UW coach Steve Sarkisian dodged scandal and 0-12 depression to get to a third year with optimism: Here’s three things that have to happen early.
As a program in the crosshairs of the NCAA, as well as internal criticism, for a good chunk of the previous decade, Washington slipped into action this week in what passes for anonymity in college football.
No payouts to dubious street agents. No payments to players, or players selling trinkets to adoring fans. No fired coaches. No embarrassed university president.
Not to say dubious deeds havent happened at Montlake, or wont happen again. But in an off-season that has rained scandal and controversy upon the industry, the Huskies under coach Steve Sarkisian have stayed dry.
As important, they have gotten over 0-12 faster than anyone had a right to expect.
I see our football team now as one that really has adopted who we are, Sarkisian said this week. I think more so than anything, these guys aren’t adopted anymore.
Sarkisian has a few veteran holdovers from the Tyrone Willingham debacle that ended in 2008, but three years of recruiting classes, and a perfect circumstance that set up a bowl-game win against a big-time foe, have given him his kind of players with his kind of attitude.
The bulk of this football team are guys that we have recruited that have grown up in this culture and these schemes and these systems, he said. “It’s been very encouraging because you are starting to feel the players speak the language to one another, to coaches, to family, to friends.
The language developed over the final four games wins over UCLA, Cal, Washington State and in the Holiday Bowl, Nebraska, a team that beat UW 56-21 in September and did not care a bit about the bowl game which followed three losses by a combined score of 138-30. The last four games constituted one of the great seasonal rallies in UW history.
We’re really mentally tough, he said, answering a question about what he learned about his team in the crucible. That was something that took time. We inherited a group that was pretty fragile. I think we showed a lot of that (fragility) during the first year and a half, going on the road and losing some tight games.
But I thought our kids last year really showed the mental toughness and perseverance that it takes week in and week out when it’s a grind, when the weather’s not great and you’re on the road and you’re in a hostile environment.
Tough guys. Thats what the old alums have been seeking from Huskies since Don James quit in 1993.
But before the purples get all giggly about the potential for the first winning regular season since 2001, three important things have to happen early:
2-0: Finally, the Huskies create a scheduling break with home games against Eastern Washington and Hawaii to open the season. No team that still has 0-12 visible in its rear view mirror has any reason to take any opponent lightly. But for years, Washington has over-scheduled its non-conference games. Sometimes, it’s good to take a trolley instead of a freight train.
Receptions by a tight end: Last season, the Huskies totaled six catches from the position, one with a long legacy at Washington. Mark Bruener would catch six in a half. The good news is that 6-6, 250-pound freshman Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Gig Harbor is so highly regarded that the normally circumspect Sarkisian was nearly foaming, talking about someone who hasn’t played a down:
“He’s as talented physically as anybody I’ve ever had at that position. The hand-eye coordination he possesses is extremely unique. He’s got extremely soft hands and he has the ability to keep his feet underneath him, and the ability to release using his hands, yet use wiggle. You can’t teach that kind of stuff. But where I was probably more impressed with him is his mental toughness.”
All righty then: Seven TE catches!
Leave Keith Price alone: Everyone knows the perpetually grinning junior quarterback is Jake Locker’s replacement, not his second coming. But will the fan base believe it with Joe Montana’s kid, Nick, as the backup? Price is smaller, slower and obviously less experienced. Who wouldn’t be? The guy following the legend always has it hard, even though Locker never quite lived up to the gargantuan expectations.
But Sarkisian left open the door to the second-guessers: “I don’t want people to think, and Nick to think, he’s going out to practice for the sake of practicing. He’s competing. If Keith doesn’t perform well and Nick does, that could easily happen.”
Even though the coach made it plain since spring that Price was No. 1, that can last as long as it takes to throw two interceptions against Eastern. Huskies fans need to make a pact among themselves: No booing Price. At least until the Hawaii game.