BY Art Thiel 07:20PM 10/22/2012

Thiel: Huskies’ ‘tradition’ of turnaround in peril

Washington under Sarkisian has lost at least 3 conference games in a row each year, and rallied. Now it has to be against unbeaten Oregon State, with Keith Price still a puzzle.

Coach Steve Sarkisian says he will have a game plan Keith Price can believe in. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

The Huskies football program is at the traditional season precipice under coach Steve Sarkisian.

Washington has its traditional three-game losing streak. The Montlake landscape is littered with Sarkisian’s traditional introspective, soul-searching quotes:

“It truly tests your character and resolve.”

“These moments are life-changing experiences.”

“The players want to do what we ask, to the best of their ability.”

“We had a fantastic team meeting.”

And the traditional goal, despite a 52-17 cactus-whipping by Arizona Saturday, remains there for the taking:

A 6-6 mediocrity that’s good enough for a bowl.

The Huskies can even lose at home Saturday night to seventh-ranked Oregon State as well as the following week at Cal, fall to 3-6 and still make do, because the three worst teams in the Pac-12 Conference are the final three opponents on the UW schedule.

As is often the case in college football, it gives pause to wonder how bad a team has to be to avoid the magic of the Vegetative State Bowl, or whatever. But since the Huskies were bowl-free for seven years in a row recently, they are exceedingly knowledgeable on the topic.

These Huskies aren’t THAT bad.

Aren’t that good, either. Especially when one considers that in the last six Pac-12 road games plus the Alamo Bowl, the Huskies have given up an average of 50 points a game — or about 20-some points less than the men’s basketball team allows.

At his weekly presser Monday, Sarkisian was almost plaintive in his search for what will engage a team from which more was expected.

“They’re better than the way they’re playing,,” he said. “We (coaches) want them to maximize their potential. When we do, we’ll be pretty good.

“We just haven’t found the right formula.”

Sarkisian was quick to put the onus for the desert debacle on the coaching staff. Which is fine, as long as it is remembered that such talk is coach-speak for, “We don’t have enough good players,” something that coaches publicly say at risk of their jobs (see Willingham, Tyrone; Wulff, Paul).

“I thought we had a good plan in all three phases; obviously it wasn’t a good one,” he said.  “We generally got beat in all three phases. We didn’t execute the way we thought, so obviously it wasn’t a good game plan. We have to do a better job of that.”

In his three-plus years, Sarkisian has proven adept at creating clever game plans. His disingenuousness is simply protective cover for a number of players who are bewildered or over-matched.

In the bewildered category is Keith Price, the junior quarterback who has clearly lost the mojo from stellar sophomore season. Graduation, injuries and lack of talent among his remaining teammates has cost the Huskies a lot on offense, and Price flat-out can’t get over it.

Asked how Price’s trust in his teammates and Sarkisian’s play-calling could have evaporated, Sarkisian said, “I don’t know if it evaporated. It’s lessened. I think we went through a run about the midpoint of last season that it wasn’t great, either, you know. Yet we found a way to re-energize it and close out the season really well.”

Point taken. The Huskies have had three-game conference losing streaks in each of his three seasons, and finished out the league slates a collective 6-1. Last season, the Huskies lost to Oregon, USC and Oregon State by a collective 112-55, and won the Apple Cup 38-21 to become bowl eligible.

In 2010, they were a cumulative 138-30 in defeats to Arizona, Stanford and Oregon, yet won the final three to reach the Holiday Bowl.

But history has little bearing on the roster mess made this year mostly by injuries. It’s clear that Price doesn’t trust receivers beyond Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and misses senior James Johnson and junior Kevin Smith, both apparently out for the year with injuries.

“I think we’ve dealt with some things on our roster that could have potentially started that trust to diminish in what’s going on around (Price),” was how Sarkisian put it. “You can be late with the ball; the rush can get there because you are holding onto the ball longer; the windows close faster, so throws that shouldn’t be contested become more contested. Your ability to trust in your playmakers to make plays isn’t quite as high. You don’t throw the ball with the same amount of zip and velocity and conviction that you had in the past.

“When you add all that up, that’s not great. So I’d like to think we can get a game plan together this week for Keith, one that he believes in . . .  I believe in the way I coach that position. I believe in Keith’s ability to play that position. And we’ll get it back. I just want to get it back sooner rather than later.”

