Friday, October 26, 2012
Huskies try to stay confident in backstretch
By Kevin Gemmell
Phew, says the Washington fan: "It's a good thing the first half of the season is over. I'll take 3-3. Now we can go into the second half, pick up some wins and get to a nice bowl game. Go Dawgs!"
Uh oh, says the Washington fan after watching another disappointing offensive performance on the road in a 52-17 loss to Arizona: "I thought Arizona wasn't going to be very good this year. OK, so it was a tough seven-game stretch. Let's start picking up some wins. Go Dawgs!"
Yikes, says the Washington fan as No. 7 Oregon State rolls into a town -- a team that is undefeated, off to one of the best starts in program history and has, to everyone's surprise, started to creep into the national championship conversation: "Gulp, go Dawgs."
Back in August, Steve Sarkisian would tell anyone who would listen that his Washington Huskies actually had to play 12 games this year -- not six. But no one wanted to talk about the back half. They wanted to focus on the front-loaded first half, which included four teams ranked in the top 11. As our fictitious Huskies fan noted, 3-3 wasn't terrible. They beat San Diego State and FCS Portland State, then scored an upset at home over then-No. 8 Stanford. Coming out of that stretch at .500 was respectable.
Only problem is that the Huskies haven't won since that Stanford game on Sept. 27 -- riding a three-game losing streak in which they've scored a combined 52 points. The bad news is that the defense gave up 52 points against Oregon and Arizona, with a 24-14 loss to USC sandwiched in between.
Washington QB Keith Price said he's high on coach Steve Sarkisian's fast-paced system.
Now, one month later to the day, they'll try to pull off another upset at Seattle's CenturyLink field over a top-10 team.
"Our conference is tough, week in and week out, if you don't come ready to play -- especially on the road -- you are going to get beat," said Washington coach Steve Sarkisian. "That's just the way it is. It doesn't matter who you are playing. And so we knew when we saw the flow of our games, they were going to be tough ones, especially once we got into conference play and you have to come ready to play week in and week out."
The 3-4 Huskies (1-3 in conference) are still in good shape to make a bowl game -- albeit probably a lower-tier bowl. Even though three of their final four games are on the road, they are all against teams with sub-.500 records -- Cal, Utah and Colorado before closing out the year with the Apple Cup. Even if they should fall to the Beavers on Saturday, it's hard to imagine them not picking up at least three wins in the final four games.
Then again, we didn't think Washington would have the No. 103 scoring offense in the country, either. No doubt, injuries -- both pre- and in-season -- have been major contributors. The offensive line was rebuilt, broken down and rebuilt again. The Huskies went into the season expecting to use a two-back system with Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey, but lost Callier for the year in the first game of the season. James Johnson was expected to finally be a major contributor at wide receiver, but he's been out since the preseason and will miss the year.
And the list goes on. But injuries aren't solely to blame. Quarterback Keith Price hasn't been nearly as efficient as he was last season. The Huskies rank last in the conference in passing offense and Price is 10th in passing efficiency, completing 60.1 percent of his throws with an even 8-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
"They don't make mistakes," Price said of the Oregon State defense. "Their secondary is solid. Jordan Poyer is one of the best cornerbacks in the Pac-12. We just have to play fundamentally sound football and I can't turn the ball over. If I don't turn the ball over and we do our job, I think we have a pretty good shot to win this game."
Still, despite the uninspiring statistics and the losing streak, Sarkisian is doing his best not to let the negativity creep into his locker room.
"I think one of the real keys is to make sure that we're all on the same page with what our issues are and how we're going to fix those issues," he said. "I think a lot of times, when locker rooms can get disjointed, there's mixed messages -- and there's not a clear-cut message and focus on what needs to be done to get things fixed. One of the big keys for us is coming together to make sure we're all on the same page with what is needed to get done and make sure that it's a consistent message so that we're all in it together."
Fingers crossed, thinks the Washington fan: "Go Dawgs!"