BY Art Thiel 08:26PM 03/04/2013

Thiel: Huskies’ theme for ’13: Beat the Ducks

As spring practice begins, Huskies’ prime task is to get back the Keith Price of 2011. To help, they’ve hired the most productive QB Washington has had — Marques Tuiasosopo.

Getting sacked and losing the Apple Cup were among the dreadful moments of 2012 for QB Keith Price that coach Steve Sarkisian seeks to remedy with some coaching changes in 2013. / Greg Davis Photography

He didn’t say it directly, but I’m happy to offer up for coach Steve Sarkisian, free from diplomatic hedging, his 2013 seasonal motto for the University of Washington football team.

Beat the Ducks.

The slogan is more meaningful than last season’s “Take the Next Step,” which could mean a Wile E. Coyote-style drop from the cliff instead of moving forward. In fact, it turned out to be a sidestep — another 7-6 season.

But another loss to the Ducks would be the 10th in a row. As you know, the 10th anniversary gift in the world of domination is handcuffs and whips. That is not what any of the purples want to see in their new, $250 million bedr . . .uh, stadium renovation.

My guess is Sarkisian would take another 7-6 season that included beating Oregon over a 9-3 season that had another defeat to the loathsome, Nike-spawned, pond-scum sifters.

But Monday, at the annual press briefing that precedes 15 spring practices, Sarkisian declined to describe how big and red the circle is on his calendar marking the Oct. 12 visit by the Eugenes.

“They’ve had the better of this series here for the last few years, and that’s how rivalries go at times,” said Sarksian, benignly covering for the embarrassment. For children in the readership too young to know, “few years” means Washington last beat the Ducks Nov. 1, 2003, 42-10, after which child-labor-using, shoe-factory money combined with a playbook gone wild to change Northwest college football.

Sarkisian wouldn’t say it, but spring ball, fall camp and the tricked-out stadium is all about Duck doom. He put it this way: “Oregon has been on a really nice run, one that they should be proud of. They have done a great job.

“I think that we have an opportunity in mid-October. They are going to come into Husky Stadium and it’s going to be an exciting night. Until we break that spell and start swinging the momentum back in our direction, that’s what it is going to be about.”

What I was listening for was, “Our swords shall run with the blood of the infidels!” But no, he was not ready to play Sean Connery in “The Wind and the Lion.” He went Mr. Rogers on us.

Still, the signs were clear. Without saying the word most fowl, he talked specifically about defensive players and tactics that were designed to counter the spread offenses that the Ducks epitomize. He also went on at length about how cranked he is personally to re-do the offense so it no longer looks like a dump truck in the race with Oregon’s Ferrari.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been as excited for a spring practice,” he said, “because the one area where I feel like I have the most impact on our roster and our team is the passing game. I love the running game, I love defense, I love special teams, I love motivating our players. But if there is one area of expertise that I feel like I can hang my hat on — I can go speak at a clinic in front of whoever wants to sit and listen to me — is talking about the passing game.

“That is the biggest area of our football team that needs improvement.”

So much so that the most important  player in that offense, quarterback Keith Price, is virtually getting his own coach — Marques Tuiasosopo, the former Huskies great who was hired away from Jim Mora at UCLA.

He is technically the QB position coach, meaning he also has charge of Cyler Miles, Jeff Lindquist, Derrick Brown and incoming freshmen Troy Williams and Thomas Vincent. But Tuiasosopo is here to help get Price’s game out of the doldrums of his junior year in 2012, which was a shadow of his play as a sophomore.

A little-talked-about reason for Price’s slide was the departure of assistant coach Doug Nussmeier, with whom Price had a strong relationship. While Nussmeier helped coach Alabama to a national championship, his successor poached from Cal, Eric Kiesau, didn’t have nearly as much impact in his first year at Washington. When wide receivers coach Jimmie Daugherty left to become offensive coordinator at San Jose State, Sarkisian slid Kiesau over to take the receivers and created the vacancy that Tuiasosopo filled Dec. 29.

As the guy who set Washington’s career total offense record from 1997 to 2000, Tuiasosopo figures to have a better handle on QB than Kiesau, who remains as OC.

“We have a quarterbacks coach that can focus on that position, that isn’t concerned with the overall entire offense, that isn’t concerned with the game plan, that isn’t concerned with learning the system,” Sarkisian said, explaining pretty much what wasn’t right about the set-up last year. “He’s a tremendous competitor. He bleeds purple and gold. He knows what we are asking out of our quarterbacks inside and out (after) being with us four years ago at the start of this system.

