Huskies' Task Vs. Beavers: Give Themselves A Chance
Oct. 26, 2012
SEATTLE - Yes, it's cliché. But for the Huskies right now, it's critical.
"They have a really good defense. But we're not really worried about them. We are kind of worried about ourselves," quarterback Keith Price said of No. 7 Oregon State (6-0, 4-0 Pac-12), the latest huge test for Washington (3-4, 1-3) on homecoming Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
"We've got to minimize our mistakes."
It's really no more complicated than that for the Huskies.
UW has committed 12 turnovers - 10 by Price - and has a turnover margin of minus-7 in the last three games. No wonder they've all been losses.
That's erased all the great vibes that emanated from the 3-1 start and No. 23 national ranking last month following the home win over eighth-ranked Stanford.
"As frustrated and mad and whatever anyone is, believe it and believe me when I say: There is a lot more inside our building than there is on the outside," Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said.
"This is our lives. We live it."
The frustration comes from all the mistakes that have doomed Washington's strong start.
Sure, the competition's been fierce. This is the first time in UW history the Huskies have faced five opponents ranked inside The Associated Press' top 11 over a seven-game span.
But to show what turnovers alone can do to a team, see this: Behind an opportunistic, veteran defensive secondary, Oregon State leads the Pac-12 in turnover margin at plus-10. The Beavers margin of plus-1.67 per game is eighth-best in the country. No wonder they are undefeated. Last season, when it finished 3-9, Oregon State was minus-8 in turnover margin, 100th in the country.
That's why there is an overwhelming feeling inside the Huskies that if they eliminate all the often-unforced errors and play even close to their capabilities, the season will turn.
Last weekend at Arizona offers an example of what could have been -- compared to what was.
Blown coverages, fits into the wrong run gaps and missed tackles - defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox counted 19 for the game, UW's most this season -- led to a 31-10 hole in the first half. But then the long-dormant pass rush got its first true pressure of the game. End Josh Shirley plowed into Matt Scott as he tried to throw. Linebacker Travis Feeney intercepted the shot-putted toss and ran to the Arizona 6. That set up the touchdown that had the Huskies within 31-17 at halftime.
After Talia Crichton recovered a fumble on Arizona's side of the field forced by Sean Parker on the Wildcats' first drive of the second half, Sarkisian called a play from midfield the Huskies had discussed at halftime. But Price failed to send the assigned receiver into motion before the snap, making it more difficult for him to discern Arizona's pass coverage. Then Price and his line with four first-year starters made the wrong protection call.
Wildcats flooded the backfield as Price scrambled to his left. All the quarterback had time to see was wide receiver Kasen Williams down that sideline trying to break free. As Price waited for that, he got hit and lost his fourth fumble in three games. He didn't have time to see receiver Cody Bruns down the center of the field running "30 yards in the clear," as Sarkisian put it. Instead of a touchdown that could have made it 31-24 and anyone's game, Arizona converted the fumble into a touchdown and its rout was on.
"This is a good group of guys. They are better than the way they've been playing," Sarkisian said. "And that's what I would like to get out of them; I'd like them to maximize their potential. Because I think when we do, which we will -- when that happens, I'm not exactly sure yet -- but when we do we're going to be pretty good.
"We just haven't found the right formula yet. That's the hardest part for me."
It's going to be tough sledding to find that right formula against the rugged, confident Beavers. But UW has been here before.
The Huskies have lost at least three in a row in each of Sarkisian's four seasons as coach. In the group of games immediately following those losing streaks Washington has gone 7-1. That includes bowl games each of the last two Decembers.
To make that record 8-1, the Huskies will need to give Price at least more than one step of time before he's pressured by a pass rush led by end Scott Crichton. The Tacoma, Wash., native leads the conference with 1.33 sacks (second in the nation) and 2.08 tackles for loss per game.
"It's a very, very tough defense. Good pass rush. Great secondary," Price said.
"It's going to be fun."
Washington's offensive line will need to recognize where Crichton is, as Oregon State likes move him on the line and off, to either edge or even in the middle. And Price will need to recognize quickly when the Beavers go into their five- and six-defensive back sets, which Sarkisian says Oregon State is doing more than it has in a decade. Those sets put defensive backs Rashaad Reynolds and Jordan Poyer in better positions to make plays on the ball.
Running plays with Bishop Sankey, Kendyl Taylor and even the bigger Dezden Petty against the smaller, extra-DB sets could offset Oregon State's pass rush and coverage prowess. Then again, the Beavers are fifth in the nation allowing just 80.8 yards rushing per game. That's partly because they put offenses in second- and third-and-long holes.
"That is one of biggest keys, recognizing when they go from their base defenses to their nickel and dime stuff and recognizing their schemes," Sarkisian said.
Reynolds and Poyer are one-three in the Pac-12 in passes defensed; Reynolds is tied for second in the nation. Poyer's five interceptions are second in the country. Price said Poyer is one of the best cornerbacks he's seen all season.
It's likely Poyer will cover Williams in Oregon State's standard, man-to-man defense. UW's top receiver with 41 catches has a two-inch height advantage on Poyer.
At 6 feet 6, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins has a five-inch advantage on any of the six defensive backs the Beavers usually employ. It's up to UW's offensive line to give Price time to find the Huskies' second-leading receiver (37 catches) in those size mismatches.
Time. That's what Price says it will take for all the angst and frustration among Huskies fans to turn to cheers.
"I'm not worried about it," Price said, chuckling. "When I'm doing good, they'll jump back on the bandwagon. I'm not too worried about it. I can only control me, and I can only control the offense.
"When we start winning games there's going to be a lot of happy fans."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: The forecast for game time is an 80-percent chance of rain and temperatures near 50. ... In the wake of Washington State coach Mike Leach prohibiting his players from posting on the social networking websites Twitter and Facebook , Sarkisian was asked this week what his philosophy on that is for his Huskies. "I'm not trying to pull them out of what's going on in the world. So I understand are going to be on Twitter. They are going to be on Facebook. We have a general rule that we don't talk about Husky football. ... Every time you put something out there it lives forever. We try to educate our guys and give them living examples of mistakes others have made that they've put on Twitter or they've put on Facebook ... But I'm not trying to shelter them, no."