A few who preceded him, notably Corey Dillon (1996), ran with more power, and one in particular, Napoleon Kaufman (1992-94), was faster. But if Bishop Sankey merely performs to par Friday afternoon against Washington State in the Apple Cup, he will finish his junior year as the most productive Husky running back for a season in the school’s 124 years of gridiron head-banging.
Sankey would already hold that distinction had coach Steve Sarkisian not removed him early in the third quarter from Saturday’s 69-27 thumping of Oregon State after Sankey amassed 179 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns to tie Kaufman’s career school record of 34.
Had Sankey remained in the game, he would have rushed for close to 400 yards. His backup, Dwayne Washington, ran for 142 yards and two touchdowns, including a 71-yard score. Then his backup, Deontae Cooper, clipped off 166 and also tallied twice, including a 70-yard touchdown. Had Sankey received that statistical bounty, he would have finished with 487 yards and seven touchdowns.
Even if Sankey had “only” collected 400 of those backup yards, he would have 1,786 heading into Friday’s Apple Cup, 91 more than Dillon’s school record of 1,695 set in 1996. Four additional TDs would have padded his 11-game total to 24, matching Dillon’s single-season school mark.
But enough speculation. Sankey can still become the most productive runner in school history Friday. With 1,575 yards, he needs 121 to break Dillon’s record and one touchdown for the career reccord. Sankey averages 143.2 yards per game and had 158 through two quarters at Oregon State, so pumping out an additional 121 against the Cougars shouldn’t present much of a task.
Washington State enters the Apple Cup yielding 180.4 rushing yards per game, ranked ninth in the conference. Oregon State allows 185.0 (10th) – after giving up 530, second-most in UW annals, to the Huskies Saturday night.
Numbers don’t mean all, but assuming no injury, Sankey is going to end his junior year as Washington’s single-season rushing leader and the holder of several sub-records. Sankey needs only maintain his current per-game rate to end up the leader in rushing yards per contest for a single season. He’s at, as mentioned, 143.5. Dillon finished 1996 at 141.3.
Are we watching the greatest runner to clad himself in purple and gold? Hugh McElhenny, long acknowledged as the greatest at the position, is already enshrined in both the college and pro football halls of fame, but played so long ago (1949-51) that a comparison with Sankey isn’t relevant.
Since McElhenny, Washington has produced 10 running backs, including Sankey, who have rushed for 1,000 yards in a season. Greg Lewis (1989-90), Kaufman (1992-94) and Chris Polk (2009-11) are the only ones with multiple 1,000-yard seasons. Dillon certainly would have repeated in 1997 if he hadn’t crossed up then-coach Jim Lambright after the 1996 season and entered the NFL. The candidates for best Husky back:
Ron Rowland (1976-77): Just made it past 1,000 yards, finishing with 1,002 on Don James’ second UW team. Rowland had a best game of 155 yards against Minnesota and ranks 16th on UW’s single-season list. He is not among Washington’s top 15 career rushers.
Joe Steele (1976-79): His 1,111 yards in 1978 broke a McElhenny record (1,107) that had stood for 28 years. Steele had a high output of 193 yards in the 1978 Apple Cup and still ranks third in career yards, 3,168, and third in rushing touchdowns, 32. The numbers would have been inflated if Steele’s career hadn’t been derailed by a knee injury late in the 1979 season.
Jacque Robinson (1981-84): Rushed for 1,036 yards in 1984, including 135 in the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma that put him over the top. He’s still the only player in college football history named MVP of the Rose and Orange Bowls.
Greg Lewis (1987-90): Ran for 1,197 yards as a junior and 1,407 as a senior, when he won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s outstanding back. Lewis finished his career with a 128-yard performance in the Rose Bowl against Iowa and still is the No. 4 rusher in school history with 2,903 yards.
Napoleon Kaufman (1992-94): Kaufman ran for 1,084, 1,229 and 1,390 yards and 34 touchdowns. Kaufman accumulated 200 or more yards in a game five times and is the only back in school history to exceed 200 rushing yards back-to-back twice. He had a high of 254 against San Jose State in 1993 and remains the No. 1 career rusher in school history with 4,106 yards.
Corey Dillon (1996): Dillon finished with a school-mark 1,695 yards after starting out with 36 yards against Arizona State and 82 against Brigham Young. But he ended that season, his only one at UW, with seven consecutive 100-yard games, including an NCAA record 222 against San Jose State — in one quarter. Not relevant to this discussion, but Dillon ran for 11,241 yards and 82 TDs in the NFL, becoming the most successful ex-Husky runner in the pros.
Rashaan Shehee (1994-97): Shehee collected 1,055 yards in 1997 despite missing the Oregon, UCLA and WSU games with an injury. He had a high of 193 yards in the Aloha Bowl against Michigan State.
Louis Rankin (2004-07): Rankin reached 1,352 yards based on two big performances, 273 yards against Stanford and 224 against California. That 2007 season is ninth-best in Husky history and his 2,480 career yards rank eighth.
Chris Polk (2009-11): Along with Kaufman, Polk is one of two runners to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in a season three times. Polk also holds the school record with 21 100-yard rushing games, four more than Kaufman’s 17.
Bishop Sankey (2011-13): Ran for 1,439 yards (16 TDs) last year and has 1,575 (17 TDs) this season.
The exercise now is to determine who you would place No. 1 on your depth chart of greatest runners in Husky history.