It’s year four of the Sarkisian era and the Washington Huskies have been a totally different team when it comes to playing on the road. Their grand total of road victories under Sark is four (5 counting their great bowl win over Nebraska). Obviously, he and his coaches would change anything that they are doing wrong because their team has been noticeably better when it plays at home (even this year when they really aren’t playing at home). Whatever, Seahawk Stadium has still produced just as many wins but in only one year.
It’s pretty obvious the home crowd can make a difference in the sport of football but that is especially apparent in Seattle where both the college team and the professional team benefit from the support of the loudest fans in football. Because of the double facing roofs, both stadiums actually bounce the sound back and forth and I tell you, I distinctly remember standing on the sidelines of Husky Stadium trying to talk to a player right next to me and couldn’t hear a thing being said because the crowd noise was sooooo loud it was deafening.
Reality is it shouldn’t make any difference where you play. You strap on the same pads, play between the lines on the same sized field, and in college you have the same age group of kids 18 to 22 years old. (Or 24-25 if you’re coaching at BYU).
It’s still pretty obvious that the kids feed off the energy of the crowd and vice versa. The Seahawks have borrowed from a tradition that started in Husky Stadium back in the 60’s and have further developed the same phenomenon of a crowd noise centered around the defense. Oh, the Seattle crowds like scoring, but they know they can help the defenses and that is exactly what they do. Unfortunately, the Huskies can’t take all those fans on the road with them.
I think it’s just that college kids are also really into routine and like to know what to expect on any given day. That is obviously disrupted when you go on the road and therefore the kids are out of sync to begin with. I also think that the change from college games being played on Saturdays to Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays has made preparing a team that much harder. This week is an example because the Cal game is being played on Friday and that totally disrupts the preparation schedule. Today was yesterday if you know what I mean.
Usually on the road, kids from that particular area are further disrupted with family, friends and media. This is particularly the case in California where many of the Huskies hail from. Although natural and necessary those are hard to squeeze in simply because the team is usually restricted to the hotel but mostly due to schedule demands.
I have never spent the night before or on game day with a Sarkisian coached team so I have no idea what their schedule really is or how they prepare the kids when they are away from home. What I do know is that at this level of football every minute is accounted for and when you have to be playing at many different times on many different days it has to require constant readjustment to routine.
Many professors give exams on Fridays so the kids’ academic demands can often conflict with travel. Still it gets back to how the kids get themselves ready and maybe it’s about time for some leaders to step up and fire this team from within. They got something started against the Beavers and it proved their Stanford win was for real. They have won at Cal Berkeley before and know they match up well with this team.
Last weekend they stopped Oregon State’s undefeated winning streak and this weekend they can end Cal’s consecutive bowl streak. They can also get the monkey off their back about playing in someone else’s stadium.
There are amble reasons to win not to mention two Husky coaches who worked at Cal last season. More than anything though is this could help the Huskies finish second in the Northern Division of the Pac-12. They have now beaten two of their five division rivals, losing only to Oregon , and a win over the Bears would mean they are only one win away from qualifying for a bowl game themselves.
They can use the same formula for victory in this one. Don’t turn the ball over. Get three turnovers and three sacks and win the kicking game. Lastly, be the team that runs the ball the best and stops the run the best. Do those things and have Keith Price have his best performance and they can enjoy their first road win of the year.
Arizona 52 and UW 17. Nuff said. It was sad and it was the third straight loss for a Husky team that has suddenly lost its way, not to mention its quarterback, its resolve, and its resilience. Now at 3-4, the Huskies need to win at least 3 of their last 5 games in order to qualify for a bowl game and the 15 developmental practices that come with it. It can still happen and they can salvage this campaign if they just quit hurting themselves. Of course, believing they can must come first.
It was trains, planes, and automobiles again on the ride home with Dave “Softy” Mahler after he and I, along with Hugh Millen, went well into the night trying to talk Husky fans off the cliff or ledges they were ready to jump off of. Their team (our team) is in rough water again and the ship appears to be listing so being a “Husky Honk” and a loyal fan continues to get harder and harder. Just when the program had been starting to hit some smooth water all of a sudden the ship is sinking again. With a 6-0 Beaver team coming to town it doesn’t get any easier but a win here against another top-10 team would do more for this team than any win in the whole season. They need to play their best game of the season and they could start by eliminating their own mistakes.
Ten penalties for 100 yards is stupid. Come on guys, clean up your act. Two interceptions with one coming as you’re going into score and a fumble the very play right after your defense causes and recovers a fumble by Arizona. Come on guys! Then add on another kicking game score by Arizona on a punt return and instantly the game goes from a two score deficit a 52-17 blowout. Game over.
I arrive home after our flight got delayed (of course) a good ten hours after we left Tucson. My wife and I had just settled in when she yells, “Look outside; there’s two deer in your garden”. Our dog didn’t even notice (cause it was her dinner time) so I go running out to shoe them out the gate but both panic and start running all over the garden crashing into the fence because it is green and they obviously couldn’t see it. I immediately open all three gates and with a stick chased the fawn out but momma was confused and kept bounding around into the fence and it kept throwing her back so she just takes off in a full sprint ignoring the wide open gates and barrels head first into the fence, tearing it down and the posts for the gates with it and in doing so gets wrapped up in it all as she struggled to free herself. I’m yelling at her that I don’t want to hurt her but she’s not listening and suddenly flips herself upside down, gets untangled, and takes off with our now angry dog quick in pursuit.
The whole episode only took about 10 seconds but it was high paced natural drama at its best. My wife, Kim, and I live on a little lake in the woods so having deer, bear, eagles, cougars, ducks, geese, wolves and other creatures is just part of our world but this was the first time it was so up close and in person. Oh, we’ve had both raccoons and weasels wipe out our chicken coop but usually the dog, Marley, chases off most critters but not this time.
