Notre Dame week only comes around every so often – and for the second time in as many years. The big difference this time around, as opposed to last season, is that the Huskies travel to the site of “Touchdown Jesus” for the fourth time in school history.
Aside from defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, who likes to read the “history” section in the media guides for a lot of the storied college programs around the country (Pacific Lutheran excluded), many of the UW players aren’t in tune to the tradition of Notre Dame football, looking at the iconoclastic bits of the Irish’s history as more trivial than relevant.
Why would they? Notre Dame has slipped off the national scale pretty much the past decade-and-a-half.
There’s always, “Rudy” (after Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, former Notre Dame walkon). The real-life movie for all underdogs. The football flick that tugs at your senses. Yes, even Huskies like it.
Quarterback Jake Locker admitted he’s seen it “15 or 20 times.” Receiver Jermaine Kearse counted five times, including the last time a couple months ago. No football player alive can say their life is complete without watching it at least once.
So, players were asked: If “Rudy” was to have a sequel, which UW teammate would best fit the part.
And among Locker, Kearse, Te’o-Nesheim, linebacker Donald Butler and safety Nate Williams, the answer was unanimous – linebacker Fred Wiggs, a walk-on out of O’Dea in his junior season.
• Kearse: It’s because he works so hard. You’ve seen the move – Rudy works so hard to get on the field. Fred does that no matter who’s watching, no matter where he is, he does that. He pushes the starters.”
• Locker: “Just the way he approaches the game, and how much he loves Husky football and growing up around it. You can’t argue with it.”
• Te’o-Nesheim: “If you watched how Rudy played in practice (with scrapes and bloody noses), and in the movie, and watched Fred … he’s one nasty-looking guy, too.”
Some other Monday morsels:
• Two recurring themes from UW coach Steve Sarkisian’s weekly press conference Monday: Bad tackling and bad blocking.
Of note, Sarkisian said after reviewing game film of the Huskies’ 34-14 loss at Stanford, Huskies defenders were “going much lower than they’ve ever gone, and we missed. We had other guys who were trying to hit him (running back Toby Gerhart, who rushed for 200 yards) and not wrap him up.
“We’re a team that has wrapped up extremely well. That’s why we’ve been able to play so successful in the red zone against teams that have moved the ball, because we do wrap up, we do tackle well. We didn’t do that this week.”
And on blocking, lack of communication was the biggest culprit, the first-year UW coach said.
• Special teams was also a popular discussion topic, notably Erik Folk’s opening kickoff and return personnel.
After the game, Sarkisian said the plan for Folk was to kick the ball left where the coverage would run to. Instead, he booted it right, and Stanford’s Chris Owusu returned it 91 yards for a touchdown, his third score of the season.
On Monday, Sarkisian said Folk did not ignore the orders, rather simply “he just mishit it.” In other words, a shank.
After Jordan Polk bobbled the kickoff after Gerhart’s 60-yard TD jaunt in the second quarter, he was replaced by Johri Fogerson returning three kicks the rest of the evening.
Quinton Richardson is clearly the team’s No. 1 kick returner, and Sarkisian said as the staff evaluates who his running mate will be Saturday at Notre Dame, what might come under heavy consideration is finding a better lead blocker to open up more creases for Richardson.
• Outside linebacker E.J. Savannah’s status is in limbo – and could be for another day or so after an MRI was taken on his foot. He missed the second half Saturday with what Sarkisian thought was plantar fasciitis.
In his place was Cort Dennison, who was one of the few who played well (eight tackles). The UW coach was asked if Dennison could be a full-time starter for this team in Savannah’s stead.
“Cort’s played good football for us. He’s been a guy we’ve put in games in critical moments, and he’s done nothing but play really well,” Sarkisian said. “He’s played really good football. So we’re OK with that.”
• Tight end Kavario Middleton has come under fire this week by some of the Seattle media members on one of Locker’s interceptions. They felt Middleton cut off a route on the second pick in the second half.
No doubt, Middleton, the Lakes High product, has been up-and-down in his four games.
“He’s done OK. I think Kavario is a guy, he’s a young sophomore,” Sarkisian said. “In a lot of programs, I think he’d be a redshirt freshman. So there’s a roller coaster-type factor there. He can play really well at times, and there are times he can make mistakes. He has a tendency to hang and carry with him for a couple plays.”
• Until Fogerson got a carry (2-yard run) late in the Huskies’ first drive of the second half, tailback Chris Polk had taken 40 consecutive carries among the running backs, dating back to the win over USC.
Demitrius Bronson (shoulder) appears fine now and was working some with the No. 1 offense Monday. He could be a viable between-the-tackles running option in the coming weeks.
“I know I come up here and say it every week (plan to use more running backs), and you guys are probably thinking, ‘Man, he’s just saying it,'” the UW coach said. “It’s just a hard thing to do when you’re not going the way you want to go. I think if we would’ve went down and scored a couple touchdowns, it’s a lot easier to get Demitrius in the game, or Curtis Shaw or someone of that fold. We threw Demitrius in there for a couple of snaps. But it’s just hard to do when you’re trying to get the rhythm of the game back in your favor. I think it’ll be a lot easier, if we can keep going, to get those guys in.”
• Sarkisian’s first Notre Dame experience was 2001. It was his first season with Pete Carroll at USC. The Trojans went in and lost 27-16 in South Bend, Ind., but have won the past seven meetings since then.
“Not to nitpick what (USC) does or how they do it, and Pete and I have talked about it since then, we made that mistake our first year (in 2001),” Sarkisian said. “We went there … and did all the sight-seeing and the different things and we didn’t perform great. We were a different team. They were a different team.”
Like USC will when it goes to Notre Dame in a couple weeks, the Huskies will stay 45 minutes outside South Bend.
• Some quick-hit stuff: Receiver Devin Aguilar (sprained knee) did not practice Monday, but did some exercises on the sideline. … I pointed out in a blog post Sunday that Jordan Polk’s workload efficiency lagged behind the others, and I asked Sarkisian about it Monday. “I don’t know if he’s playing as fast as he is, either. So we’re looking at it,” Sarkisian said. “Maybe he’s got a little too much on his plate right now. “(We’ll) possibly reduce his reps, so when he’s on the field, he’s more of a factor.” … The team will hold a 10 a.m. practice Thursday, then catch a flight to Sound Bend later that night. They will hold a practice Friday at a local high school, and then a walk-through at Notre Dame Stadium. … Kickoff for the UW-Arizona game Oct. 10 at Husky Stadium has been set for 7 p.m., and will be televised live on Fox Sports Northwest.