Ten minutes after the final play ended Saturday night – with Brigham Young strolling out of its home stadium with a 23-17 victory over Washington – Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian was still coaching.
It was the publicly-conversed ordinance – a united-we-still-are stance – that Sarkisian feverishly wanted to convey before players left the locker room to speak to reporters (and who knows, even their friends and family).
Sarkisian fired the first salvo in front of the media corps early in his post-game press conference: “I know this, this one game won’t define our season. We’ve got 12 more football games to play.”
But coach, the schedule now says … 11.
“We have 12 games left,” UW center Drew Schaefer said, “and we will set our goal to win all 12 games.”
Scrimmages count for an extra game?
“We’ve still got 12 games left,” running back Chris Polk said.
The robotic sentiment was picked up long before the prized tailback sat down late Saturday. By then, I had to inquire – “What’s this 12-game stuff you keep talking about?”
“I’m just positive, just positive,” said Polk, whose week-long media probation period had obviously concluded.
So … the Huskies lose, and Sarkisian suggests that a bowl-game message be included in post-game comment – his and others?
It’s fine to combat a bad loss with a little bravado. It’s fine to be optimistic – and this UW staff certainly revels in that attitude. It’s fine to even send that kind of message to your own team behind closed doors.
To declare it’s still a 12-game slate … hmm, that qualifies as bad timing after a BYU beating, especially the physical one the Huskies took Saturday?
Some observations about the opener:
• Not sure anybody expected the UW performance to be so sloppy, especially after a crisp fall camp. But it was.
Not really worried about the “glaring” errors on special teams Saturday - the roughing-the-punter penalty by Gregory Ducre, the high snap on the punt by Brendan Lopez or the muffed/slippery-sliding kickoff returns by Polk.
What is concerning is the coverage/blocking on those punt and kickoff units. None of it existed.
When your offense’s BEST starting field position was the 27-yard line (opening drive), that is the impact of shoddy special-teams play.
• Outside the 48-yard touchdown reception by BYU’s J.J. Di Luigi late in the third quarter that proved to be the game-winning score, the UW defense played OK.
Its standouts – safety Nate Williams, linebacker Mason Foster, cornerback Desmond Trufant, even Victor Aiyewa – carried the action, as expected.
Even though the question persists about how will the unit manufacture a pass rush – by the front four, or with the addition of others – the BYU game (zero sacks, one quarterback pressure) might not be the fairest of gauges. The Cougars employ big linemen with huge splits, and quarterbacks Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps get rid of the ball quickly.
Get used to Quinton Richardson being targeted by signal callers opposite Trufant. The junior had his good and not-so-good moments Saturday in coverage.
• Interesting comment from BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, who deserved to gloat a little bit since the Cougars were virtually everybody’s “victim” of the upset alert all week by the national media.
“It looked like we played with more energy,” Mendenhall said. “It looked like we held out conditioning in the second half, and it looked as the game went on that we were more conditioned. It looked like we were handling the pace at a better level than our opponent.”
Proves there is more than one way to skin a cat in practice and preparation.
• Of course there is the hugely-popular topic of Jake Locker’s performance in front of a national audience on CBS College Sports after months of hype and publicity.
If I had to give him a grade, it would be a big, fat “C” – just average.
The Cougars had a masterful game plan defensively. As Sarkisian pointed out, their four linebackers were “overhanging” on the edges, taking away the outside quarterback keeper, forcing Locker to go inside where BYU had a sizable size advantage.
Face it, the UW’s big guys, on both sides, were beaten up. Locker saw a good share of pressure up the gut. He looked unnerved. He rushed things. And the more he dropped back to pass, the more he wound up his motion and threw it with as much pace as he could.
Passes floated on Locker, most often, when he missed.
“I think there’s things we need to clean up,” Locker said. “We were in position to make plays, but missed throws, missed catches … just didn’t maybe finish.
“I felt good with where I went with the ball pretty much all day. But I missed a couple (throws). We need to make plays when they present themselves. I was seeing the field really well, and I felt really good in the pocket. We had some big plays in the passing game, some explosive plays and we were able to get the ball downfield and kind of change the field a couple of times for us. But again, when we had some big third downs, some big opportunities down the field, we didn’t connect on them.”
Nine of Locker’s 20 completions did go to different receivers, and he did not have one of his best pass-catchers, James Johnson (ankle), available.
Sarkisian also noted the sack Locker took early in the fourth quarter, the quarterback had time to unload the ball.
Is it time to call Locker a Heisman Trophy pretender? It wasn’t the stinker game that eliminates candidates off the bat, so no.
• A running-game note – of the 31 total attempts, 16 of the runs went for 2 yards or less.
Four runs – Jesse Callier’s game-high 39-yarder, and Polk’s big runs of 28, 22 and 16 – totaled 105 of the team’s 128 yards.
• Jordan Polk had three plays at receiver. His first one produced a 25-yard catch, on a deeper seam route he doesn’t run often. He’s a make-you-miss-in-space guy, and this offense tries to get him on the flat to bust small-gainers into large ones.
Newcomer Kevin Smith was on the field for six plays, but five that only counted (a false started wiped out his first appearance).