BY Art Thiel 11:46PM 11/15/2013

Thiel: Huskies did in themselves, including Sark

Hard to know which part of the acid bath was worse for Washington: Eight consecutive losses to UCLA in the Rose Bowl, four touchdowns by the local kid who got away, a shoulder injury to quarterback Keith Price that knocked …

Washington quarterback Keith Price, here in a happier moment leading his team onto the field in the season opener, went down with a shoulder injury late in the second quarter Friday night in Los Angeles and couldn’t return. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest file

Hard to know which part of the acid bath was worse for Washington: Eight consecutive losses to UCLA in the Rose Bowl, four touchdowns by the local kid who got away, a shoulder injury to quarterback Keith Price that knocked him out of the game by halftime, or a wire-to-wire defeat inflicted by the coach who would be Husky, Jim Mora.

Maybe it was the 11 penalties 113 lost yards in the ninth game of the season, suggestive of lessons unlearned.

So many arrows from which to choose, any one of which could have been the game-fatal weapon.

It was no shock that the 13th-ranked Bruins won 41-31 at home. But it was disturbing for Washington fans to realize that the Huskies were not only never out of it, they were down  three early in the third quarter and had a couple opportunities to bring about a tie, but self-destructed.

Included in the litany of mayhem by one’s own hand was another moment of coach Steve Sarkisian out-thinking himself. Trailing 34-24 early in the the fourth quarter, the Huskies were faced with a third and short at their own 42-yard line. Sarkisian went with a Wildcat formation that gave RB Bishop Sankey a direct snap. He faked a handoff to an end in the read-option style, but his keeper went for a two-yard loss.

Weird as was that play call (did Sark believe UCLA worried about Sankey throwing?),  Sarkisian went even weirder. He decided to go for it on fourth-and-two, which is sufficiently high risk, but not unreasonable. But instead of relying on Sankey, he had Cyler Miles, the redshirt freshman replacement for Price, attempt to throw a well-defended, short slant route to another freshman, Damore’ea Stringfellow.

The pass wasn’t close. The ball went over on downs. The next play, UCLA exploited Washington’s unprepared defense when quarterback Brett Hundley hit WR Devien Lucien on an undefended hitch route in the flat. He weaved the remaining 32 yards untouched for the backbreaking touchdown and a 41-24 lead, a three-score deficit far too deep for Washington, operating with 10 minutes remaining with the inexperienced Miles, as well as Ben Riva at left tackle, replacing injured vet Micah Hatchie (ankle).

The playcalls will be remembered by fans who believe Sarkisian lacks the seasoning to make more rational calls.

Sarkisian acknowledged the three-play sequence was the decider.

“The failed fourth-down conversion was the big play,” he told KJR radio. But the Huskies were down to low-percentage plays because of the screw-ups that created the deficit.

“Mentally, physcially and emotionally, we were really ready to play,” he said. “I felt we were ready. Then . . . boom-boom.”

The booms were fumbles lost to the Bruins on the first two possessions by two of Washington’s most reliable: Sankey and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. After a short reception for a likely first down, the big tight end was sideswiped by a UCLA defender and the ball came free. On the next series, Sankey, who had only one other fumble, coughed it up. The short fields made for easier UCLA drives, and the 14-0 deficit proved insurmountable.

Tough as that was, the Huskies added another obstacle: Penalties. An interception was nullified by a legitimate pass-interference call on DB Sean Parker, and a touchdown brought back by a much more dubious hands-to the-face call on OG Dexter Charles.

“Unbelievable,” Sarkisian said of the penalty totals. “Some of them were really critical ones. That part is really disappointing. We been hammering home about discipline, and getting better at it. This was really disappointing.”

Regarding Price, who buckled at the knees in pain before coming off the field on his own,  Sarkisian said the injury to the quarterback’s throwing shoulder was of unknown severity. X-rays at halftime were negative, but it was plain he was unable to throw. The fifth-year  senior watched the second half from the sidelines in no apparent discomfort and without a harness or sling.

The other blow was to Hatchie, the left tackle of whom Sarkisian “had been playing really good ball the last month.” He twisted his left ankle and was re-taped, but did not return.

But two young backups, Miles and Stringfellow, gave a positive glimpse of the future. Miles was 15 of 22 for 149 yards and two touchdowns. The late picks were at least partly due to the desperation of the final possessions.

“He didn’t look like a backup — he looked like a starter in this league,” Sarkisian said. “Not just a starter but a good player. He’s a guy who can go in and play and not be just serviceable, but a dynamic player.”

Stringfellow, a 6-3, 210-pound freshman from Moreno Valley, CA., caught eight balls for 147 yards and a a touchdown.

“He could have had over 200 yards,” Sarkisian said. “He’s like Kasen Williams, and he’s going to make a lot of catches.”

The Huskies’ reduced ability to rush, due partly a strong UCLA front seven, failed to take the pressure off the young guys. UW had only 102 yards on the ground, 91 by Sankey, but it took him 27 carries. His longest was 12 yards.

“Bishop was so close to breaking open three or four times,  but their (defensive) speed made up for it,” he said. “I didn’t want to abandon the run and let it become throwing game.”

