More than 20 years after he last coached a game, this week for Washington is all about Don James.
The former Washington coach, who led the Huskies to a share of the national title in 1991, died Sunday at age 80 from pancreatic cancer. And Saturday night, when the Huskies (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) host California (1-6, 0-4), will be the first chance for the school to pay tribute to James. Washington is also trying to snap a three-game losing streak, while California has dropped five straight.
James' family will serve as honorary captains and the school will have a halftime tribute. James was so respected among his conference peers that California will wear "DJ" decals on the back of its helmets even though he dominated the Golden Bears during his Washington tenure, going 12-2.
"We're trying to live up to a standard that he set, but that's the reason I chose this job. I came here to win championships. Coach James set the standard," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said.
Here are five things to watch as the Huskies host the Bears:
PRICE'S POUNDING: Washington QB Keith Price had been battered and beaten by the time he walked off the field last Saturday at Arizona State. The biggest concern has been Price's right thumb — his throwing hand — an injury that goes back to the Huskies' narrow loss at Stanford. Price experienced swelling in a different area of his thumb earlier this week, but Sarkisian said late in the week he would be "surprised" if his senior QB didn't play against the Bears. If Price doesn't start, it would be redshirt freshman Cyler Myles getting his first college start. Twice in the past, Sarkisian has chosen to rest a beat up QB who could have played, once with Jake Locker and once with Price. "I felt like at that time with Jake and then obviously with Keith a couple years ago, the other guy gave us a better chance to be successful that week," Sarkisian said.
CAL QB QUANDRY: California coach Sonny Dykes threw his own quarterback situation into flux this week when the Bears depth chart listed either Jared Goff or Zach Kline as the starter against Washington. Goff has started all seven games thus far and thrown for 2,256 yards and nine touchdowns. But he also has seven interceptions and the Bears offense has been stagnant the past two weeks against UCLA and Oregon State. "We need to try to win some football games, but also you never want to lose sight of the overall of your program and where you're headed," Dykes said. "Those are decisions that are tough."
REDISCOVER BISHOP SANKEY: Washington got away from its workhorse running back last week against Arizona State, especially in the second quarter when the Huskies relied too much on the pass and saw the game spiral out of control when drives could not be sustained. Sankey finished with 22 yards rushing on just 13 carries after having 95 carries combined in the previous three games. "I love running the ball. I love giving the ball to Bishop. To go and stand in front of you guys and look at the stat sheet, and he has 13 carries in a critical ballgame in a season, that's not enough," Sarkisian said.
BE COMPETITIVE: It's been a while since California was even in a game into the second half. The Golden Bears trailed only 21-15 to Washington State on Oct. 5, only to get blitzed in the second half by the Cougars. Aside from its lone win over Portland State, California has not led against an FBS opponent since the third quarter of the season opener against Northwestern. They've been outscored by 120 points in conference play alone and don't have a win over an FBS team in more than a calendar year. The last time they led in the fourth quarter against an FBS team was that win over Washington State last October.
STOPPING THE SKID: Washington is on yet another three-game losing streak. It's become unwelcome and common with the Huskies, who have dropped three straight in every season since 2004. Sarkisian has done well to stop the skids after three games in three of the four previous seasons. Last year, Washington won four straight after the losing streak. "We've always responded. We've always bounced back. We'll do it again," Sarkisian said. "I don't have a shadow of a doubt that our guys are going to come out and play a great football game Saturday night."