The Stanford beating was so bad that Steve Sarkisian may have the challenge of his Washington coaching career to avoid an upset to 2-5 Arizona Saturday.
That’s a fashion statement. Not a TV-broadcast statement. Nor a statement on the nature of the Huskies’ fraying mental attitude.
But, following a 65-21 thrashing (video) by Stanford Saturday, it is a fair question to ask about the team mindset. Because rebounding to beat the Wildcats (2-5) – a trap game if ever there was one – might be the second-toughest assignment of Steve Sarkisian’s UW coaching career (the first being the persuasion of recruits and boosters that Tyrone Willingham left no coaching tactics or playbooks behind when he was fired by UW).
For a 7:30 p.m. game in late October, the Huskies will dress in their popular all-black uniforms, and ask that fans go goth with them (presumably with some Gaddafi-parody, pre-Halloween outfits mixed in).
That will all be as fun as it is pointless if the Huskies don’t muster the gumption to put the Cardinal walloping behind them.
“I thought we took a step back,” Sarkisian said at his Monday media chat. “We looked tentative again.”
He was speaking specifically of the defense, which besides the points, gave up 615 total yards, including 446 on the ground. That isn’t just a can of whoopass, it’s a 55-gallon drum.
I would submit the magnitude of the early blowout affected the offense too, which mustered only 144 yards in the second half.
Th Huskies under Sarkisian have shown resilience after big defeats, notably counterpunching Nebraska last year at the Holiday Bowl after losing big to the Cornhuskers in Seattle, then this year playing well after another Nebraska defeat.
But Stanford is different. It’s a conference rival, it’s been four years of defeats in a row, and the humiliation was nearly as bad as the previous year’s 41-0 loss, which Sarkisian acknowledged was the 2010 seasonal low. Plus, it’s Stanford, where the coaches and players are so smug they don’t even bother to taunt (now that coach Jim Harbaugh has left to taunt NFL coaches).
At least with Oregon and Washington State, the Huskies can be guaranteed to hear stupid stuff that will serve as cheap fodder for the twitterverse prior to next season’s meeting. These Stanford guys silently pull your heart out, hand it back to you and ask if you prefer red or white with that.
Sarkisian knows it too.
“Yes, we’re playing a lot of young guys,” he said, “but when you play a game like that, it can hurt you. They really imposed their will on us.
“If you told me before the game that (quarterback Andrew) Luck would throw for 169 yards and we’d get beat by 44, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
That sense of disbelief at the outcome is what must be overcome. Sarkisian said it didn’t make any difference to him whether the defeat came as a result of a blowout or a last-second field goal. But he’s an adult, and I would disagree that his players felt the same way.
For a team on the come like the Huskies, to be shown the distance between themselves and the elites is an unexpectedly humbling proposition. Players, fans and many in the media fooled themselves into thinking that the Huskies were competitive against all. Not true.
Fans are all over defensive coordinator Nick Holt, as if there was a scheme or strategy that would have made the game close. That’s preposterous. It was written here a few weeks ago that the Huskies have sub-ordinary Pac-12 talent on defense. While there were incremental improvements in wins over Cal, Utah and Colorado, it’s become clear that the modest quality of the opposition had much to do with that. The Huskies are surrendering 431 yards a game, 10th in the conference and almost 50 yards worse than the average of a year ago.
“Defensively, we were right there, we were right there, then we were wrong and got killed for it,” Sarkisian said. “(The Cardinal) know what they’re doing, do it really well, and don’t run a bad play. We couldn’t get them out of their comfort zone.
“I try not to remember how big they are until we play them again.”
That’s an accurate assessment, and has everything to do with talent and nothing to do with scheme. That won’t be necessarily the case with Arizona, although the Wildcats are averaging 471 yards a game behind an underrated quarterback, Nick Foles, who helped light up UCLA Friday night, 48-12. Apparently the Arizona players are quite happy to be rid of Mike Stoops, the head coach fired Oct. 10 apparently for having a record insufficient to justify his Yosemite Sam manner.
Sarkisian and his players will say all the right things this week about re-focusing for Arizona, and they undoubtedly are sincere. But do they feel it? When Arizona gets up 20-7 in the second quarter, does a blackout settle in?
Sarkisian’s Huskies have shown a history of resilience, so the deed is hardly impossible. But when one’s heart is handed over, it’s hard to say it’s just a scratch.