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Sarkisian not too big to second-guess himself

Post by Todd Milles / The News Tribune on Oct. 19, 2009 at 5:07 pm with 2 Comments »
October 20, 2009 9:07 am

We can go over the blown coverage and the rest of the play’s mishaps from Arizona State’s game-winning 50-yard touchdown pass last weekend – and yes, it was rehashed in UW coach Steve Sarkisian’s weekly press conference Monday – but many other issues were addressed as well.

None more important than the first-year coach’s game-management decisions late in the 24-17 loss to ASU at Sun Devil Stadium, which he admitted he “tried too hard” on to make a big play.

The UW took over at its own 10-yard line with 77 seconds remaining, the game tied at 17-all.

Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier came over before the drive started, and reminded him of what the field position was, how much time was on the clock and some of the ways the game could end up played conservatively, and played aggressively.

Wisely, Sarkisian called two Chris Polk runs, which ate up 9 yards, leaving him with a third-and-short call with 28 seconds remaining.

Then the gun-slinging quality that has made him both popular and a pest with many UW followers – of course, depending on the outcome – returned for that important call.

“I really thought there was an opportunity to make a play to (receiver) James Johnson, with the thought being, ‘If we hit this play, we get the ball somewhere around midfield with three timeouts, possibly 15 to 20 seconds (to go). Depending on what happens, now we can try to get a shot at a field goal and the game ends one way or another that way,'” Sarkisian said.

Locker was hit almost immediately after the snap, and lofted a ball in Johnson’s direction on his fade route down the left sideline. ASU had him covered with two defensive backs, and the pass fell incomplete.

Having 36 hours to have reviewed it, Sarkisian wished he’d run the ball one more time.

“As I go back and look at it now, the reality of it is I should’ve ran the ball on third down to get a first down, then possibly take our shots to get downfield. I wish we could’ve gotten the first down on the second-down play. It would’ve made things a lot easier. But you learn from it.”

ASU got the ball back at midfield, and Danny Sullivan tossed a game-winning 50-yard touchdown pass to Chris McGaha.

The other regret, Sarkisian said, was calling a pass by Locker on the play after the interception by ASU linebacker Vontaze Burfict, which was wiped out by a hands-to-the-facemask penalty. On the next play, Locker was picked off by Ryan McFoy at the goal-line.

“You can take some of the burden off him and possibly run the ball there – whether it’s with Jake or with a running back – but take some of the burden off him and not try to force the issue,” Sarkisian said.

But later in the press conference, the balls-to-the-wall, play-calling fiend in Sarkisian returned for an appearance.

“You go with an aggressive nature. And that’s who I am. I’m not going to change the way I think and the way I attack the football game seven games into a very young career here at the University of Washington,” Sarkisian said. “So we’re going to remain very aggressive. But we also will learn from the things we do and be smart with the things we do. But if we can make a play, we’re going to go make a play.”

Translation: When on the fence, still put the foot on the pedal, not the post.

Plenty of people – readers of this blog, included – were regretful that Sarkisian didn’t go for a field goal late in the third quarter to make it a 27-19 game. Rather, he called for two Locker sneaks from the Irish 1, and failed.

Regret turned into heavy criticism after the late-game calls Saturday.

One longtime Seattle reporter asked Sarkisian if he had taken time to evaluate himself as a play-caller amid those circumstances. The inference of the question was putting Sarkisian on the spot – should you be calling those plays, or should somebody else in that situation?

Sarkisian gave a generalized response.

“We review every play call after very game. It never changes. Doesn’t matter if we win by 40 – hopefully someday – or if we lose by 40 – hopefully never,” Sarkisian said. “But we will evaluate the game the same way every week, and we evaluate every play call from a schematic standpoint, from a momentum-of-the-game standpoint and from a psyche-of-the-quarterback standpoint, You are never going to be perfect whether you win by 40, or lose by 40. You are never going to be perfect. There is always those 7-8 calls, ‘Yeah, sure I might do something different here or something different there.’ This game is no different.”

Other stuff from a very busy – and retrospective – Monday:

• On Sullivan’s 50-yard TD pass, Sarkisian didn’t lay blame on a specific party. It was partially free safety Nate Williams’ fault, he said, for jumping a crossing pattern instead of protecting against the deep zone.

Partial responsibility was on the pass rush, which never pressed Sullivan into making a quick decision.

“The real thought behind it was with the time left on the clock, with them having one timeout, they were going to try and get themselves into field-goal range, so we wanted to try to eliminate any outcuts, or comeback routes, but also to deploy enough guys underneath so if they checked the ball down to the running back, we had people in place to tackle him so we didn’t give up a bunch of chunks of yards to where they got into field-goal range,” Sarkisian said.

“From the design of the play, that is what it looked it they were trying to do – a comeback (route) into the boundary on their sideline. It wasn’t there. (Sullivan) reset his feet. And he looked up and saw the wideout running down the middle of the field wide-open. To the quarterback’s credit, he made a heck of a play seeing the receiver and then making the throw for the touchdown.

