Price: Huskies won't be intimidated by third-ranked LSU
Sarkisian went outside the box, but he didn't dare set foot inside the cage, when ordering a 300-pound tiger from a private Oregon reserve to watch Tuesday's practice from the sidelines as the Huskies prepared for today's game against the LSU Tigers.
The goal was for the UW players to learn how to fight through distraction, which will be all around them in Baton Rouge this afternoon. And yet it had to be difficult not to notice the caged animal as its yellow eyes peered at them for two hours.
So who would the Huskies have a better chance of slaying -- that Tiger, or these third-ranked Tigers and their vicious defense?
"He's in a cage right now, so ..." senior offensive lineman Drew Schaefer cracked while looking at the live tiger from a few yards away Tuesday afternoon.
And yet intimidation shouldn't be a factor when unranked UW goes into the hornet's nest -- make that, Tigers' cage -- of Tiger Stadium this afternoon. The last time the Huskies played LSU, a UW team that was coming off a 0-12 season gave the Tigers quite a scare in the 2009 opener -- Sarkisian's first game as leader of the Huskies.
Schaefer, one of the few current players who were part of that game, said the 2009 Huskies felt like huge underdogs, while this year's team brings more confidence into the meeting.
"(Sarkisian's) first year, guys were maybe just a little bit overwhelmed," Schaefer said. "But now, we've played the Nebraskas, we've played the USCs, the Oregons and stuff like that, so guys are comfortable with high-level competition. They love that challenge."
Since that 2009 meeting, the Huskies have played five teams ranked among the top 10 in the nation. Quarterback Keith Price made his first start at No. 1 Oregon, and last season he played at No. 11 Nebraska, at No. 7 Stanford and at No. 18 USC, so he's not going to be intimidated by his surroundings.
"It's going to be a challenge," Price said this week. "It's going to be loud, it's going to be hot. But it's nothing I can't handle."
Price, who was redshirting the last time the Huskies and Tigers played, said UW is a much-improved program since it took LSU to the fourth quarter in a 31-23 loss in the 2009 opener.
"I think we have a lot better team than we did three years ago," he said. "I'm sure they're not overlooking us -- and we're not overlooking them."
Price also said the Huskies won't be intimidated by a program from the mighty Southeastern Conference, which is widely regarded as the best football conference in America.
"They play great football in the SEC," Price said. "But we play pretty good football in the Pac-12, too."
Intimidation was not a part of UW's game plan when the Huskies left for Baton Rouge on Thursday.
"This is a big opportunity," linebacker Travis Feeney said after Tuesday's practice. "Now all we've got to do is seize the opportunity. We've got to go there and do what our team knows that we can do."
Most of the players were taking the one-game-at-a-time mentality this week, and Sarkisian -- for all his Barnum-and-Bailey motivational tactics -- was quick to point out that UW has been in situations like this before.
"This isn't new to us," he said during his Monday press conference. "There's a proud history at the University of Washington playing games like this."
Since Sarkisian arrived in 2009, the Huskies have faced 15 ranked opponents -- mostly Pacific-12 Conference competition -- and are 4-11 in that span. His only road win against a ranked opponent came at No. 18 USC in 2010. In every one of UW's road games against ranked teams during the Sarkisian era the Huskies have allowed 30 points or more.
The last time the program faced a top-10 team in a non-conference road game came in 2008, when No. 3 Oklahoma handed UW a 55-14 waxing. The last time the Huskies won a road game against a non-conference opponent ranked in the top 10 came in 1994, when UW beat fifth-ranked Miami in one of the most memorable wins in program history. The so-called "Whammy in Miami" saw the Huskies knock off the Hurricanes 38-20 to snap Miami's 58-game home winning streak.
Sarkisian, who was in junior college in Southern California when that upset took place, looks back at the "Whammy in Miami" as a game in which opportunity met performance.
"The 'Whammy in Miami,' and some of those other great wins on the road were more a byproduct of guys playing well, guys executing well," Sarkisian said. "Now those guys that were a part of it get to tell a great story, that they were part of it."
Whether it's because of a live tiger, an upset of third-ranked USC in his third game as head coach, or a quarterback who has been in unfriendly environments, the Huskies don't plan on being intimidated at Tiger Stadium this afternoon.
"They're good," Price said. "But we'll be on our A-game, trust me."
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