Huskies healthy entering important final stretch

TIM BOOTH (AP Sports Writer)
The Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) -- Washington's second bye week of the season came at the perfect time for Steve Sarkisian.

The Huskies were beat up and tired after a rough October where the Huskies dropped three of four games, fell out of the AP Top 25 and were again left to become a middle of the pack finisher in the Pac-12 North Division.

The time to regroup was an important break before a hectic final four games that will determine whether 2013 was a success.

''I've been talking about the maturity of this team all year long and I think they understand what is in front of them,'' Sarkisian said Monday. ''They understand there are some unique challenges here, each one of these games will be different, but that we're capable of doing it and I see no reason why we won't. I think we're going to play great football and they're all going to be hard, none of them are going to be easy.''

One of the biggest benefits of having the late bye week was a chance to get players healthy. Quarterback Keith Price, who had been playing through a sore thumb on his throwing hand, and running back Bishop Sankey got some rest while younger players took reps. The Huskies also welcomed left guard Dexter Charles back to practice after he had missed the previous two games with a shoulder injury.

The Huskies (5-3, 2-3 Pac-12) begin their final stretch on Saturday hosting Colorado. A win over the Buffaloes will make the Huskies bowl eligible for the fourth straight season, but it's what they do following at UCLA, at Oregon State and vs. Washington State that'll determine if Washington can escape the 7-6 plateau of the last three regular seasons.

''Colorado's going to come fired up, ready to play. It's always difficult to win at UCLA, Oregon State, and then obviously the Apple Cup,'' Sarkisian said. ''They're going to be hard, but I just think we'll be ready to go.''

Sarkisian would like to see more diversity in the passing game. He knows that will be difficult with Kasen Williams out for the rest of the regular season after surgery on a broken fibula and a foot injury suffered against California. The Huskies are top heavy in their pass distribution with Williams, Jaydon Mickens and Kevin Smith combining for 106 of Washington's 175 receptions this season.

Sarkisian wants to get more touches for speedy freshman John Ross, who has 13 receptions and one touchdown and who has come close to breaking a number of big plays on special teams.

''You look at the sheer numbers, and when he has the ball in his hands, he creates big plays,'' Sarkisian said of Ross.

He also needs to find a replacement for Williams, with sophomore Marvin Hall and freshman Damore'ea Stringfellow getting the first shots at filling that role starting Saturday against Colorado. The two have seven combined catches this season and each has watched games from the sideline and never gotten on the field.

Stringfellow was considered one of Sarkisian's gems in his recruiting class last winter. At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, he has a frame that coaches are looking for in their passing game, but he has yet to get on the field with any consistency.

''With Kasen unfortunately going down for us, this is a great opportunity for (Stringfellow) to step in and perform and play and do it at a high level,'' Sarkisian said. ''I think he's really capable of doing it.''

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