Sept. 19, 2010
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - This bye week has dual meaning for the Washington Huskies.
They won't play this coming weekend. And they are already saying good bye to Saturday's 56-21 home loss to Nebraska.
"I think it's going to be a good week for us. It's not going to be an off week," senior defensive lineman Cameron Elisara said. "We're going to be on the grind the whole week."
Coach Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Nick Holt say practices on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday will feature drilling on tackling fundamentals on defense for the Huskies (1-2). The players will have Friday, Saturday and most of Sunday off before reconvening next Sunday night to begin preparations for the Oct. 2 game at USC.
The Huskies are focused on still being 0-0 in the conference, on having all of their expectations for a first bowl game since 2002 intact. Yes, as Elisara mentioned, they are just as much in the running for the Rose Bowl as anyone else in the Pac-10 right now.
"That's still our goal," Elisara said. "In the locker room, man, we're hungry. ... Like coach said, it's all conference games from here, starting at SC."
But Sarkisian also told the players in the locker room immediately after Saturday's game that the Huskies have to get better "now."
"We need to find a way to maximize our potential and play to our potential," the coach said.
"The bye's coming at a great time for us, both to get healthy and to push the younger kids to get them ready," Sarkisian said, noting his team is "beat up" physically and mentally after pounding games against Brigham Young, Syracuse and the Cornhuskers.
Cort Dennison, in particular, will get a chance to rest. The middle linebacker and defensive signal caller suffered a concussion in practice last week and watched in sweat pants on Saturday. It was a key loss to the developing defense.
Jake Locker knows what he's going to be working on during this bye week, following his tough day against Nebraska.
"Ball placement. Patience in the progression, not forcing the ball, going to the second and third receiver," Locker said, resolutely.
There were positives Saturday.
The offense found consistent success running Chris Polk inside and true freshman Jesse Callier outside against the Cornhuskers. True freshman Erik Kohler, starting at for the first time at guard because Sarkisian wanted his 6-foot-5, 306-pound body battling Nebraska's big boys on the defensive front, helped Washington equal its season high of 175 yard rushing set in the previous week's win over Syracuse. The Huskies would have kept running had Saturday's game stayed closer and not forced them into trying to catch up quickly through the air.
Special teams generally improved on kick and punt coverage. And Kiel Rasp, a walk-on who rejoined the team after time away in late August, averaged 48.7 yards per punt on nine punts, earning specific praise from Sarkisian.
Washington's defense allowed 533 yards - 383 of those on the ground. Yet Sarkisian and his players are not conceding much beyond that.
"We're better than we showed (Saturday). That's hard for me to swallow that that team is that much better than us," Sarkisian said of Nebraska.
Holt said the defense "will be better in the long run" from the lessons learned against Nebraska. He agreed the bye is well-timed.
"Yeah, probably that will be good for some of the young guys so we're really ready for the Pac-10," Holt said. "It's a long season."
Senior linebacker Mason Foster sees this as only a temporary setback, given all he and the veteran Huskies have gone through in their UW careers.
"I think we're going to be better," said Foster, who led Washington with 13 tackles against Nebraska. "I think we are going to get through this and be strong. We've been through a lot of things here at U-Dub.
"Just talking to the guys in the locker room, we were telling them this is tough to play Nebraska but we're just going to learn from it.
"It's always good to have a bye week, to get ready for when it really counts, in the Pac-10."