“I think it’s a good fit for Eric to get back to focusing on the receivers, which is what his expertise has been. And I think it’s good for me (in) that I can really focus on the overall offensive unit and not just get stuck focusing on the quarterback.”

Without having to deal with Price’s mood swings, Sarkisian can concentrate on playcalling in the unrelenting style that’s necessary if Washington is going to start doing to Oregon what the Ducks have done for nine years to the Huskies.

“We’re going to have a few growing pains, especially as we get into more of the up-tempo stuff here on in spring practice,” he said. “I feel like I am going to have my hand in the practices.

“When we take the field and we start throwing the football, I’m excited. I feel really good about where we’re at today.”

Whether he is as excited the evening of Oct. 12 will depend a fair amount on whether  Sarkisian, who finally has surrendered to the can’t-beat-’em-join-’em camp regarding Oregon, was successful in implanting Tuiasosopo’s tough-guy QB soul into Price’s gifted body.

If not, it’s a complete decade of Duck-whippings. The Montlake mind reels.


  • 3 Lions

    If the passing game is Sark’s area of expertise, why does is it the area that needs the most improvement?

    • art thiel

      He’s out of eligibility to throw the ball. And because of OL injuries, no third receiver behind Williams and ASJ and Price’s funk, they were lousy throwing the ball on third down and in red zone. At some point, players have to be responsible too.

  • jafabian

    I’ve always wondered what do coaches do to improve? Players can work on their game and hit the weight room, change their diet and such in the offseason but what do coaches do? The Huskies did not surprise anyone last season and were prepared for Keith Price. There has to be more to it than just simply recruiting better. The same could be said for other sports in the program as well such as basketball.
    At the very least, the Dawgs goal should be to become the class of the Pacific NW, and that includes being better than Boise State and Idaho as well. Losing the Apple Cup was not good and that should actually be the primary goal IMO. Losing your rivalry game is not good and they should do what they can to dominate the Cougs now because you know Coach Leach will have that program on track in the next year or two.

    • art thiel

      The Huskies better aim higher than the Apple Cup.

      As I wrote, the goal is to beat the Ducks. Can’t get better than that in the NW.

      As far as coaching, most coaches like Sark travel in the off-season to watch other programs, get mentoring from premier coaches, study film for strategy and tactics, and attempt through alums/old players to broaden the recruiting net.

      • jafabian

        I point out the Apple Cup because there’s schools who have fired coaches for not wining their rivalry games. If you don’t suceed in them it affects your in-state recruiting and for a wining program you have, IMO, got to do well in that in all sports for the athletic department. Give it up on recruiting in Oregon. That’s not going to happen for quite awhile though I wonder with Kelly gone and the NCAA having their eye on Oregon lately just how long will the Ducks dominance last? But you’re right that currently the Ducks are what USC was under Pete Carroll and that can’t be discounted. But I’m thinking get your shots in on the Cougs now because in a year or two it won’t be so easy. Well, it wasn’t easy last season either.

  • banished

    Loved the references to “Wile Coyote,” “dump truck vs. Ferrari,” “child-labor-using shoe factory money” and Sarkisian channeling Mr. Rogers. It’s a shame Art and the SPNW staff don’t have a bigger audience. If Washington finally does break the string on October 12, let’s hope they don’t do a face plant the next week, sometimes a danger to teams after a huge win.

    Normally I’m not one to pay much attention to recruiting rankings, owing to their subjective nature. They’re guides, sort of fun, but usually forgotten with the first game in September. But this year, I did take a bit more interest, knowing the Evil Empire had just finished No. 2 in the nation, and knowing about their much-ballyhooed baubled and bangled facilities that are alleged to be irresistable to teenaged grid phenoms. Those two factors, combined together, sure made it seem logical Oregon would hit it out of the park on LOI Day. However, it turns out their haul, at least according to those who live and breathe recruiting, was less than stellar. I even found two Web sites that didn’t even have the Ducks in their top 25, and three others where UO didn’t crack the top 15. So, people can make of that what they will, but it sure seems that Oregon’s very real blinding bling is not the irresistable siren song to recruits (at least many of them) that we’ve been led to believe it is.

  • Wesley Mallard

    For the 1,985,388th time, it’s Phil Knight who funnels $ to the Quack Attack, not Nike per se….also, you forgot to call it the University of Nike for the 838,219th time, Art.