Sept. 5, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - The best result from Washington's opening escape past Eastern Washington may prove to be the one that came just after lunchtime Monday.
That's when coach Steve Sarkisian was direct and forceful with his players in a team meeting. He told the Dawgs to bring far more bite to Saturday's game against pitch-and-catch Hawaii at Husky Stadium (12:30 p.m. on ROOT Sports television, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with the live in-game chat and audio stream) than they did in their opener two days earlier.
He saw them as too tentative when 16 Dawgs played their first major college game -- a 30-27 victory over Eastern Washington sealed by Desmond Trufant's end-zone interception with 29 seconds remaining.
"I really feel like we played not to lose. And that's disappointing to me," Sarkisian said about an hour before the meeting that set a clear tone for this Huskies' week and, they hope, the rest of their season.
"We played much too cautiously."
Sarkisian cited himself, for not keeping the game plan wide open for quarterback Keith Price once the sophomore sprained his knee in Saturday's first half and put on a brace. He cited the offensive line, starting a redshirt freshman at left guard and an all-sophomore right side, for not firing off the ball to the standard the blockers set in UW's victorious finish to 2010.
The coach also cited Huskies' pass rushers that sped in free toward Eastern Washington quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell - but then hesitated as if not trusting the call or the great opportunity before them. That allowed Mitchell to complete 39 passes in 69 tries for 473 yards, with just one sack.
"I thought we lacked energy. I thought we lacked enthusiasm. I didn't think we were physical at all, especially on the offensive side of the ball," Sarkisian said. "So ultimately that stuff has to start with me. I need to coach better. I need to motivate better. We need to be better prepared than we were Saturday, from an emotional standpoint for sure."
And to think, Washington is 1-0 for the first time in his three years as coach and just the third time in 10 seasons. The Huskies also have a five-game winning streak for the first time since the end of 2000 and start of the `01 season.
It sounds like they will be some reinforcements in key spots to aid in Sarkisian's buck up.
Quarterback Keith Price, who sprained his knee banging it on the turf in the first half against EWU and played the rest of the game in a brace that curtailed his mobility, was much better Monday. The sophomore did early drills in practice before yielding team work to backup Nick Montana. Sarkisian said Price may be limited in practices early this week "but we expect him to play."
Price was efficient in the opener - three touchdowns and no turnovers - doing exactly what the Huskies will ask of him all season. He took care of the ball with short, smart passes and led the offense out of bad plays, and did it while playing the final 2½ quarters on the sprained knee and with the brace. He will only get healthier, and better.
"We need to play with more tempo in the huddle, getting in getting out ... and that starts with me," Price said. "We are going to get better."
Price will likely have senior co-captain Jermaine Kearse to use more than he did in the opener. UW's 1,000-yard receiver last season missed the final three quarters of the Eastern game with a sprained ankle, but he practiced Monday.
Senior cornerback Quinton Richardson, a leader in the secondary that had a third-stringer in during the final, decisive moments of the opener, also practiced Monday and Sarkisian said he will play against Hawaii. Richardson sustained a high ankle sprain Aug. 13.
"He's definitely going to have an impact (returning)," Trufant said.
And Sarkisian said Chris Polk's knee is fine following his 125-yard rushing day against Eastern, which came two weeks and two days after arthroscopic surgery.
Polk, who also practiced Monday, said he may have been at only 70 percent of his full effectiveness against the Eagles. His knee didn't bother him, but rust in reading and setting up the blocks of his offensive line did.
The current, unsatisfied tone reflects the elevated standards the Huskies created for themselves with last winter's four-game winning streak and Holiday Bowl victory. And it reflects the heightened expectations of Huskies fans, ones the championship-seeking Sarkisian doesn't discourage but embraces.
Yet Saturday's narrow win and resulting learning experience was just the first game of a long, 12- (or UW expects, 13) game season. Drawing concrete solutions about any team after it has played 60 of a minimum of 720 minutes this season is far from fool-proof.
"This one football game is not going to define the 2011 Washington Huskies football team," Sarkisian said.
He then mentioned how Virginia Tech lost in 2010 to James Madison, like Eastern Washington a Football Championship Subdivision school, and began 0-2, having lost to Boise State in week one. Yet those Hokies responded and finished by playing in the Orange Bowl against Stanford.
Sarkisian spoke Monday in much the same way he spoke a year ago to the week, following a narrow loss at BYU in the 2010 opener the Huskies thought they would have won had they played with more fire. The following week, Washington handled Syracuse.
"I think the biggest carryover to any season is from Game 1 to Game 2," Huskies senior middle linebacker Cort Dennison said.
He is one of the team's captains. So he takes Sarkisian's challenge personally.
"Yeah," Dennison said. "I am going to make sure that we are all into the game."
He will have plenty else to do Saturday - namely trying to stop Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz.
New Pac-12 member Colorado couldn't do that last weekend. Taking off of spread formations similar to what Eastern stayed in most of Saturday against Washington, Moniz ran 14 times for 121 yards and threw for another 178 yards against the Buffaloes. He would have rushed for 151 yards except for losses taken in sacks.
Mouse Davis, the famed guru of the wide-open, run-and-shoot offense in college and professional football, is in his second season on Hawaii's coaching staff as a wide receivers coach. The tangible effect for Washington this week is its defense can expect the same shotgun snaps, quick throws and quick routes that Eastern Washington used. The Eagles' attacked stymied the Huskies' pass rush to gain chunks of yardage against a secondary that Sarkisian thought played too far off receivers.
"Fortunately or unfortunately, these first two ball games we play we're going to see 140 pass attempts in two weeks," Sarkisian said after the win over EWU. "So we better get ready for it."
Last season, Moniz led the Football Bowl Subdivision with over 5,000 yards passing and completed 65 percent of his throws.
"We've definitely got to get better," Trufant said. "We aren't satisfied at all."
And that's OK with Price, since it's still so early.
"As crazy as it sounds, I'm glad the game was that close. It's a wakeup call," Washington's new quarterback said.
"We know we are better than that. We are going to come out ready. Trust me."