By Brent Stecker
Washington has some work to do to make sure its current winning streak isn’t short lived.
The Huskies (6-3 overall, 3-3 Pac-12) are preparing for the No. 13 UCLA Bruins (7-2, 4-2), who have only lost to No. 5 Stanford and No. 6 Oregon this season and have the talk of college football on their side. That would be Bellevue native Myles Jack, a ferocious freshman linebacker who had eight tackles and recovered a fumble in the end zone in a win Saturday over Arizona. More notable, however, was what he did in his debut as a running back, rushing for 120 yards (including a 66-yard touchdown) on just six carries en route to being named the Pac-12’s offensive player of the week.
UCLA’s Myles Jack, a true freshman linebacker from Bellevue, made eight tackles and recovered a fumble in the end zone last week while also rushing for 120 yards and a touchdown in his debut as a running back. (AP)
Oh, and if that isn’t enough for the Huskies to worry about, it’s a short week, too – the game is at 6 p.m. Friday in the Rose Bowl.
Even with usual top running back Jordon James working his way back from an ankle injury, the Bruins’ running game is in great shape with the bruising combo of Jack and quarterback Brett Hundley, who leads the team with 487 rushing yards and seven scores.
“He’s such a different back than what they have,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday of Jack. “Their other guys are a little quicker, more scat-back type, and Myles is obviously a very physical runner. Different style, little different approach to tackling, but the plays are similar. They’re not running necessarily different plays. They give you a few different formational deals there, but he’s a physical player. … He’s definitely talented enough to do that (play two ways).”
The Huskies can’t get too concerned with Jack or whoever else UCLA hands the ball off to, however, as Hundley has been very effective with both his legs and his arm this season. His 154.8 quarterback rating eclipses even Washington’s own Keith Price (154.4), and his running ability further complicates things for defenses.
“He’s another physical guy. I think one thing Brett’s really taken off with doing at the end of last season and then all throughout this season is using his legs, running the football,” Sarkisian said. “And then he’s throwing the ball down the field really well. … He’s in a good system I think for him, I think (offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone) does a great job of utilizing his strengths, and he’s a tough matchup for sure.”
Defense wants to build on three-turnover game
Sarkisian said a lot of work went into the Huskies’ three takeaways on consecutive Colorado possessions in the third quarter of their 59-7 win over the Buffaloes.
“Our defensive coaches have just been hammering it home and working it every single day, and as we touched on with the guys, the dam was getting ready to break,” he said. “It was just a matter of time and it finally broke.”
With three very important games to go in the regular season – at UCLA, at Oregon State, and the Apple Cup against Washington State at home – winning the turnover battle would go a long way for Washington.
“Hopefully for the next three games we just have an onslaught on the football, (and) we just continue on from where that third quarter and second half went of last week’s game,” Sarkisian said. “Just forcing fumbles, getting interceptions, tipping passes, (and) expecting that to happen so when the ball is in the air we make those plays and we create big plays because they’re so huge for momentum. I know we have the athletes to do it, I know we have the scheme to do it, and the coaches to make it happen. I’m excited to watch the last three weeks. I really think we’re gonna get after the ball a great deal.”
• Sarkisian is pleased with the play of TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who caught three passes for 62 yards and a touchdown on Saturday.
“To Austin’s credit, he just keeps practicing really good, and when you do things right every single day, that just becomes the habit and you go play well,” Sarkisian said. “He’s played good for weeks now. He got some opportunities there in the first half. … He’ll be an integral part of this game plan.”
• The thing Sarkisian most wants to see improved from the Colorado game is communication on the offensive line.
“We had a couple communication breakdowns. One of the sacks we lacked communication from the tight end to the tackle on the right side of the line, which caused a sack there,” he said. “Just a couple times we got a little penetration and when we had our pullers coming around they got knocked off. We need to be a little bit more stout at the point of attack so that our pullers can get around, because when they do we’re pretty good, and (RB Bishop Sankey) does good in space that way.”
• Sankey ranks third in the nation with 1,305 rushing yards and 145 rushing yards per game, and is tied for fourth with 13 rushing touchdowns.
• Sarkisian didn’t guarantee that senior S Will Shamburger, who missed the Colorado game with an undisclosed injury, will play Friday.
“I’m hopeful. Short week, so it’s not ideal, so hopefully we can get him back,” Sarkisian said.
• LB Shaq Thompson, who left the Colorado game with a stinger, is “good to go,” according to Sarkisian.