BY Art Thiel 03:44PM 08/29/2012

Thiel: Huskies finish 6-6 this season; deal with it

Given the schedule, the injuries and the depth, the Huskies would do well to stay even in 2012. But running in place is rarely rewarded in an industry mostly about instant gratification.

Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian still has a few steps to go before the Huskies reach the Pac-12's top echelon. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

The awkwardness in the University of Washington’s football motto for this season, “Take the Next Step,” is that it’s a bit mindful of those rehab programs that have 12-step models. But I suppose when a team has been 0-12, the unintentional irony is almost clever.

Unfortunately for fans the Washington Huskies, as with college football fans everywhere, growth is rarely a steady climb up, which is tough in an industry whose benchmark for progress is often instant gratification. So when the Huskies finish 6-6 this season, it’s going to seem like a step back in the narrative arc of Sark.

That’s unlikely to be a fair judgment. The schedule is what has stepped up, and even if the new defensive coaches and schemes work well, rehabbing from 467 points surrendered in 2011 takes a lot more than one football season.

The most helpless D in Washington annals can’t be fixed by a coach or single player such  Shaq Thompson, the freshman DB/LB/BMOC from Sacramento who seems to be as good as his hype. That means it will be up to quarterback Keith Price, again, to outscore the opposition, probably in a fashion like coach Paul Westhead’s old basketball teams at Loyola-Marymount.

What if last season’s preposterous Alamo Bowl outcome, 67-56, is around the average score this season? Betcha DirecTV signs up the Pac-12 Network with apologies and bonuses.

In the run-up to Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. non-conference opener at the Clink against San Diego State, coach Steve Sarkisian made plain his desire to open the explosives kit and hand it to Price.

“I know that we won’t be nearly as conservative the first game around as we were last year,” said Sarkisian, referring to to the 30-27 win over one-step-down Eastern Washington that nearly went the other way, at outcome that would have been a crushing seasonal face-smash. “We’ll do some things that will hopefully give us a chance to take some shots down the fields.

“Last year there was a bit of the unknown (with Price, in his first year as starter). I think we know what to expect out of him. For myself, calling the plays, I know who he is.”

He is the best player the Huskies have, and when healthy, a legit Heisman Trophy candidate. But keeping him healthy is largely the province of an offensive line that has two tackles, Micah Hatchie and Ben Riva, who are sophomores in their first starts. If Price goes down, the drop-off is steep with either backup, redshirt freshman Derrick Brown or freshman Cyler Miles.

The Huskies are that way at a lot of spots. As much as Sarkisian likes to talk up the roster’s improving depth, this is still a team that has only 13 seniors, including seven holdovers from the last Tyrone Willingham team who have 0-12 tattooed on their psyches in more fluorescent colors than from the best tattoo parlor ex-coach Jim Tressel could have offered his Ohio State players.

Sarkisian estimated he will give five freshmen playing time Saturday, not to mention numerous others of minimal experience. That helps explain why Sarkisian did an odd thing at his Monday presser: He ran through the names of players too injured to play so fast that it sounded like one word. He was so hard to understand that the first question was whether he could repeat the names. Again, a single breath, no punctuation.

At least it was a tad better than at Washington State, where new coach Mike Leach won’t tell anyone anything about player health. He could be running a leper colony, for all anyone knows.

But a forensic breakdown of Sarkisian’s audiotape revealed that two starters on defense, end Hau’oli Jamora and safety-turned-linebacker Nate Fellner, are out, as well as linebackers Jamaal Kearse and Cooper Pelluer. Missing from the offense are RB  Deontae Cooper and WR James Johnson.

Nearly all absences are from injuries in fall camp, which is the fault of no one, but the last thing a relatively thin team needed, and why Sarkisian was trying to nervous-cough his way through the infirmary list.

Regarding the defense’s 2012 approach after the 2011 walk through the fires of Mordor, Sarkisian said all the predictable things.

“I think they really respect their coaches and the new style of defense that we’ve inherited,” he said.  “At the end of the day, I think they want to play well for themselves, for our football program, for our university and for our fans.

“I’m sure there’s a bit of a chip on their shoulder because they feel like they were better than they were last year. But man, our program isn’t about what just happened. It’s about where are we going and what are we doing.”

Which is coach-speak for, “We still don’t have enough talent to be average.”

With so many high-end teams (Louisiana State, Stanford, Oregon and USC) in the first six games, the defense won’t really have much time to dwell on 2011, given the freight trains coming downhill in front of them. After a 2-4 first half, finishing 4-2 in the second half against the Pac-12′s second tier would be a commendable achievement, presuming Price is not on a pitch count.

