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.
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.