“It’s unfortunate that way for our end, it’s not like we made up a new defense for that play. It wasn’t like we went into a prevent defense and we didn’t execute it. It was a defense we’d been calling throughout the year, and throughout the night that we’ve executed extremely well.”

• At the 13:02 mark of the third quarter, the Huskies sideline was called for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike infraction. Television coverage showed defensive coordinator Nick Holt directly after the penalty, and many figured he was the culprit.

In fact, Holt came under scrutiny nationally not only for that play, but to an instance after the 50-yard TD pass where he shouted to a television camerman to get the camera out of his conversation with linebacker E.J. Savannah.

Sarkisian said Monday that Holt was not the one the penalty was called on.

• Then there was the drive in the second quarter that seemed to last forever – the one ending on the Locker interception. The one that was extended by three big ASU penalties.

All the play stoppages, and later in the replay reviews, made the action “really choppy,” the coach said.

“It was hard to get a feel for what was going on. Both teams were one step forward, two steps back, two steps forward, one step back. There were penalties, there were stoppages, the clock resetting. There was not any rhythm to the football game,” Sarkisian said. “To us, what I thought was a great lesson learned was, they had a lot of personal fouls early on. There were a lot of things going on, jawing back and forth. For our football team, that’s not who we are. I felt like we bought into that style of play that night, Saturday night, and in turn, we started to get those penalties. And we’re not that football team. That’s not the way we play.”

About the in-game penalties, and cheap shot laid by ASU’s Vontaze Burfict, and whether or not the Pacific-10 Conference should look into disciplining the true freshman, Sarkisian had two stern words in response:

“No comment!”

• The Huskies will go with two explosive threats for the time being on kickoff returns – Polk and Johnson. Sarkisian ditched the idea of having a lead blocker on the back line because opponents were going away from Polk when he was the only one back there ready to field kicks.

• Fullback Paul Homer received his first carry Saturday on a fourth-and-short run up the middle, which he converted.

At Southern California, the fullback has been utilized enough to be considered a threat. Last season – Sarkisian’s final year as the Trojans’ offensive coordinator – Stanley Havili had 13 carries (for 71 yards) and caught 24 balls (for 324 yards).

This season, Homer has had five touches – four receptions and the rushing attempt against ASU.

“Our system isn’t one where the fullback carries the ball a whole bunch, but there is some versatility where you can utilize the fullback, and we’re looking to do that,” Sarkisian said.

MONDAY PRACTICE REPORT: Defensive tackle Cameron Elisara (neck stinger) wore the protective red jersey, and did not practice. Everrette Thompson received most of the snaps on the inside of the defensive line in his place. … Darrion Jones, Kalani Aldrich and Talia Crichton rotated in the defensive end spot, almost evenly. … Free safety snaps with No. 1 defense: Nate Fellner (55 percent), Victor Aiweya (40 percent), Greg Walker (5 percent). Walker was in there for some three-safety nickel stuff. … Quarterback Jake Locker participated in individual passing drills, but took very little of the snaps in team periods. … As of Monday, approximately 8,000 tickets still remain for the Oregon game Saturday – with 500 being returned by the Ducks. … South Kitsap High product Benji Olson, an offensive lineman, is the “Husky Legend” this week. … Team practiced outdoors on the home turf for an hour.

Leave a comment Comments → 2
  1. rememberthenasl says:

    Todd

    Is it just me, or is Sarkisian’s explanation for the defensive breakdown on the winning touchdown against ASU unsatisfactory?

    OK, so they were trying to prevent ASU from completing a quick pass for a field goal attempt. I understand that. Nate Williams jumped a route and he had deep responsibility. I understand that.

    That doesn’t explain how TWO ASU receivers got behind the UW defense!!! Sullivan had his choice of open receivers, and that seems inexcusable when you have eight people back in coverage. With eight people in coverage, you should be able to take away the quick pass AND the deep pass. Nate Williams couldn’t have covered both deep receivers anyway so there’s got to be blame somewhere for that happening. Was Holt too busy screaming to set up the defense correctly? Why weren’t the safeties 30 yards back from the line of scrimmage like 99.999999 percent of other college football teams would do?

    Holt’s an intense, emotional guy which UW needs after the Willingham era, but he needs to keep this from happening.

    Keep up the great work!

  2. davidbritton says:

    Dude, he admitted that it was a bad playcall. Would his predecessor ever have done that?

    Our defensive back corps was paper-thin in depth and lacking in talent when the season began, and Justin Glenn breaking his leg just as he was turning into a cluch performer at safety was a disaster. Aiyewa was possibly in the wrong state on that last play, but I’m not sure the coaches “setting him up” would have caused him to read the routes correctly. He’s a second or third string CB, and he blew it. Maybe he’ll get better as the season progesses, but right now he is who he is.

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