Oct. 10, 2010
by Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Steve Sarkisian had a stick-with-it message after Washington lost at home to Nebraska last month. The team's goals of a bowl game remained. The Pac-10 season had yet to begin.
Two games into conference play, following Saturday night's 24-14 loss to Arizona State at rainy Husky Stadium, the coach is saying the same thing.
The race inside the wild, unpredictable conference still has yet to truly begin.
The Huskies (2-3) are 1-1 in the Pac-10, tied with Arizona for fourth in the league, and just one game behind Oregon State for second. And Washington gets its chance at the Beavers (3-2, 2-0) this weekend in its homecoming game.
"You don't win the conference in one week. That's why you play nine of these suckers," Sarkisian said of Pac-10 games.
Second-ranked Oregon (3-0, 6-0) is the only clear frontrunner in the league. And the Ducks now have injuries at quarterback and other key spots, following a closer-than-expected win at last-place Washington State.
The rest of the conference is a scramble. Oregon State upset previously undefeated and ninth-ranked Arizona in Tucson on Saturday. USC fell again. And a once resurgent UCLA, which recently routed Texas on the road, got whacked at California.
So, yes, the Huskies are right in the middle of the jumble.
"The Pac-10's wide open," Washington linebacker and leading tackler Mason Foster said. "Every game is a tough one."
Including Saturday's loss to the Sun Devils (3-3, 1-2).
Jake Locker was so sick he barely ran, as Sarkisian called only three designed runs for his dynamic quarterback. Locker had 310 yards passing and 110 yards rushing in the previous week's win at USC. He had 209 through the air and just six net yards on the ground against ASU.
That left the offense without one of its key dimensions. So did the hip flexor injury wide receiver Devin Aguilar sustained on the final play of Thursday's practice.
Locker still managed to pass Brock Huard for second in career passing yards at UW. Locker now has 6,519 yards. Cody Pickett threw for 10,220 from 1999-2003.
But Locker was without one of his favorite and most experienced third-down targets with Aguilar out. Washington went to I formations with under-center snaps to Locker far more than it had in previous games, when it almost exclusively used shotgun snaps and spread formations.
There was another reason the Huskies gained 537 yards and scored 32 points in the win at USC and produced just 354 yards and 14 points against Arizona State: The Trojans were huge up front and inside, so Sarkisian called a game featuring runs and passes outside that seem to best fit Washington's speedy players. But Huskies coaches saw the Sun Devils' defense, regarded as the Pac-10's best entering the season, as much faster than USC's. So Washington attacked ASU more directly, up the middle.
That plan became a challenge when left guard Erik Kohler, the mammoth freshman, went out sick with mononucleosis. Chris Polk gained 110 yards on 18 carries - his second 100-yard rushing day this season and seventh in his two-season UW career -- largely because he again refused to go down upon first contact at the line of scrimmage.
Defensively, the young, developing Huskies allowed 289 of Arizona State's 387 yards in the decisive first half. The Sun Devils built a 21-7 lead that proved too much for the weakened Locker and UW to overcome, as the Huskies continued their habit of starting slowly.
"Everyone just has to execute earlier in the game," safety and senior co-captain Nate Williams said. "We've just got to play like we do later in the game."
Defensive lineman Everrette Thompson agreed his defense needs "to come out with just a little more intensity" against Oregon State. Williams added he's not worried because of the closely knit and hard-working nature of these Huskies.
"We're in this together," he said.
UW also got just one turnover on Saturday - an interception early in the fourth quarter by linebacker Cort Dennison. ASU's Steven Threet had thrown 10 picks in his first five games.
"But if going in you had said Arizona State was going to score 24 points, I'd felt good with the way it was going to go," Sarkisian said. "The offense just couldn't get it going."
That figures to happen with Locker healthier, after a week in which many Huskies battled the flu and other illnesses.
And as sick as the Huskies feel with losing at home again, the next game can get any team well again in this wacky Pac-10.
"We will get back on the horse," Sarkisian said. "This is a mentally tough football team, and we will be back."