The fact players were glued to televisions all bye weekend – including to get a personal scouting report on Illinois – shows how far the UW program has come since early in 2009.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE -- The Huskies had last weekend off. Yet they didn’t vacation or sleep away their Saturday and Sunday.
They remained all into football.
Players and coaches watched as much college ball as they will all season during Washington’s early-season bye.
“It was good to watch all the things that’s going on around college football. It was kind of good to kick my feet up,” quarterback Keith Price said Monday of a rare football Saturday spent at home in front of the television instead of reading blitzes, dodging pass rushers and finding receivers.
Senior safety and co-captain Sean Parker said he was also chillin’ and watching Illinois (2-0), No. 19 Washington’s opponent Saturday at Chicago’s Soldier Field, beat Cincinnati 45-17 on ESPN2 last weekend.
Coach Steve Sarkisian said he watched the Illini game “as much as I could — before I went to my daughter’s soccer game” Saturday morning.
All of this shows the Huskies are at a level of interest in their craft that Sarkisian has been trying to achieve since he arrived at UW in January 2009.
"I think we’ve got a lot of football junkies on this team, and they like watching college football," Sarkisian said. "I’m glad we are finally at this point; I don’t know that we were that way five years ago. I think we are there today."
When he first got to UW in the aftermath of the program’s winless 2008, Sarkisian was struck how Huskies were wearing caps of professional baseball and football teams more than they were donning UW gear.
Now, with the Dawgs (1-0) at their highest national ranking since October 2003?
"We’ve got guys who love football, love being around it — college, NFL," the coach said. "They watched the Tampa Bay game against the Jets (Sunday) and saw the foolish penalty, the (Tampa Bay) guy hitting the quarterback out of bounds and costing his team a (game-winning) field-goal attempt. They were talking about that stuff this morning."
Sarkisian and his players came away from their weekend of football study — UW doesn’t start the fall academic quarter until Sept. 25, by the way — with a clearer understanding of their task to improving Washington’s 3-10 record away from Seattle the last two seasons.
Foremost, the Huskies’ defense must find a way to affect quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. The senior leads the Big Ten in passing through two games, including Illinois’ 42-34 win over Southern Illinois of the Football Championship Subdivision.
"We are getting ready to play a very good Illinois team, one that has matured — probably similar to us in some regards — with a senior quarterback who is playing at an extremely high level," Sarkisian said.
He noted Scheelhaase is completing 74 percent of his passes for 364 yards through the air per game. Both numbers lead the Big Ten through two weeks; the yards are nearly 70 yards more per game than anyone else in the conference.
"And it’s not a dink-and-dunk offense. They are throwing it down the field," Sarkisian said. "That (the 74-percent completion rate) is hard to do versus air."
UW’s offensive play caller also says Illinois has an “aggressive, opportunistic defense.” Sarkisian noted the Illini have been getting off the field on third downs, allowing just eight conversions in 28 third-down plays so far this season.
The Huskies spent the bye week working on being even faster than they were on offense in the Aug. 31 opener against Boise State. They ran a whopping 52 plays in 15:55 of possession that night in the first half of a 38-6 win.
"We need to do a better job of handing the ball to the umpire," Sarkisian said.
As noted in last week’s Unleashed column on the intricacies of this new, no-huddle offense — http://www.gohuskies.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=783310&SPID=134308&DB_LANG=C&ATCLID=209251171&DB_OEM_ID=30200 , it’s not enough for these Huskies to hand the ball to just any official after they are tackled. They need to hand it directly to the umpire in the center of the field that spots the ball for this offense to go even faster.
Sarkisian also mentioned the need for offensive tackles and tight ends to get set more quickly before snaps, and for substitutions by receivers to happen with much more urgency.
So, yes, these Dawgs want to be even faster in Chicago.
"I think we will be better Saturday," Sarkisian said. "There are some tweaks that we are going to make that will make us even faster and more efficient."
"I think it’s a great environment for college football, to have this opportunity to go play at Soldier Field, at such a historic place, against a good football team. I think we will be up to the challenge.
"It’s Monday. We’ve got a lot of work to do. But it should make for a really fun Saturday."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Sarkisian on his team moving from 20th to 19th in the latest AP poll: "Doesn't help us win the Pac-12 North. I don't know how we got better in a week we didn't play" … Sarkisian thought the Dawgs got these things accomplished during the bye week: 1. Tackling -- The coach feels better about the team’s tackling after four days spent focusing on fundamentals of positioning, squaring the shoulders on ball carriers, leverage and drive — the basics; 2. Refining the mechanics of playing even faster, as defined above; and 3. Gaining a trust in reserves to play more on special teams. Sarkisian wants to wean the many starters who played on special teams against Boise State off the kick teams, so they can play more on scrimmage downs for the offense and defense. Parker, for one, could use a break from all he does on special teams. … The Huskies leave for Chicago Thursday following a morning practice at UW. That has been their custom under Sarkisian, to leave a day earlier for trips across two time zones during a time before school is in session. … This is Washington’s second game in Chicago. Coach Enoch Bagshaw took the Huskies to Amos Alonzo Stagg Field to play at the University of Chicago, then of the Big Ten, on Nov. 23, 1929. … The story on how Saturday’s game at the historic, remodeled home of the NFL’s Bears came to be is here: http://www.gohuskies.com/ViewArticle.dbml?&DB_OEM_ID=30200&ATCLID=208021791 … It was 94 degrees in Chicago on Monday and it’s supposed to be 96 Tuesday. But Saturday’s forecast sounds perfect: Sunny and a high of 70 degrees.