At 6-4, the Huskies can still improve on last year’s record by beating Oregon State and Washington State. But they may be down a couple of key players, and Friday night at the Rose Bowl, they found their best players, and their coach, weren’t quite up to the task of hanging with the big boys in the Pac-12 Conference. Again.


YourThoughts

  • Eric K

    out of all the penalties the simple false start that made for a 48 yard FG that was blocked may have been the biggest, without it they may pick up 3rd and 5 and even if they don’t 45 yards seems to be the edge of Coons comfort zone so 43 vs 48 is a much bigger difference than simply 5 yards, being only down 7 for the last couple drives would have allowed for more running plays vs having to pass every down.

    That they are still having so many false starts this late is the season is inexcusable.

    • art thiel

      I think getting a touchdown called back is fairly large, but you’re right. To come back on the road from 14-0 means the rallying team is permitted few mistakes. A false start is between the ears, which is not a talent issue.

  • jafabian

    Even though UCLA was favored its frustrating when the Huskies close the gap to 3 and commit so many errors. The Dawgs always have problems against UCLA and letting a LB score four TD’s…..arrrgh.

    IMO, the Oregon State game is a must win for a decent bowl and to hopefully break the 7-6 pattern they’ve had the past three seasons.

    • art thiel

      Mora doesn’t have all his horses, but he didn’t need them to outcoach his alma mater. For Huskies fans, that’s the scary part.

      • clevesside

        Jr Mora has nothing to worry about, if the Huskies keep beating themselves. This sounds like a retread, in some ways, to AZ state. Now I fear Corvallis, when weeks ago, it was just a GPS blip…..

        • art thiel

          The scary part for Huskies fans is that it was obvious there would be a letdown at ASU after Stanford and Oregon. But Sark was convinced the team was dialed in for UCLA, and the rally established they were. But it’s not enough to have the right emotional level. Have to have talent and tactics too.

  • RadioGuy

    First of all, not everything about this game was negative. Miles played well after being thrown in cold against a ranked team…Stringfellow had those eight catches for 140+ yards…the Dawgs did put 31 points on the board in a road game against a good UCLA side…and we’re talking about which bowl game the Huskies will go to, which is a far cry from the end of the Willingham Era.

    However…

    The play-calling was, uhhh, “curious” on those critical situations, losing Price (who’s been playing hurt almost all season but still has done well) took away the spiritual leader among the players, the defense did give up those 41 points and oh, those penalties. This is too deep into the season to still be getting double-figures in flags thrown. Put it all together and you get an opportunity lost.

    The UW should at least split their last two regular season games and (if Price can return) there’s a fair chance of winning both. My own vibe is that they lose at OSU and beat WSU to finish 7-5 and get an invite to the Sun Bowl: Nothing to write home about but a whole lot better than 0-12.

    • art thiel

      You’re a generous fan, Radio. Many more are fed up with “it beats 0-12.” Making a bowl in this era means you’re one of the 70 best out of 120+ teams eligible.

      • RadioGuy

        True enough, Art, but who wouldn’t cherish a trip to El Paso during the holidays? Or Boise, for that matter? Never mind…I just killed my own argument.

        • art thiel

          Such honesty will never get you into public office.

          • RadioGuy

            Yeah, but maybe it’ll get me a discount for tickets to the Famous Potato Bowl.

            I REALLY need to adjust my meds intake.

  • Allen

    Sarkisian is a good coach! The problem is he’s not a great one. He’ll keep the Huskies respectable, but he’s not the guy to have us go toe-to-toe with the big competition. Hopefully UW realizes that sooner rather than later. Being good to mediocre is a laudable goal for organizations like the Mariners, but I’d like to think the Huskies have their sights set much higher. If so, Sarkisian isn’t long for the new Husky Stadium.

    • art thiel

      Sark’s first head coach job was at UW. The learning curve was steep. That was the risk Woodward took. He’s still sometimes immature in his playcalling. The playcalls with the Wildcat and the 4th down pass were pure emotion, no rationality.

  • Effzee

    I hate the “new” offense. Hated it when the change was announced, hated it every day since. Yet another move of self-inflicted desperation. Maybe Stanford dominating the clock to beat Oregon or UCLA’s 3rd quarter touchdown drive will remind Sark of what football is about. I doubt it though. Here in his 5th year, his team is as undisciplined and unprepared to play big-boy football as ever. He just doesn’t grasp how valuable the ball is to possess. There seems to be a lack of understanding that the faster they score, the more the defense is on the field. I’ll give him a tiny bit of credit for actually running the ball a lot, and not just talking about it like every other coach we’ve had since Lambo. I can’t complain about the pass-run ratio. But you can’t just continue to possess the ball for 70 seconds whether it’s a 3-and-out or a quick touchdown strike. Looking to the number of plays you run as a way to measure you chances of success seems like grasping at straws, to me. Maybe someone’s defense can handle that, or some offenses are actually good enough to score touchdowns every time in order to bury a team fast…. But we are not that team, and he’s done a remarkable job of not being able to differentiate between what he sees on the field and what he wants to believe in his head.