But 6-6 won’t appear commendable to anyone who is expecting the Huskies to take the next step. The rewards in big-time college sports for running in place are few, especially for anyone in denial that 0-12 is still as close as the next drink.


YourThoughts

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1599001255 Adam Lewis

    Cougars and Huskies both enter the Apple Cup at 6-5.  The winner heads to the Las Vegas Bowl.  The loser gets to spend the holidays in Albuquerque against a mid-level Mountain West Team.  You heard it here first.

    • Pixeldawg13

       Well, no.  I didn’t.  That prediction’s been made a number of times, often on the Seattle Times’ Husky blog.

      It’s a possibility, but I’m not sure the Cougs can outscore six opponents; they’re unlikely to stop anyone, given their depth issues on D.  (remember, between an injury or two, and the Pirate’s cleaning house, at least 3 defensive starters are gone permanently.  I give Leach credit for his rules and abiding by them–but it does make the defensive cupboard pretty doggone lean.)

      I think the Husky D, while not reminiscent of the late 80s-early 90s Purple Reign, will be much improved.  Even if they only improve to, say, 65th or so in the country, it’s a huge upgrade on that side of the ball.  Offense?  Yes, lost 3 major playmakers in Kearse, Aguilar, and some tailback–but the skill positions are not gonna be the problem on this O.

      • Artthiel

        Getting to 65 is a reach, Pixeldawg. No Pac-12 average LBs, aside from whatever they do with Shaq Thompson. 

    • Artthiel

       Cougs with six wins? Apparently the cannibis harvest is real late this year.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1599001255 Adam Lewis

    Cougars and Huskies both enter the Apple Cup at 6-5.  The winner heads to the Las Vegas Bowl.  The loser gets to spend the holidays in Albuquerque against a mid-level Mountain West Team.  You heard it here first.

    • Pixeldawg13

       Well, no.  I didn’t.  That prediction’s been made a number of times, often on the Seattle Times’ Husky blog.

      It’s a possibility, but I’m not sure the Cougs can outscore six opponents; they’re unlikely to stop anyone, given their depth issues on D.  (remember, between an injury or two, and the Pirate’s cleaning house, at least 3 defensive starters are gone permanently.  I give Leach credit for his rules and abiding by them–but it does make the defensive cupboard pretty doggone lean.)

      I think the Husky D, while not reminiscent of the late 80s-early 90s Purple Reign, will be much improved.  Even if they only improve to, say, 65th or so in the country, it’s a huge upgrade on that side of the ball.  Offense?  Yes, lost 3 major playmakers in Kearse, Aguilar, and some tailback–but the skill positions are not gonna be the problem on this O.

      • Artthiel

        Getting to 65 is a reach, Pixeldawg. No Pac-12 average LBs, aside from whatever they do with Shaq Thompson. 

    • Artthiel

       Cougs with six wins? Apparently the cannibis harvest is real late this year.

  • Jamo57

    As much as Husky fans like to attribute (blame) Oregon’s ascendance on the seeming unlimited funds Uncle Phil pumps into the program, it’s the following numbers that are probably more important:

    Rich Brooks 1977-1994
    Mike Belotti 1995-2008
    Chip Kelly 2009-to as long as he wants (or hopefully  a Carrollian jump to the NFL shortly before the NCAA hammer is struck).

    But the point is even if your are right Art, the Husky nation needs to resist the temptation to put Sark on the hot seat.   Oregon has the additonal benefit in the fact Nick Aliotti doesn’t seem to want to go anywhere to take a head coaching job, so the continuity on the defensive side of the ball is even more pronounced.    I’m not sure that is the same path Justin Wilcox wants to take. 

    • Artthiel

       Jamo, you’re right that the coaching churn and various scandals have been the single biggest factor in the Huskies’ erosion. Lots of bad management by the alleged adults.

      But now it’s Oregon’s turn to be spanked by the NCAA. Happens to nearly every team that succeeds because nobody plays by the rules. Just a matter of if-when you’re caught.

  • Jamo57

    As much as Husky fans like to attribute (blame) Oregon’s ascendance on the seeming unlimited funds Uncle Phil pumps into the program, it’s the following numbers that are probably more important:

    Rich Brooks 1977-1994
    Mike Belotti 1995-2008
    Chip Kelly 2009-to as long as he wants (or hopefully  a Carrollian jump to the NFL shortly before the NCAA hammer is struck).

