SEATTLE — Before the season began, Steve Sarkisian started preaching to his Washington players that distractions would not be a viable excuse for any shortcomings.
On Monday, the distractions were about Sarkisian immediately being linked to the USC vacancy after the weekend firing of Lane Kiffin.
"I'm kind of glad you asked. We can get the giant elephant out of the room," Sarkisian joked.
Sarkisian said that instead of dancing around the rumors, he addressed the situation head on during a team meeting on Monday morning, then reiterated he has no interest in being anywhere but at Washington, where the 15th ranked Huskies (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) are off to their best start since 2001.
Sarkisian said he wouldn't comment about "hypothetical scenarios" and that this situation provides a chance to prove his team can avoid the outside chatter heading into Saturday's showdown at No. 5 Stanford. Sarkisian's name was also linked to USC when Pete Carroll left to become the Seattle Seahawks coach because of his time as an assistant with the Trojans and his Los Angeles-area roots.
"I have great respect for USC and the rich history and tradition they have. But I'm proud to be the head coach of the 15th-ranked team in America right now and all the hard work we've put into this program the last five years to get to this point to be in an awesome matchup on national television this Saturday night against a national championship contender in Stanford," Sarkisian said. "That's where my focus is."
Sarkisian added that the maturity of this year's team made him feel he could address the rumors head on.
"This was a cool opportunity for me this morning to go in our team meeting and use it from a personal standpoint. And for them, too," he said. "Those kids are sitting at home in their dorms and their apartments and they're watching ESPN, too. So this is a great chance for us to show and prove there are zero distractions."
When Sarkisian started harping on his team to make sure they stayed focused, it had to do with the reopening of Husky Stadium and his concern they would get too wrapped up in their modern new home. Those concerns proved unfounded when the Huskies opened the new stadium with a 38-6 rout of Boise State, and there have been small tests along the way since that have showed Sarkisian this team has the kind of makeup he wants.
In Chicago, before facing Illinois in their second game, the Huskies had to make a quick adjustment on their day-before walkthrough after their original plan of working out at Northwestern fell through. Then came last weekend against Arizona when a massive wind and rain storm blew through the area and forced Washington to make significant changes to the game plan.
Instead of being able to pitch the ball around the field as they did in their first three games, the Huskies became almost one-dimensional, relying heavily on the run game. Bishop Sankey set a school record with 40 carries and rushed for 161 yards in the 31-13 victory and moved back into the national lead averaging 151.8 yards per game. Washington's 61 total running attempts in the game were the most since 2007, when they ran 63 times in a win over Stanford.
It also showed that Washington still has power and grit on an offense that's gained attention for its fast pace and big numbers early in the season. It's an attribute that may be called upon this week when the Huskies go to Stanford and face a Cardinal team that lost to Washington 17-13 last season in Seattle.
Washington has not started 5-0 since 1992.
"I go into team meetings on Monday mornings now and I don't feel like I have to pump up the team or pump up the game," Sarkisian said. "I think we have a unique, quiet confidence about us. It's not arrogance. It's not that way at all. It's just a quiet confidence that I think our guys have a real sense of belief in one another."
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company