That’s a lot of belief flying around, but it’s all that Sarkisian has to work with in a largely broken season.  The purple legions grow restless because by Sarkisian’s own reckoning, 2012 was marketed as “take the next step.” Forward, he meant.  But at the moment, a sidestep can be managed through the balance of the schedule. Beats backward.

But in the ruthless world of big-time college football, even a side-step is regularly considered a mis-step. A lot of Huskies fans with long memories are having a hard time with the fact that Oregon State, one of the most misbegotten football programs for decades, is unbeaten this late for the first time since 1907 and a five-point favorite in Seattle against Washington.

Sarkisian has been here with the Huskies before. This time, however, it’s the fourth year of being mediocre, when another loss Saturday gives a different meaning to one of his phrases, “life-changing experiences.”

As he also said: Sooner than later.


YourThoughts

  • 3 Lions

    I am not so sure if year 4 is much better than year one under Sark? Obviously, injuries & unrealistic expectations play a part. If he is such a fantastic recruiter where are the fruits of his labor in year 4? We still don’t have the necessary depth. Isn’t it all about competition…? If he is such an offensive genuis why is 88 (there best player & easy target) frequently invisible? This thing is gonna take a while to turnaround unfortunately. Perhaps a better marketing slogan would have been “anything can happen”.

    • art thiel

      “You gotta love these guys”?
      Nah.
      Until Washington gets to show of its new digs in 2013, the Huskies are well behind the curve. Recruiting these days is all about the bling, and the Huskies have had none.

  • 3 Lions

    I am not so sure if year 4 is much better than year one under Sark? Obviously, injuries & unrealistic expectations play a part. If he is such a fantastic recruiter where are the fruits of his labor in year 4? We still don’t have the necessary depth. Isn’t it all about competition…? If he is such an offensive genuis why is 88 (there best player & easy target) frequently invisible? This thing is gonna take a while to turnaround unfortunately. Perhaps a better marketing slogan would have been “anything can happen”.

    • art thiel

      “You gotta love these guys”?
      Nah.
      Until Washington gets to show of its new digs in 2013, the Huskies are well behind the curve. Recruiting these days is all about the bling, and the Huskies have had none.

  • pimp with a decided dawg limp

    When did Coach Snark begin channeling Tony Robbins? All this New Age woo-woo touchy-feely crap has long gone stale at Montlake. Where is the bravado from Snark in his first season upon proclaiming that ‘this program turnaround really won’t take that long’? Coach completely lost me when he dragged that rental syphilitic Bengal tiger into practice this year. That stunt was even wackier & far worse than any that Coach Neuweasel and his guitar tried employing here to fire up the troops. Snark is clearly in over his New Age crystals & mirrors’ $2.2M per annum head. At this point, I’d even take Tony Robbins as the new coach. At least in a pinch he could employed as a substitute D-lineman. Call it the ‘Lurch position’. Coach Snark needs to go – NOW!

    • art thiel

      C’mon, Pimp. He could win out and sic that tiger on you and your limp and you would have choice but to be lunch.

      • art thiel

        That is . . . “no choice.”

  • pimp with a decided dawg limp

    When did Coach Snark begin channeling Tony Robbins? All this New Age woo-woo touchy-feely crap has long gone stale at Montlake. Where is the bravado from Snark in his first season upon proclaiming that ‘this program turnaround really won’t take that long’? Coach completely lost me when he dragged that rental syphilitic Bengal tiger into practice this year. That stunt was even wackier & far worse than any that Coach Neuweasel and his guitar tried employing here to fire up the troops. Snark is clearly in over his New Age crystals & mirrors’ $2.2M per annum head. At this point, I’d even take Tony Robbins as the new coach. At least in a pinch he could employed as a substitute D-lineman. Call it the ‘Lurch position’. Coach Snark needs to go – NOW!

    • art thiel

      C’mon, Pimp. He could win out and sic that tiger on you and your limp and you would have choice but to be lunch.

      • art thiel

        That is . . . “no choice.”

  • effzee

    I’ve always heard great coaches say never look ahead, take one game at a time, etc. I kind of think Sark messed this year up from the beginning, regardless of what injuries were to come. Essentially, he told everyone that he was not expecting much of the first 6 games, and to look forward to when the “Easy” part of the schedule begins. I cringed when I heard him say this before the season, and I cringed even more when he re-stated it on KJR last week. I just feel like Sark has been total coaching psychology fail this year. He’s got to find a way to get the team to buy back into his message.