    But the point is even if your are right Art, the Husky nation needs to resist the temptation to put Sark on the hot seat.   Oregon has the additonal benefit in the fact Nick Aliotti doesn’t seem to want to go anywhere to take a head coaching job, so the continuity on the defensive side of the ball is even more pronounced.    I’m not sure that is the same path Justin Wilcox wants to take. 

    • Artthiel

       Jamo, you’re right that the coaching churn and various scandals have been the single biggest factor in the Huskies’ erosion. Lots of bad management by the alleged adults.

      But now it’s Oregon’s turn to be spanked by the NCAA. Happens to nearly every team that succeeds because nobody plays by the rules. Just a matter of if-when you’re caught.

  • Brett

    I don’t see it Art. This team will score an upset of one of the “Big 4″ (most likely Stanford) and then go either 5-1 or 6-0 in the back half. 7 wins is the safest prediction. Yours assumes that this team won’t upset anyone and will lose to two teams it shouldn’t. While this team is young in terms of age, it actually has more game experience than last year’s team, particularly on defense.

    • Artthiel

       Sorry, Brett, the D just doesn’t have Pac-12-caliber talent. They’re already out two starters who weren’t quite average. Thompson’s already the best player, and he hasn’t played. Washington used to have six guys a year like Thompson.

  • Brett

    I don’t see it Art. This team will score an upset of one of the “Big 4″ (most likely Stanford) and then go either 5-1 or 6-0 in the back half. 7 wins is the safest prediction. Yours assumes that this team won’t upset anyone and will lose to two teams it shouldn’t. While this team is young in terms of age, it actually has more game experience than last year’s team, particularly on defense.

    • Artthiel

       Sorry, Brett, the D just doesn’t have Pac-12-caliber talent. They’re already out two starters who weren’t quite average. Thompson’s already the best player, and he hasn’t played. Washington used to have six guys a year like Thompson.

  • Tianbiao

    Art is probably right. I mean, even if the Huskies beat one of the Big 4 (and please, gawd, may that one be Oregon), there is always a let-down loss or two to wazzu or Cal or Oregon state waiting out there somewhere.

    But I agree with Jamos (and Art): 6-6 is no great shame, it’s tough out there, and it takes time. Give Sark the time he needs, please.

    • Artthiel

       Begging college football fans for time is like begging a wolf to back away from a pork chop.

  • Tianbiao

    Art is probably right. I mean, even if the Huskies beat one of the Big 4 (and please, gawd, may that one be Oregon), there is always a let-down loss or two to wazzu or Cal or Oregon state waiting out there somewhere.

    But I agree with Jamos (and Art): 6-6 is no great shame, it’s tough out there, and it takes time. Give Sark the time he needs, please.

    • Artthiel

       Begging college football fans for time is like begging a wolf to back away from a pork chop.

  • Artvintage97

     I have to agree with Art. Tough schedule this year. Plus, the defense is
    coming from a point near the bottom of the barrel.
    Sark has had difficulty recruiting the best players from the PNW. Also,
    and I will say it, he can’t seem to recruit good white players.
    Anyone have a theory on the latter????I

    • RadioGuy

      Does it matter whether Sark recruits white players?  The only colors that should matter to UW fans are purple and gold.

    • Jtkxyz

      Your comment, and I will say it, is pathetic.  And not only is “the defense coming from a point near the bottom of the barrel”, so is your comment.  Maybe you can’t see straight with a pillow cover over your head, but come to the light, and unbend the racist bent of your mind.

      Your comment makes me wonder if you have difficulty cheering for the Hawks, they have so many “colored” players.  And basketball must not be a sport you follow.  Get out more often, and enjoy the beautiful colors of this wonderful world. 

  • Artvintage97

     I have to agree with Art. Tough schedule this year. Plus, the defense is
    coming from a point near the bottom of the barrel.
    Sark has had difficulty recruiting the best players from the PNW. Also,
    and I will say it, he can’t seem to recruit good white players.
    Anyone have a theory on the latter????I

    • RadioGuy

      Does it matter whether Sark recruits white players?  The only colors that should matter to UW fans are purple and gold.

    • Jtkxyz

      Your comment, and I will say it, is pathetic.  And not only is “the defense coming from a point near the bottom of the barrel”, so is your comment.  Maybe you can’t see straight with a pillow cover over your head, but come to the light, and unbend the racist bent of your mind.

      Your comment makes me wonder if you have difficulty cheering for the Hawks, they have so many “colored” players.  And basketball must not be a sport you follow.  Get out more often, and enjoy the beautiful colors of this wonderful world.