    • art thiel

      The up-tempo is in its first year at UW, and the transition has been harder than Sark wil let on. The reason it can work at OU and a few other places is recruiting the right linemen to it. It’s not a fat-guy style. And UW has lots of hoid-overs from the pro-style standard.

      Stanford has an odd advantage maintaining its smashmouth style because it can recruit nationally and get the relative handful of big strong guys who can handle fb and books. And for the ones that can’t handle the books, they offer a PE major. Washington has no PE major.

      • RadioGuy

        They still have to pass the entry exam at Stanford to get in (unless that’s changed). I once interviewed Kate Starbird and she said that’s what sold her on going to Palo Alto because she’d been offered a magic carpet ride for admissions to other schools, but preferred to earn her way in like every freshman there has to.

        That’s why I like Jim Harbaugh in spite of himself…he said at his first press conference there that the academic standards at Stanford were a recruiting TOOL, not an impediment. Size definitely helps on the offensive line, but you also need some grey matter to make it work and Stanford isn’t known for having players with no other reason for being in college.

        • art thiel

          Stanford has a smaller pool of recruitable athletes because of the academic standards, but they recruit from the whole nation. Their competition is more from Northwestern, Vanderbilt, etc., and less from UW, ASU, etc. Stanford has such high rewards that they are the big dogs who eat first when it comes to smart kids.

      • Effzee

        So, in essence, Sark went into his prove-it year with a 5th year Senior at QB and one of the best running backs in the country, and scrapped the offense he has recruited to for four years. Seems like another decision made out of emotion instead of rationality. I was vehemently anti-Mora until last night. If we want a shot at him, now is the time. If he keeps having the success he’s having, the legitimately big programs will start to come calling.

        • art thiel

          Actually, Sark was a little behind the times. As you can tell, lots of schools have adopted the spread offense with uptempo pace. And every one of them has a transition year or two. Schools can’t step out of the schedule for a year or two while they armor up. The decision to change was based on the cold logic of the obvious — adapt or die.

          And as I wrote earlier this week, I think Mora has always been better suited to be a college head coach than a pro head coach. But his mouth always gets him in trouble, and he would be high-maintenance for the AD. Not necessarily a deal-breaker, but a consideration.

          Neuheisel was high-maintenance, and Hedges wasn’t up to the task.

          • Effzee

            Yeah, the mouth and attitude are why I was anti-Mora. I may sill be, at a root level. I’m just beyond frustrated. Thanks for the replies as usual, man.

      • jafabian

        Do other schools in the Pac12 offer a PE major? And have Sark or other Husky coaches, past and present in other sports, tried to make things even with each other in academic requirements? Seems odd to me that Stanford is ahead ih the game compared to Washington on this.

        • art thiel

          Don’t know the whole Pac-12 academic set-up, but majors are determined way above athletic departments. Most schools have a category of special admits, a limited number of students across all disciplines who are excepted from standard admission requirements because they have special talents or circumstances. That’s how most schools get in unqualified athletes. And Stanford, as a private school, has workarounds to get in handfuls of football players and other athletes who don’t have the GPAs or rich daddies.

  • enscriptchun

    What a different game it would have been without those 2 1st quarter fumbles and the 14-0 hole… but it is what it is. And that’s probably what tortures all of us Husky fans the most. WHAT IF…

    Season can still end OK with wins over OSU and WSU. But it’s gonna take a lot more discipline, guts, and execution than the Dawgs showed this past week.

    • art thiel

      Especially discipline. Starting with the coach and his play calls.

  • Buggy White

    Referees saw things that didn’t actually happen, such as a “hands to the face” on the called-back touchdown, ASJ having his foot down inbounds when he didn’t, and worst of all, ASJ having control of the ball before “fumbling.” 99% of the time that last one is called an incomplete pass, even in the NFL. Hard to win when the refs don’t simply miss what happens, but actually make it up as they go.

    • art thiel

      Defending Pac-12 officiating is a mathematical impossibility. But it is uniformly bad, and UW still leads the conference in penalties. The first Charles penalty was wrong, but the others were right or at least debatable.

  • ll9956

    I can’t help but repeat a recurring theme by other posters: LACK OF DISCIPLINE. By the 10th game of the season, the Dawgs should be able to a lot better than 113 yards of penalties (most this season?). They had three major penalties and one holding penalty in the first quarter alone. This contributes in a big way to the universal frustration of us Dawg fans. Sark is quoted as saying, “We been hammering home about discipline, and getting better at it.” Getting “better at it”? This ain’t better, it’s worse. If they’re to have any hope of success at OSU and the WSU, they have got to improve on discipline.

    • art thiel

      Hard to argue with the numbers. They are the most penalized team in the P12 and in the national top 10.

      It’s all in the details, as Don James always demonstrated.

  • Will

    Simply, Sark isn’t the one.

    • art thiel

      I’m not ready to go there, but the UCLA game really undercut his cred.

  • David Michel

    Sark needs help calling plays. Those 2 play calls you refer to were atrocious! you have a running qb, but have him throw on 4th down.