    • art thiel

      He may have overplayed the first six games “too hard” card publicly, but I doubt he was saying anything more than the players and anyone with common sense was thinking. Injuries have had much more to do with the current state than psychology.

      • effzee

        I hope you’re right, man.

  • effzee

    I’ve always heard great coaches say never look ahead, take one game at a time, etc. I kind of think Sark messed this year up from the beginning, regardless of what injuries were to come. Essentially, he told everyone that he was not expecting much of the first 6 games, and to look forward to when the “Easy” part of the schedule begins. I cringed when I heard him say this before the season, and I cringed even more when he re-stated it on KJR last week. I just feel like Sark has been total coaching psychology fail this year. He’s got to find a way to get the team to buy back into his message.

    • art thiel

      He may have overplayed the first six games “too hard” card publicly, but I doubt he was saying anything more than the players and anyone with common sense was thinking. Injuries have had much more to do with the current state than psychology.

      • effzee

        I hope you’re right, man.

  • jafabian

    This Husky team knows how to play football, something they got away from in the last couple years under Willingham because they just wanted to survive, but they don’t know how to win. They certainly don’t come across as a team that can come from behind to win a ballgame. With their losses to graducation the past couple seasons it might be a a couple more before the team gets back to that level, IMO.
    .

    • art thiel

      They came from behind vs. Stanford. The problem is they get in such a big ditch early that they have to pass like mad to get back into the game, and the playbook shrinks to what the O-line does worst — pass protect. The starting line simply isn’t ready to protect at the Pac-12 level, and Price knows it better than anyone.

  • jafabian

    This Husky team knows how to play football, something they got away from in the last couple years under Willingham because they just wanted to survive, but they don’t know how to win. They certainly don’t come across as a team that can come from behind to win a ballgame. With their losses to graducation the past couple seasons it might be a a couple more before the team gets back to that level, IMO.
    .

    • art thiel

      They came from behind vs. Stanford. The problem is they get in such a big ditch early that they have to pass like mad to get back into the game, and the playbook shrinks to what the O-line does worst — pass protect. The starting line simply isn’t ready to protect at the Pac-12 level, and Price knows it better than anyone.

  • Jim Paxson

    It would help my team, Oregon, if Oregon St. somehow lost to UW, but I can not bring myself to pull for UW, even in this instance…OSU and its fan base have always been classy (well, mostly), humble, and likeable–UW fan, however, has always seen fit to hoist its collective nostrils high in the air, somehow/misguidedly thinking they’re better than Oregon/OSU because (I guess), y’know, Seattle’s bigger/more cosmospolitan than PDX, and ditto the state of Washington to the state of Oregon….the longer UW struggles with its football, the better

    • art thiel

      Well, you’re not exactly breaking news, Jim (always liked your textbook jumper!) to say that Huskies fans conducted themselves arrogantly over the years. The last decade has been payback time for both schools. I’d like to say, get over it, but in college football, fans never get over anything, which might be the biggest part of the sport’s tradition.

    • Alex

      Actually it helps you more if the Beavers are undefeated when you play them, if you beat them and they are top 5 it helps your computer rankings because of a better strength of schedule.

  • Jim Paxson

    It would help my team, Oregon, if Oregon St. somehow lost to UW, but I can not bring myself to pull for UW, even in this instance…OSU and its fan base have always been classy (well, mostly), humble, and likeable–UW fan, however, has always seen fit to hoist its collective nostrils high in the air, somehow/misguidedly thinking they’re better than Oregon/OSU because (I guess), y’know, Seattle’s bigger/more cosmospolitan than PDX, and ditto the state of Washington to the state of Oregon….the longer UW struggles with its football, the better

    • art thiel

      Well, you’re not exactly breaking news, Jim (always liked your textbook jumper!) to say that Huskies fans conducted themselves arrogantly over the years. The last decade has been payback time for both schools. I’d like to say, get over it, but in college football, fans never get over anything, which might be the biggest part of the sport’s tradition.

    • Alex

      Actually it helps you more if the Beavers are undefeated when you play them, if you beat them and they are top 5 it helps your computer rankings because of a better strength of schedule.