Steve Sarkisian has already addressed his team on not letting down this week in preparing for Arizona State, following two highly-charged showdowns with Stanford and Oregon. UW is counting on yet another surge in the second half – of the season.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Steve Sarkisian is already on alert about it. He’s already confronting his players about it.
This week, the Huskies are trying to defeat the idea of a letdown as much as they are battling Arizona State.
Sarkisian acknowledged Monday the potential for his 20th-ranked Huskies (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12 North) to ebb this week following two emotional, physical losses at then-No. 5 Stanford and last weekend against second-ranked Oregon.
"I don't know if 'worried' is the right word, but I am aware of the potential," UW’s fifth-year coach said during his weekly press conference, two days after the Huskies were down 31-24 to Oregon with 14 minutes left before losing 45-24.
"My assessment to the team today was, we are halftime (of the season). We are in the locker room right now. We are a 4-2 football team. We are 20th in the country. We've played a good ‘half’ of football against some really good teams.
"But just as we've been all season long, we are an excellent second-half football team. And we are going to come out in the second half and play a great half of the season. We are going to start Saturday against Arizona State. We are going to prepare very well, and we are going to come out of the blocks playing fast, physical football the way we are capable of playing. I think the guys understand that.
“I think the sky's the limit for this football team.”
So the mantra of this week's game being the biggest of the season isn’t just coach-speak this week for UW against Arizona State (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12 South).
Could Saturday's 3 p.m. game at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe (on Pac-12 Networks television, the Washington IMG College radio network and on GoHuskies.com with another exclusive game chat with free, streaming audio of Bob Rondeau's UW radio call) determine whether Washington soars again this season, or sinks more following the tough test against Stanford and Oregon?
"It's a fair question," Sarkisian said.
The coach then points to the fact that in the five games his starting offense has played the first drives coming out for second halves this season it has scored five touchdowns. The exception was against Idaho State, when UW already led 42-0 and the starters were already done for the afternoon.
Washington has scored 87 points in the third quarters of its games this season, about double what it has scored in any other period.
"This is the third quarter of the season. This is our first drive of the second half of the season, what are we going to do with it?” Sarkisian said. “I think it's important for us to come out and make a statement with this drive and the way we play this Saturday."
Sarkisian took away from Washington’s 10th consecutive loss to Oregon how hard his Huskies played — but he added: “Unfortunately there was a little bit of a lack of execution on our part, and not great coaching on our part, quite honestly.
“It wasn’t our best game. And to beat that football team you need to play one of your better games.”
Sarkisian the play caller said he’d like to have the first-and-goal decision back from the 5 in the third quarter of a 28-14 game. Keith Price got sacked, then one scramble later got sacked again. The Huskies had to settle for a field goal that kept them behind 28-17 instead of 28-21.
Sarkisian also rued three other, lost opportunities to score touchdowns. That included a fumble by otherwise-brilliant Bishop Sankey (167 yards rushing) at the Oregon 30 and a miscommunication between Price and Jaydon Mickens on a long sideline pass that resulted in an interception at the Ducks 12.
The latter turnover was on third and 8 from the Oregon 44 in the second quarter. Sarkisian said if he had to do it over he would have called for more intermediate-route options for Price on that play, since the coach had already decided the Huskies would be going for it on fourth down at that point of the field and the game.
Later in that second quarter, Washington started a drive at the Oregon 49. Then Price was sacked on third down and UW went three and out.
That’s why the Huskies trailed 21-7 at halftime, a deficit they could never fully make up.
"Those are pretty big, defining moments in a ball game against a good team," Sarkisian said. "To beat a team of that caliber you have to take advantages of those opportunities, and we just didn’t do it."
Sarkisian also noted that running 74 plays against Oregon was “not good enough” and that “we have to play faster.” UW was averaging 85 plays per game entering last weekend.
The coach attributed the relatively slower pace to the Huskies making more substitutions between plays to vary their formations and personnel groupings against Oregon. Look for less of that against Arizona State.
"That doesn’t take away from our fight," the coach said of the Dawgs against the Ducks. "They were the better team that night.
"So onward and upward."
The Sun Devils rebounded from a 37-34 loss to Notre Dame in Arlington, Texas, the previous week by pounding Colorado 54-13 last Saturday night in Tempe. ASU led 25-0 in the first quarter and 47-6 at halftime. It finished with 532 yards and sent the Buffaloes to their 11th consecutive Pac-12 defeat.
Arizona State beat Wisconsin at home last month in a disputed finish, lost 42-28 at Stanford and rolled over USC at home 62-41 in the game that got Lane Kiffin the next morning fired by the Trojans.
ASU is third in the Pac-12 behind Oregon and UCLA in scoring offense at 44.2 points per game. It is fifth in the league in total offense at 496.5 yards per game, two places behind Washington.
Junior quarterback Taylor Kelly is averaging 327.5 yards passing per game, third-best in the conference. He has completed 62 percent of his throws with 16 touchdowns against six interceptions.
"The quarterback has got a lot of game to him,” Sarkisian, a star quarterback at Brigham Young in the 1990s, said.
Then the coach hesitated before adding, "Probably giving myself too much credit; kind of reminds me of me ... no, just kidding. He's just a scrappy guy, man. He makes all the plays when he has to make them. He runs when he has to run. He throws it. He throws the back shoulder fade to (wide receiver) Jaelen Strong really well."
Sarkisian also said tailback Marion Grice is the best running back no one talks about. The 204-pound senior leads the nation with 15 touchdowns. Grice's 10 rushing scores are tied for most in the country, and are one more than Sankey has for UW.
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Sarkisian said that Dexter Charles “potentially” could miss Saturday’s game. Charles injured his shoulder about midway through the Oregon game. He has started UW’s last 17 games at left guard dating to Week 3 of the 2012 schedule. Erik Kohler replaced Charles last weekend. Sarkisian said Kohler, a two-year starter whose 2013 debut was delayed until last week by a foot injury, would “probably” start at Arizona State if Charles can’t. … This is the 14th time in the last 18 meetings that either the Huskies or Sun Devils, or both, have been ranked. ... This is the first time in three seasons they’ve met. The new nine-game schedule inside the expanded conference means a team will miss two league foes from the other division in two consecutive seasons. UW missed ASU and UCLA in 2011 and ‘12. This season and next season the Dawgs aren’t playing USC and Utah.