A lively, growling Monday practice shows the 17th-ranked Huskies aren’t content over their 2-0 start, or that they are focused on going to 3-0 for the first time since 2001. They want to dial in on ways to improve.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Just a day and half had elapsed since the Huskies’ 34-24 victory at Illinois – and even less time than that since the team returned home at 2 a.m. Sunday.
Yet the Dawgs were growling again Monday morning at a practice notable for its energy and feistiness.
Some sessions the first workday after a night road game and middle-of-the-night arrival back on campus don’t yield much. Yet the players on the nation’s 17th ranked team – Washington’s highest rating since the start of the 2003 season -- were jazzed throughout Monday’s drills at Husky Stadium, especially during a 24-play scrimmage pitting the first offense against the first defense.
Coach Steve Sarkisian then chose to have the second teamers face each other in the 2-minute drills that ended the practice. That didn’t sit well with the competitive starters.
"They battled, man. … It was a good Monday practice," the coach said of the first preparation day for Saturday’s noon game against Idaho State (2-0) at Husky Stadium on the Pac-12 Networks television, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with another exclusive game chat and a free live streaming audio broadcast.
Whether or not it was a carryover to UW’s first non-conference road victory since Jake Locker’s college debut at Syracuse began the 2007 season, the energetic practice was a positive first step in what Sarkisian says is the main objective of this week.
That goal is not necessarily the Huskies’ first 3-0 start since 2001.
"The one thing about this game — and it is with every day, and I touched on it with the team a week ago — it’s about the process. It’s about embracing the process," Sarkisian said. "It’s not about who the opponent is on Saturday. It’s not about where we are playing the game, or what uniform we are wearing, or what the weather is supposed to be, or what the surface of the field is. It’s about the process of preparation.
"And our focus to have great practices every single day, and to compete with each other on a daily basis, so that when that game Saturday rolls around we are so prepared and have such confidence and belief in what we are doing and we know how hard the practices were that the opponent — not to say that they are irrelevant — but they shouldn’t be the external motivating factor of our we going to play well or not."
Sarkisian has his team working on cutting down the 12 penalties it had against Illinois, nine before halftime. A few of those fouls were what the coach called “effort” plays, such as 330-plus pound defensive tackle Danny Shelton sprinting across the field then getting called for late hit on Nathan Scheelhaase just as the Illinois quarterback was stepping on the sideline boundary.
Others, such as Josh Shirley’s hit near the head of Scheelhaase after a throw, or the false-start flags, are correctable and coachable.
Sarkisian also wants better red-zone production that the two touchdowns in four trips inside the opponent’s 20 that Washington had last week. The four touchdowns in six red-zone trips that UW had in the opener against Boise State is still not good enough; the coach wants near perfection of touchdowns every time.
Yet Sarkisian says, “I’m not hitting the panic button on us in the red zone. … Part of the positive is that we haven’t turned the ball over in the red zone.”
That was a real problem last season.
The focus on all this is why Idaho State is less of the focus this week for the Huskies than the Huskies themselves are.
Idaho State of the lower-division Big Sky Conference, UW’s opponent for Saturday’s noon PT game at Husky Stadium, is 2-0 after wins over Division-II Dixie State and Western State Colorado. The Bengals throw — a lot. Quarterback Justin Arias has two 400-yard passing games to begin this season, as the Bengals have thrown 98 times in two games.
"The process is more important right now than who the opponent is going to be," the coach said.
The Huskies got some injury news Monday that was better than it could have been on standout middle linebacker John Timu. Images and tests taken since Saturday night’s 34-24 win over Illinois in Chicago show UW’s co-captain has a bruise of the right rotator cuff, the muscles and tendons that attach to the bones of the shoulder.
"And it’s a deep one," Sarkisian said of the bruise.
He noted how Timu could not lift his arm following Saturday’s game.
"It’s getting better. His arm is improving," the coach said. "I would say he is day to day, quite honestly, with how the inflammation in the shoulder goes. But there is nothing structurally wrong in there, which is a great sign."
Timu has 18 tackles in less than a game and a half this season. He got hurt during the second quarter last weekend, then took off his shoulder pads, stood on the sideline and did not return.
He is the signal caller of the defense, a former safety and high-school quarterback who is fast enough to cover receivers down field yet rugged enough to stuff the run inside. He had 28 tackles in consecutive games against Boise State that ended last season and started this one.
In other words, he’s a huge key.
Yet if there is any game week this season that might be a time to rest a banged-up starter, it may be this one. The Huskies could go with some more five defensive-back schemes against Idaho State’s all-out passing game, a nickel defensive back replacing the middle linebacker. Or they could just rest Timu altogether and have backup Thomas Tutogi play for him in the middle as they did over the final two-plus quarters at Illinois. That would give Timu time to heal for the Sept. 28 Pac-12 opener against undefeated Arizona at Husky Stadium.
"Thomas has done a good job all through fall (and with) his attention to detail in meetings. It was nice to be able to get him in there,” defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said.
"We’ll see how Johnny is … as we move forward. Obviously Johnny is an important guy. And hopefully we will get a speedy recovery out of him."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: The conference announced Monday, that the Arizona-Washington game will start at 4:00 p.m. on be televised nationally by FOX. … Look who’s No. 1 in the nation in rushing, at 184.5 yards per game. It’s the most unknown top runner in the country: Bishop Sankey. Sankey last weekend joined Napoleon Kaufman, Corey Dillon and Louis Rankin as the only Huskies to rush for 200 yards in two different games. Sankey has done that in his last three starts, dating to December’s MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. The one in between, the opener three weeks ago against Boise State, he romped for 161 yards and two touchdowns. … The Huskies’ 1,207 yards is their most through two games to begin a season since at least 1947, the year UW began keeping such numbers. The 170 plays Washington has run is its most through two games since 1951 when coach Howard Odell’s team ran 180 — but gained 263 fewer yards than this year’s team at this same point.