BY SPNW Staff 11:42AM 10/26/2011

Sarkisian’s Task: Restore Fragile Huskies’ Psyche

UW’s head coach presides over an offense that scores 34.7 points per game, and a defense that statistically ranks among the worst in school history.

Despite linebacker Cort Dennison's outstanding play -- he leads Washington with 63 tackles -- the Huskies are yielding 431.3 yards per game, the third-highest total in school history. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Two years after the University of Washington brought him aboard to clean up after Tyrone Willingham, Steve Sarkisian finds himself presiding over one of the highest-scoring offenses (34.7 points per game) in school history and, via defensive coordinator Nick Holt, a stop unit that has turned all Tyee Club boosters into incessant teeth-gnashers.

Calls for Holt’s scalp escalated (not much to scalp) after the Huskies put on one of the more stunning displays of matador defense in modern school history in a 65-point loss to Stanford — stunning because Stanford’s Andrew Luck, the Heisman Trophy favorite, was expected to shred the most ineffective secondary any Tyee as ever seen, and instead didn’t even bother.

Luck milked three touchdown passes out of his 169 yards, but mainly spectated as the Stanford running game trampled Washington for 446 yards, the fourth-worst total ever allowed by a UW team. It’s really rubbing the home noses in it when an opponent attacks the Huskies’ strength, fairly ignores their major weakness, and still flourishes to the tune of a 44-point win.

No wonder Sarkisian suggested after the game that his major task this week will be mending his team’s fractured psyche.

The big numbers that Stanford put up last Saturday inflated Washington’s average total yards allowed to 431.3 yards per game through seven contests. Only two Husky teams, both coached by the inept Tyrone Willingham, including his winless (0-12) edition in 2008, yielded more over a single season — and not much more. Most average yards allowed per game by a UW team since World War II:

Year Coach Record Rush Pass Total Nadir Game
2008 T. Willingham 0-12-0 240.6 211.2 451.8 Lost to USC 56-0
2007 T. Willingham 4-9-0 184.5 261.9 446.4 Oregon had 661 yards
2011 Steve Sarkisian 5-2-0 146.9 284.4 431.3 Stanford scored 65
2005 T. Willingham 2-9-0 143.4 275.7 419.1 Cal had 557 yards
1969 Jim Owens 1-9-0 223 182 415 Lost to UCLA 57-14
1998 Jim Lambright 6-6-0 131.2 271.3 402.5 Lost at Nebraska 55-7
1973 Jim Owens 2-9-0 235.2 164.8 400 Lost at Oregon 58-0

Again, it’s something of a mystery why Stanford didn’t opt to embarrass the Husky secondary when it easily could have. It has been said here, and elsewhere, that Washington’s secondary features below-average Pac-12 talent. But that’s a gross understatement. Although not shredded by Luck and the Cardinal, this is the worst pass coverage Washington has ever had — by quite some.

Despite “holding” Luck to 169 yards, the Huskies are surrendering 284.4 passing yards per game. Willingham’s 2008 busts were nowhere close to that, permitting 211.2. Imagine how fat Washington’s average yards-against mark would look today if Luck had elected to pick on the Huskies through the air. For the record, these are the worst pass defense teams — statistically — in Washington history.

Year Coach Record Att. Cmp. Yards Per Pass Per Catch Per Game
2011 Sarkisian 5-2-0 211 144 1991 7.3 12.2 284.4
2005 Willingham 2-9-0 379 253 3033 8.0 12.0 275.7
1998 Lambright 6-6-0 350 187 2984 8.5 15.9 271.3
2007 Willingham 4-9-0 458 295 3405 7.4 11.5 261.9
2002 Neuheisel 7-6-0 446 249 3373 7.6 13.5 259.5
1999 Neuheisel 7-5-0 378 205 2735 7.2 13.3 248.6
2009 Sarkisian 5-7-0 363 228 2888 8.0 12.7 240.7
2001 Neuheisel 8-4-0 322 184 2420 7.5 13.2 220.0

Notice that the Huskies allow 7.3 yards per pass. That’s generally lower than the other UW teams on this list. Also note that UW yields 12.2 yards per reception. Five Husky teams allowed more. And yet, this edition of the Huskies is the worst on the list in average yards per game allowed. What this says is what Tyees have seen through seven games: Washington gives up too many big plays and tackles poorly.

As to what can be done about it, the answer is not much — yet. As Holt explained following the Stanford drubbing, UW recruiters simply need better quality athletes into the program, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Calling for Holt’s job won’t help. In fact, what’s remarkable is how fast the Huskies have started to recover from the 0-12 in 2008. If Washington finishes with a winning record, the Huskies would have achieved that faster — three years — than any team that ever had the misfortune to go 0-12, with the exception of Hawaii, which produced a winning mark one year after going 0-12.

Or, another way to look at UW’s progress: With one more win, Washington will become bowl eligible. That would mean two bowl games in three years following an 0-12. Who would have believed that to be possible the day Sarkisian came aboard?


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