When it was over, Kim and I just looked at each other and started laughing because we think we live “On Golden Pond” and now I just have another project to work on. I knew the posts were rotting so the deer merely tore it all down for me forcing me to fix it. That’s sort of what Steve Sarkisian is facing. He needs to rebuild the belief system of his team and he needs to do it now. I’ve already harvested most of my crop so I don’t have the urgency that he and his coaches have. I also don’t have anyone who is telling me how to do it or who even cares about my project. It just made me realize how lucky I am to be out of the rat-race of professional coaching.
Besides not having hemorrhoids, migraines, skin rashes, and all the other things that came with the stress, I above all don’t miss having to explain losing. Coach Sark and his coaches and players know that winning games is hard and that they are always being second guessed. Nobody likes losing but it is like an illness in that if you don’t want to get better then it isn’t going to happen until you do. Sark inherited a broken team four years ago and there was no transition from the Willingham era to his. He has recruited well except for that first year and after beating Nebraska in a bowl it looked like he was well on his way to an instant recovery. Not so fast. Unfortunately for him, he had to replace his whole defensive staff along the way and now is rebuilding all over again.
This Husky staff, just like the one before it, and the one before that, and the one before that have all been trying to right this ship. Building a team from the bottom up is a long process but unfortunately the public, the fans, the media, and critics have no time for excuses. Losing begets losing and when a program has gone thru 4 coaches in 10 years it’s hard to find continuity much less rebuild an entire mindset that is necessary for winning. So, while the coaches are spending sleepless night agonizing over their many problems I am rebuilding my garden fence and gate. Now I ask you, who has the easiest project? Fortunately for me I prefer to keep re-building fences and all I can do (or you for that matter) is hope they figure out how to rebuild theirs. (As in defense and offense.)
(Time to let it go.) They never change the score, so the disappointing loss against USC is officially in the books and even though it was certainly a winnable game, the Huskies literally shot themselves in the foot yet again and in doing so literally gave the game away. The reality is there is now little chance of Washington playing in the conference championship game simply because Oregon would have to lose three games and that’s not going to happen.
At 3 and 3, the Huskies are now playing for a winning season and a bowl bid and an opportunity to improve by earning the 15 extra practices that come with that bowl. It doesn’t get any easier as four of their last six games are going to be on the road and they still haven’t proved they can win away from home. If Washington can simply eliminate their turnovers they will start winning games again. Unfortunately, they followed up their 3 fumbles lost and two interceptions against Oregon with two fumbles and two interceptions plus a blocked punt against the Trojans. Yikes! It’s really difficult to win games when you don’t protect the football and that is precisely what has separated them from winning either of their last two Games.
Arizona is next up and the Huskies will have to shift gears and get ready for another Oregon style offense because The Wildcats use a no-huddle spread shotgun attack that ran over a 100 plays in their game against Stanford. In the Huskies’ last game against USC, the Trojans only ran 60 plays so that will create a considerable stress for the improving but still developing defense of the Huskies. The answer is probably to keep the Wildcat offense on the sidelines with a ball control approach to the game. Win the running game, win the kicking game and Washington will win this contest if they can also win the turnover battle.
Arizona additionally is coming off a bye and has had two weeks to prepare for Washington and should be fresh and at full strength. They are led by quarterback Matt Scott who is throwing the ball more than anyone in the conference except maybe the Cougars and has an excellent running back in Ka’Deem Carey who is as good of a receiver as he is a running back. Although winless in conference play the Wildcats will be looking to turnaround their season with a victory here. After losing two straight in conference the Huskies likewise need to win this game to stay on track for a bowl. It sets up a must win for both programs but Washington will need to clean up their act to beat a desperate team on the road.
The Huskies essentially lost the kicking game against USC when Travis Coons had a punt blocked for a touchdown and then also missed a 45 yard field goal that would’ve cut the lead to a one score game. Those 10 points essentially were the winning margin. Arizona has a questionable kicker who has only made 54% of his tries and Washington’s return game has been threatening to take one the distance so the kicking game could be a decider if the Huskies can finally spring a punt or kickoff return for a score. Regardless, they can’t allow another kick to be blocked the rest of the season because they are not a good enough team to overcome errors in that aspect of the game.
Keeping Scott in check will also be tough as he has really adapted well to the offense installed by new head coach, Rich Rodrigues. Scott is currently the leading passer in the conference as well as the leader in total offense. The Wildcats are averaging well over 50 passing attempts per game so the Husky defense will need to find a pass rush if they are going to stay in this game. Arizona is really explosive on offense as evidenced by their stunning 59-38 win over Oklahoma State earlier this season. The Wildcats were undefeated after their three non-league games before dropping three straight games in Pac12 play. They got blasted by Oregon just as Washington did but have also lost close games to both Oregon State and Stanford, two pretty good teams.
Scott’s favorite targets are Austin Hill and Dan Buckner who have caught 42 and 39 balls respectively and the season is only half over. Scott has really been rocked on occasions but always bounces back so his toughness is obvious and the Huskies would do well to keep the ball on offense. The Wildcat defense is really suspect and has given up yards and points in bunches this year so this could end up being a shootout. Regardless, the Huskies will also need to reduce their penalties because Arizona is one of the least penalized teams in the league, that and just keep answering on offense if they hope to return home victorious. Because they are on the road and because Arizona is coming off a bye, I would be surprised if Washington is the favorite here. The Huskies are lucky the game is being played at night but will need to pressure Scott, intercept him a couple of times and create something in the kicking game. This would be a great win at this time of the season. Go Dawgs!