Early Mistakes Doom Huskies in 52-21 Loss at Oregon
Oct. 6, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
EUGENE, Ore. - Steve Sarkisian was so frustrated he was spitting out his words in the locker room postgame. And one of those words was actually "golly."
His players were just as miffed -- at themselves.
All these stewing, 23rd-ranked Huskies gathered in the middle of the visitors' locker room at Autzen Stadium late Saturday night for some plain talk in the aftermath of a maddening, 52-21 loss to No. 2 Oregon.
"Heck, when you drop punts, you throw a pick-six, you blow coverages against good teams, you get beat," Sarkisian said he told his team. "You have to do everything right, not some stuff right and not other things."
But in the next breath to his players, Sarkisian moved on.
"We don't have time for, `Whoa is me.' We've got to get back up," he told them. "We've got to go fight. We've got to go battle. We've got to compete."
"I thought we did that in the second half," Sarkisian said later, already looking ahead to next Saturday's huge home test against USC at CenturyLink Field. "And nothing tells me that we won't do that next."
The Huskies knew they had to be nearly mistake free to have a chance to keep up with the supersonic Ducks in front of their own, supercharged crowd.
Instead, this happened, almost from the get-go: A muffed punt, a fumble at the end of a run by Keith Price, then an interception in which Price threw to the wrong side of the field. Oregon converted those gifts into 21 points.
Two blown pass coverages by the defense on consecutive plays led to another Ducks touchdown.
And as quickly as Oregon's Donald Duck mascot rode in on a motorcycle just before kickoff, UW was down 35-7 in the second quarter of its ninth consecutive loss to UO.
"Golly," Sarkisian said, "I know this score is not indicative of the caliber of our team.
"I'm just frustrated, because I don't think the score is indicative to where their football team is compared to us."
Senior cornerback Desmond Trufant was just as frustrated, knowing he will finish his career winless against the rival Ducks largely because his team handed them control of this one.
"We didn't make it hard on them," Trufant said. "We made it easy for them."
Bishop Sankey continued his emergence in the offense with his third consecutive 100-yard rushing game. But the Huskies (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) committed five turnovers in all while losing three of their five fumbles. The final giveaway came on a pass by Price that went off the chest and hands of DiAndre Campbell and into the mitts of a Duck at the Oregon 2 midway through the fourth quarter.
Oregon (6-0, 3-0) converted each of Washington's first four turnovers into touchdowns.
No schemes in the world can overcome all that.
"It's all about me, being smart with the ball," said Price, who finished 19 for 31 passing for 145 yards, the two interceptions, one sack, the lost fumble - and a fifth consecutive game of not looking like his 2011, record-setting, fun-loving self.
"No excuse. I can't make bonehead decisions," Price said, sounding hoarse.
"I'm pressing too hard."
The self-dug hole early kept the Huskies from going 2-0 in conference play for the third time in Sarkisian's four seasons as coach. Coming after last week's revitalizing win at home over eighth-ranked Stanford, it also means Washington has not won consecutive games against ranked teams for the first time since November 2002 - which was also the last time UW has won in Eugene.
Sankey rushed 25 times for 104 yards and two scores, including a gritty, 6-yard touchdown in the third quarter when ran wide around three tacklers, spun off another and broke two more. The sophomore continues to impress, after his career-high 144 yards rushing last week.
"I'm coming along," Sankey said, after also using UW's word of the night: "frustrating."
"We're coming along great as a group (along the offensive line). We have a lot of young guys stepping up.
"I'm proud of our offensive line."
It's been a pretty fair three games for the Plan B running back to replace departed Chris Polk. Sankey was supposed to share lead duties with Jesse Callier in 2012, but Callier ripped up his knee in last month's opener.
"He runs hard, man. Much harder than I gave him credit for coming into the season," Sarkisian said of Sankey.
The coach was equally pleased with what he thought was the best game yet from his offensive line that again had four first-year starters - two sophomores and two freshmen - because of injuries to three front liners.
But the coach and his players couldn't get past the fact that the Huskies largely beat themselves, squandering a great opportunity to break into the conference's elite.
"We have a system that we believe in, that we know is effective," the former Rose Bowl-winning coordinator at USC said. "We just couldn't marry it up tonight by taking care of the football."
Huskies first-year defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, a former Ducks ball boy and defensive back who grew up on a farm 17 miles north of Autzen Stadium, in Junction City, started three down linemen and linebacker Cory Littleton in place of defensive end Josh Shirley as a new wrinkle.
It worked - for one quarter. The Huskies clogged Oregon's rushing lanes and had its offense sputtering. But a muffed punt by Marvin Hall set up the Ducks' first touchdown on an easy, 20-yard drive.
Then Price threw short in the left flat on a play designed to go the right. Oregon's Avery Patterson jumped the route and returned his interception 43 yards to put the Ducks instantly up 21-0 less than 13 minutes into the game.
"Undisciplined," Price said. "I should have worked the other side of the field.
"That's just giving them seven points. You can't give teams like this, good teams, any momentum. Just giving them points, that's not the way to go."
Price was throwing mostly quick strikes to stymie Oregon's pass rush. Once UW fell behind and the Ducks knew he'd have to throw deeper, Price was pressured often. At times receivers broke free, but Price didn't have time to find them before he got hit. That's when Sarkisian went back to Sankey and the running game.
Even though Sarkisian doesn't quite recognize the Price he's been seeing so far this season, he's convinced it's just a matter of time until he does.
"If there's a position I feel like I can get a guy to play at a high level and to get right, that's the one," the head man said.
Erich Wilson II finished the scoring for the Huskies with a 1-yard touchdown run in the final minute.
Linebacker Travis Feeney zoomed sideline to sideline deep into the fourth quarter while making a game-high 12 tackles.
"At least we didn't quit," he said.
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins did not play the second half after hobbling off following a catch in the second quarter. Sarkisian said his 6-foot-6 tight end and key target in the offense was simply unable to go physically.
"We hope it's not serious," the coach said. "We'll find out."
We'll also all find out the resolve of these Huskies in the six days until USC. They were already starting to put this lost chance behind them as their flight home left Eugene past 1 a.m.
"There are two ways to go right now," Sarkisian said before getting on the plane. "'Whoa is me.' Or, `You know what? This is what happened. Let's get ready to play another really good football team.'
"We'll be OK. We've got a great group of guys. Our want-to is there.
"We just need to execute better and take care of the ball."