knew better than to expect such foolishness. In the three or so hours that followed, however, we were made to believe.
It wasn’t slow. Of all the takeaways from the inaugural contest of the 2013 season, that may be the most evident. It was not slow.
Washington played at a pace befitting their bitter rivals, the Oregon Ducks. With a tempo that exhausted not only their opponents but also their own personnel, the Huskies ran. And ran, and ran, and ran. They held up glitzy cue cards to call out plays from the sideline and rotated an arsenal of purple-clad reserves with unceasing rapidity. They displayed a certain speed and urgency that we had never seen before. They were quick. They were conditioned. They were good.
It was effective, the rate at which they played. But that efficient offense, in all its shiny new glory, wasn’t merely a doppelganger of the one run by those green-(and holographic silver-, white-, yellow-, black-, grey-, vomit-, etc.)clad fowl to the south. The read-option was not nearly as prevalent, for one, and Washington primarily utilized spread formations and a rejuvenated Keith Price to set up their running game.
Price, who threw for 324 yards on 23-for-31 passing, slung the ball around both short and long effectively. Completing throws to seven different Huskies (and one Bronco on the game’s opening drive), the fifth-year senior quarterback bore a resemblance to former Arizona signal-caller Nick Foles in the way he delivered to his receivers. With a flurry of screens and quick outs working to their advantage, Price and the Huskies forced Boise State’s defense to press forward, ultimately leading to opportunities deeper downfield that were exploited by the likes of Kasen Williams (three catches for 68 yards and a touchdown) and Jaydon Mickens (nine catches, 109 yards).
This, of course, begat a plethora of chances for the Husky running backs, who held up their end of the bargain by amassing 268 yards on the ground. Led by Bishop Sankey (161 yards, two touchdowns) and freshman Dwayne Washington (52 yards, one touchdown), the Huskies carried the ball 54 times, averaging five yards per carry along the way.
Speed wasn’t just relegated to the offense, though. Utilizing a high velocity similar to that of their counterparts on the other side of the ball, the Washington defense flew around the field, preventing the opposition from finding the end zone and limiting Boise to just two field goals over four quarters.
Pressure on the quarterback and penalties may serve as areas in which to improve — Washington recorded just one sack and committed eight penalties, six more than the Broncos — but the pass defense was so good that it atoned for seemingly all other wrongdoings. The Huskies’ secondary, especially, stood out, punctuated by Sean Parker’s first-half interception of a Joe Southwick pass.
It was an Arizona-Oregon hybrid that seemed to give Washington its own unique style of fast-paced, pro-style/spread (pro-spread?) play. And in the end, it resulted in a 38-6 final score that shocked even the most optimistic Husky fans in college football’s most intimate 72,000-seat stadium.
Save for when the officials infrequently imposed upon the action, there were no boos on Saturday. There was confetti, but it rained down much more than once during the game. There were students, and like the rest of the home crowd they certainly didn’t leave at halftime. There were fans in full-throat, and as the fourth quarter transpired the only ones who departed early were wearing the orange-and-blue of the visiting ballclub. It was more than we could hope for, everything we could only anticipate in our dreams, and the game that seemed to kick a pockmarked past in the ass as the final horn sounded.
For someone who’s seen the worst, the twentieth victory I’d witnessed first-hand at Husky Stadium — and the first in a brand new home venue — made me believe in the best. Great start, Huskies. Keep it up.