BATON ROUGE, La. -- On a beautiful, sun-drenched early September Seattle day in 2009, Steve Sarkisian coached his first game as Washington's head coach, beginning an unenviable task of turning around what had recently become a wretched program.
Opposite Sarkisian on the shores of Lake Washington that day, John Chavis was in his first game as defensive coordinator at LSU, tasked with turning around a defense that had grown unusually porous during an 8-5 2008 season, the worst season yet for head coach Les Miles in Baton Rouge.
If you were to judge from that day's outcome, one might believe it was Sarkisian who was headed for big success.
Sarkisian's Jake Locker-led offense piled up 478 yards and Washington hung close to the 11th-ranked Tigers, who prevailed 31-23, sending a downtrodden UW team to a 15th straight loss.
The two will match wits again Saturday in Baton Rouge and their stories have taken different turns since that day. It didn't take long for Chavis, the former Tennessee defensive coordinator, to make the Tigers' defense one of the best, if not the best in college football. Sarkisian has UW a long way from 15-game losing streaks, but at 20-19 in his fourth season, he is still got a ways to go to turn his team into a juggernaut.
Sarkisian, a former BYU quarterback who moved up the coaching ladder as an offense coordinator and quarterback guru at USC before going to Waashington, has replaced Locker, now a Tennessee Titan, with 3,000-yard passer Keith Price. Locker threw for 321 yards and two touchdowns in the 2009 game. LSU players are expecting Washington to try to similarly go after a young Tigers secondary with Price.
"We know Washington can throw the ball," said LSU safety Eric Reid after the Tigers' 41-14 win over North Texas Monday. "I know we can make those corrections and improvements [from the North Texas game]. We have to stay focused and I have to do better."
Reid said he was responsible for both North Texas touchdowns when he blew coverages, something he knows he can't do against a proven passer like Price, whose 3,068 passing yards last season was more than Locker ever threw for.
But an odd thing happened last week. The supposedly high-powered UW offense didn't look all that powered.
The Huskies, coming off back-to-back 7-6 seasons, did beat San Diego State, 21-12. Price completed 25 of 35 passes for 222 yards, but he was sacked three times and the Huskies offense did not score again after taking a 14-0 first quarter lead. Washington's only touchdown after the first quarter came on a fumble return by the defense.
"We had a good start to the game," Price said. "In the second half, we slipped up."
LSU isn't buying that the trend will continue. With Price throwing to a pair of quality receivers in tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams and with an experienced offensive line, Washington looks too good on paper to continue long offensive droughts.
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger suggested that the game could be a shootout and he's prepared to answer the challenge if it does.
The Tigers don't get in many of those these days.
After giving up yards in his LSU debut, Chavis quickly molded LSU's defense into a dominant force that has produced several NFL players. The current defensive line is arguably the best in college football for a team ranked No. 3 in the country. With all his success, Chavis won the Frank Broyles Award last season as the nation's top assistant coach.
None of that is lost on Price, who knows he will have to step up his game well above where it was for San Diego State.
"I will definitely be on my A game," he said.