Huskies Looking Within -- To Impress You Saturday
Sept. 14, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - The Huskies have declared this week is all about themselves following their last, lost weekend in Louisiana.
"For our program to get back on track we have to focus on ourselves right now," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday.
Saturday, though, is specifically for you.
"Oh, it'd be great. It'd be great for our own psyche, you know," Sarkisian said of his Huskies (1-1) beating Portland State (1-1) of the Football Championship Subdivision beginning at 1 p.m. at CenturyLink Field (FX television, the Washington IMG College radio network and here again on GoHuskies.com with the exclusive real-time play-by-play, analysis and pictures).
"Secondly, for our fans, I'd like our fans to be fired up about our football team. Because it is a good one."
Playing more to their capabilities on an offense that has a battered line and on a defense that's been far more aggressive yet not always on-point are UW's goals in its final non-conference game before the conference opener Sept. 27 against Stanford.
"That's the part that is so frustrating, because we are a good football team and I know we probably haven't played to our capabilities here the first two weeks of the season," Sarkisian said. "That's why the goal for Saturday night is to walk out off CenturyLink Field feeling good about ourselves as the pre-season comes to an end as we get ready to go into the regular season of Pac-12 play.
"I don't like the feeling I've had here for the last couple of weeks. And I won't like it this entire week until we go out and put a product on the field that we all can be proud of. We haven't been able to do that for two weeks.
"It'd be great to finish off these three games 2-1, heading into a bye, and then getting ready for a great Pac-12 race."
Sarkisian will spend much of Saturday watching to see if Keith Price is simply, only Keith Price. The last two weekends the returning starting quarterback has tried to do just about everything but line the field before kickoff.
Price, who set the UW season record with 33 touchdown passes last season, has just one TD throw through two games now. Lead runner Jesse Callier was lost for the season to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee early in the opening win over San Diego State. Senior center Drew Schaefer may be the only offensive lineman starting Saturday who started last season.
Sarkisian sat down with Price on Monday to remind the redshirt junior that the injuries and flux on the offensive line in front of him, a lack of experience in the backfield behind him, and the relative youth of sophomores and freshmen as his primary receivers are not his issues on which to focus.
The message essentially was, Just be Keith. That was more than good enough last season.
Still, expect the Huskies to keep an extra tight end or back in to aid the line's protection of Price - especially because Portland State's front four is the strength of its defense. Sarkisian says Portland State's is a Pac-12-quality line, specifically with end Marquis Jackson, a preseason FCS All-American.
But the Vikings would appear to be vulnerable to a potential Huskies' offensive breakout. Portland State head coach Nigel Burton, a former UW defensive captain for Jim Lambright's teams, fired his defensive coordinator on Wednesday. That was four days after the Vikings lost 45-37 at North Dakota.
Sarkisian says this is the first time in his coaching career as a four-year head man at Washington or years as an assistant at USC he's faced a unit that fired its coordinator in the days leading up to a game.
Sarkisian has vowed to call more plays that feature what Price, main receivers Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins plus lead running back Bishop Sankey do best. That's matching them up in favorable one-on-one situations against Portland State's man-to-man coverages.
LSU last week, like San Diego State before it, played a lot of man coverage on Williams and Seferian-Jenkins. But Williams noted the Tigers were "more patient" waiting for UW's receivers to commit to directions on routes, then rode them away from where they had shown they wanted to go.
Then again, LSU? Whatever.
"It's about moving on," said Williams, who has nine catches and one touchdown through two games. "The one thing I've learned is when you get handled like that, the way to get rid of all that anger is to take it out on someone else. In this case, we have to wait a week and we have to take it out on Portland State.
"This is a good opportunity for our offense to get our mojo back, figure out what we are all about. We have to take advantage of it."
On defense, new coordinator Justin Wilcox will be scheming against Portland State's "pistol" offense. Some veteran Huskies such as senior defensive backs Desmond Trufant and Justin Glenn have prepared for this look before, when UCLA was running it a couple years ago. The pistol has the quarterback in a shortened shotgun formation, three yards or so behind the center, with a lone running back directly behind him rather than offset. It is seen as primarily a read-option rushing offense, though Sarkisian noted Portland State freshman Kieran McDonagh is throwing more out of it than pistol QBs typically do.
The key for Huskies defenders such as rush ends Josh Shirley and Andrew Hudson and their young linebackers will be executing their responsibilities of who has the quarterback and who has the pitch man on option runs. And the UW secondary must be disciplined to not get nosy peeking into the backfield on those runs. That would leave them out of position for when Portland State throws play-action passes.
Through all that's gone on through two games, the Huskies have this opportunity to be 2-1 heading into a week off, with all their season goals of contending for a conference championship and a third straight bowl game intact.
UW would gladly take that now.
"Obviously we need a win this week," Price said, "so we can be pretty confident going into our bye week."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Sarkisian called the final full practice of this week Price's best Thursday of the season so far. The QB's accuracy and command of the game plan left the coach feeling it was a "feel-good Thursday." The coach said, "Keith was awesome. ... Hopefully that carries out to Saturday." ... Sarkisian ended the week by praising H-back Joshua Perkins for bouncing back to earn a job on special teams and more looks on offense. Perkins was kicked off the team for two days last month for violating team rules before Sarkisian reinstated him upon learning more about the situation. ... This is the first-ever meeting between UW and Portland State. PSU was a Division-II program into the mid-1990s. ... Portland State is 0-10 against Pac-12 schools and has lost eight in a row to top-division teams. ... Two home games, two great weather days for UW at CenturyLink Field this season. Saturday's game-time forecast: Partly cloudy, low 70s, zero-percent chance of rain. ... UW has distributed about 53,000 tickets so far for the game. It is the annual Band Day.