Washington coach Steve Sarkisian says the schedule will provide no breaks, but that’s easy for him to say. His players, just as Cal’s players, can’t help themselves.
The oddness of Washington’s football schedule — not referring to game times, which is the demon spawn of the Pac-12 Network — now has a downhill slide that may prove as slippery as the uphill side was blackberry-vined.
Cal (3-6), the Huskies’ next opponent in Berkeley Friday (not Saturday; see spawn, demon), is in such decline that its esteemed coach, Jeff Tedford, was in the unusual position of having to answer the dreaded have-you-lost-your-team question following Utah’s unexpected 49-27 splattering of the Bears Saturday.
“Not at all. No way, emphatically,” he testily told reporters. “We have not lost this team. This team has played hard, competed. There’s absolutely no way.”
Failure to hold a team’s attention is, of course, the death knell for college coaches, because, absent real information, it is the easiest criticism about a program with a losing record (Cal is 15-21 since December, 2009).
Things said easily in college football — as in much of life — are always way ahead of the facts.
Nevertheless, the facts are that Cal was inept against the Utes. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News graded out the Bears’ effort as an F.
He wrote: “A miserable, abominable, atrocious performance given 1) everything at stake and 2) the caliber of opponent: Utah was 0-4 in league play and hadn’t won (anywhere, against anyone) since Sept. 15. This was not USC or Stanford or even Arizona State.”
Well, then. We know what the Bears’ practices will be like this week. Probably a lot like Washington’s was last week, intense and inspired by a bit of media trashing.
Last week, after a similar embarrassing loss, 52-17 to Arizona in Tucson, Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian went to the whip for a critical game, and achieved the desperately desired outcome, a 20-17 upset of seventh-ranked Oregon State Saturday at the Clink. There wasn’t much talk pre-game that Sarkisian had lost his team; more like he should lose his job, college football fans being the creatures of the urgent that they are.
But the restless overreaction didn’t take into much account that UW has played the second-toughest schedule in the nation to date, according to the NCAA — the first eight opponents are 42-17 (.734), including 31-8 from five Pac-12 opponents. The remaining Huskies foes are 9-24 (.273).
Now comes the task of keeping players excited to go to the county fair now that they’ve been to Broadway. Sarkisian wanted to hear nothing about his team underestimating the rest of the seasonal task for a 4-4 outfit that hasn’t established its chops.
“Heck no,” he said, answering a question Monday about the potential of easing up. “You watch this conference, and week in and week out you never know what’s going to happen. It doesn’t matter if you’re at home or on the road; you better come ready to play because there’s good teams in this conference. So there’s definitely no letdown. Ask the players.”
We would, except they would offer the same blather, despite the full, radiant knowledge that every week of the season, a good 15 to 20 percent of teams lose it like an Oprah guest because they are young men full of hormones and unproductive thoughts.
Letdowns are indeed rampant. Ask Cal; they just spit up on themselves. The Bears could respond Friday as the Huskies did against Oregon State; with passion borne of insult and indignity. Or they could play like they all found out at the same time that their girlfriends were pregnant. By somebody else. It is college, you know.
After the Utah loss, Bears senior safety Josh Hill made the point: “I know defensively, there was a lot of times there was a lack of focus that gassed us.”
The Huskies have been acutely gassed away from home this season, outscored 145-41 in three games, the gap that narrow only because the hosts began subbing early to avoid inhospitable carnage.
“We’ve not been able to get done on the road,” Sarkisian said, “and that is really what’s being addressed in our approach.”
The Bears have to beat Washington, Oregon and Oregon State to get to 6-6 and bowl eligibility. The Huskies have only to win two of their final four to make it.
Want to take a guess whose hormones are at high tide Friday night?
Then it will fall to Sarkisan to answer the have-you-lost-your-team question.