BY Art Thiel 05:53PM 09/05/2011

Thiel: So much for easing into Huskies’ season

No team that recently was 0-12 should take any foe lightly, but Sarkisian is counting on a near upset by Eastern to be a “teaching moment,” as in, ‘You’re not that good.”

After QB Keith Price hurt his knee Saturday, coach Steve Sarkisian admitted he went too conservative in the playcalling. / Kyle Scholzen, Sportspress Northwest file

Big-time college football coaches are a hard bunch to please.

They demand that their athletic directors schedule easier non-conference opponents. Then they get mad at their players when they learn about the inferior opponent, and play down to the lower level.

What’s up with that, coaches? You want your cupcake, and eat it, too?

After big Washington was outplayed and outcoached by little Eastern Washington Saturday,  the embarrassment was tempered only modestly by the Huskies’ ability to prevail in the final 30 seconds, 30-27.

On paper,  Coach Steve Sarkisian had what he wanted – a home opener against a lower-tier opponent. On the field, he had the inevitable – teenage human nature prevailing over coaching logic.

The Huskies experienced nearly the psychological reverse of their previous game, against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. This time it was the Huskies, not the Cornhuskers, who didn’t much care.

“For us to play a cautious mentality was disappointing, one of the most disappointing things I’ve seen here,” Sarkisian said in his weekly debriefing Monday.  “Instead of playing 100 mph, we were playing 75 mph.”

Sarkisian manned up and said blame for that starts with him, including going way too conservative when quarterback Keith Price tweaked his knee after senior receiving star Jermaine Kearse went out with a bum ankle. But Sarkisian saw trouble well before the injuries, publicly warning fans and players a week earlier that he didn’t really know, after training camp ended, what kind of team he had “when the lights came on.”

He found out quickly that he had a team drunk on modest achievement.

The Huskies in 2010 were 3-6 before a three-game winning streak against wobbly opponents put them in a bowl game rematch against a team that already beat them 56-21.

The set-up for upset over Nebraska was nearly as perfect as it was for Eastern, a roster full of Huskies wannabes who had a chance to show the world how UW whiffed on recruiting them  — if they played harder and smarter than the hosts. That they did. But for a muffed punt or two, they would have had the “W” to prove it.

The Huskies did many good things in 2010, but they had been bad so long,  players and fans forgot what “good” looked like. They aren’t good yet, not when they give up 504 yards to an offense that didn’t belong to Nebraska, Oregon or Notre Dame – the other three teams that put up a five-spot on coordinator Nick Holt’s overmatched troops.

They are also not good, as is the case with most football players, when they start thinking.

“Maybe we got too stressed,  I don’t know,” Sarkisian said.  “We could have been over-thinking. We weren’t playing fast and free. We weren’t necessarily wrong, just not doing it with the energy and passion that we’re capable of.”

However it was that a team became cocky despite several players who remember what it was like to be an 0-12 national joke,  they have been properly dope-slapped by Sarkisian and numerous fans appalled that a team with 65 scholarship players nearly beat on the road a team with 85 scholarship players.

But that is ever more the case with college football, where the distribution of quality talent has spread across the states, divisions and conferences, thanks largely to the power and reach of TV money, to the point where a once-obscure team from Idaho can knock silly an SEC power (Boise State 35, Georgia 21) on its home turf.  With adrenal glands fully engaged, Eastern’s ability to entertain the upset was hardly a fluke.

Because the Huskies won, the damage was merely psychic,  not bowl-fatal.  And as far as physical injuries, Price and Kearse are expected to play, as is senior cornerback Quinton Richardson, who sat out Saturday and is desperately needed to patch a leaky secondary.

The shaky win gives Sarkisian the inevitable “teaching moment,” he said, for the next opponent. Hawaii has already dispatched one Pac-12 foe (34-17 over Colorado Saturday) and has at quarterback Bryant Moniz, who was in 2010 the nation’s passing yardage leader in the Rainbows’ run-and-shoot offense.

What will Sarkisian teach? The road back from 0-12 is not a straight diagonal line heading up.

If doubts remain, perhaps Washington will agree to bring Texas and Oklahoma into a new, Pac-16 Conference, by next season, helping make the point more bluntly that the distance between tepid and terrific is even greater than the distance between terrible and tepid.


YourThoughts

  • SpudzDP

    The thought of playing in the same conference  as a back to normal USC, the Ducks, Texas and Oklahoma makes me kind of ill. Great for the conference — bad for the Huskies.  
    Do we really need Texas and Oklahoma?  What the hell — bring on that Crazy Texas Football  Religion to the Pac 12.  It can’t be any worse then being a Mariner in a Yankee Red Sock world.

  • SpudzDP

    The thought of playing in the same conference  as a back to normal USC, the Ducks, Texas and Oklahoma makes me kind of ill. Great for the conference — bad for the Huskies.  
    Do we really need Texas and Oklahoma?  What the hell — bring on that Crazy Texas Football  Religion to the Pac 12.  It can’t be any worse then being a Mariner in a Yankee Red Sock world.

  • Anonymous

    Now about the $700k Holt is earning. Sounds like he was a REAL good coach when he was at 5 star-loaded USC, but so far I’d say he merits a “C” at best.

    He may need to meet with Sark about getting his pay in line with his skill set.

  • 1coolguy

    Now about the $700k Holt is earning. Sounds like he was a REAL good coach when he was at 5 star-loaded USC, but so far I’d say he merits a “C” at best.

    He may need to meet with Sark about getting his pay in line with his skill set.

  • 3 Lions

    the dawgs are young & inexperienced & apparently can’t get up for the last opener in Husky staduim after not playing a game for 9 months. They will lose Saturday unless they execute & play w an edge!

  • 3 Lions

    the dawgs are young & inexperienced & apparently can’t get up for the last opener in Husky staduim after not playing a game for 9 months. They will lose Saturday unless they execute & play w an edge!