Oct. 28, 2009
By Jeremy Cothran
SEATTLE - The hits do take their toll. And Washington is starting to feel the effects.
Coming into this season, Coach Steve Sarkisian said the Huskies football team would export a physical style of play on their opponents. But it has left them, in turn, bruised and nicked. So this bye week couldn't come at a better time.
Of course, the players will say they'd rather play, but the coaching staff has pegged this week as an opportunity to refresh the team both mentally and physically. So with no football on the slate this weekend, the team can rejuvenate following a loss to Oregon.
Washington is the last Pac-10 Conference team to take their bye, and those eight weeks - against the NCAA's second-toughest schedule - of pounding have added up. Injuries have hobbled the squad, particularly the secondary, where the team is playing three freshmen in the defensive backfield. This doesn't include the nicks and scrapes affecting a majority of the starters.
Sarkisian hopes this time off will allow the Huskies to regroup. He hammered the notion of re-assessment, where the staff will sit down and review what has worked so far. And what hasn't. Sarkisian also wants to use this time to fold in some first-team reps for younger players, particularly reserve quarterbacks Ronnie Fouch and Keith Price, as well as do a "self-scout" of the program to see what could be improved. While the tempo of practice will remain the same, the veterans will have a chance to heal their bodies and clear the heads in preparation for the four remaining games.
The break in the schedule comes at an opportune time for quarterback Jake Locker as well. The redshirt junior sustained a quad bruise during the Oregon game that hampered his scrambling ability. While the injury is not debilitating, Sarkisian wants Locker to take it easy this week.
"You take a pounding as a quarterback," Sarkisian said. "You play eight straight weeks of football, that stuff takes its toll. We'll take it easy on him. Plus, we need to get Ronnie more reps."
At 3-5, Washington is still in line for a possible bowl invitation, so Sarkisian made it clear he did not plan to rest his starters going forward in an effort to build towards the future. The same goals before the season are still in play. But since there are freshman on the roster who are no longer eligible for redshirts, Sarkisian wants to give them ample opportunity to showcase whether or not they can make an impact. He specifically alluded to a player like running back Demitrius Bronson, who will be given valuable first-team experience this week as a vehicle for more game reps backing up Chris Polk. So far, the backups have spent a majority of their time on the scout team mirroring the plays of the Huskies upcoming opponents. Sarkisian wants to flip the script a little this week.
"We're fighting through a lot of injuries," Sarkisian said. "We can't expect to go the next four games and be a completely healthy football team. That just doesn't happen. We need to have guys ready to step in if something does happen to someone. But also maybe give a guy a blow for a series or two because we do have someone ready."
After practicing the first three days of this week, Sarkisian is giving his team the weekend off. They'll reconvene on Sunday night, when preparations will begin in full swing for the UCLA game on Nov. 7 in Los Angeles.
"Hopefully we'll get our guys back fresh, get our minds fresh and go into the last quarter of the season with a vengeance," Sarkisian said, "and finish strong."