By Brent Stecker
The turning point for the Washington Huskies’ season is here.
Their 4-0 start is ancient history. Now at 4-2 and coming off back-to-back losses to top-five teams, the Huskies will try to stop their skid on the road Saturday afternoon against a very offensively-efficient Arizona State team. A win Saturday is a must for Washington, and coach Steve Sarkisian said as much Monday.
“These last two games have been tough, hard-nosed football games,” Sarkisian said. “… Every game is the biggest game of the year, and this Saturday is the biggest game of the year for us going to Arizona State. They’ve got an excellent football team. They’re very well coached on both sides of the ball, and it’s gonna take a great week of preparation from us, and a good, well-played ballgame to go in there and get a victory because they’re a good team.
“We have a tall order this Saturday going to Arizona State, 3 o’clock kickoff with the heat. In that environment it’s a tall task. But I think it’s one we can be up to if we do it right this week.”
Sarkisian said that with the Huskies at the midway point of the season, he expects them to perform just like they have after the midway point of games.
“We have a tall order this Saturday going to Arizona State, 3 o’clock kickoff with the heat. In that environment it’s a tall task,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. (AP)
“My assessment to the team today was, we’re at halftime. We’re in the locker room right now. We’re a 4-2 football team, I think we’re 20th in the country. We’ve played a good first half of football against some really good teams, but just as we’ve been all season long, we’re an excellent second-half football team,” he said. “We’re gonna go out in the second half and play a great half of the season, and we’re gonna start Saturday against Arizona State. We’re gonna prepare really well, we’re gonna come out of the blocks playing fast, physical football, the way we’re capable of playing it.”
Washington is well known for its second-half exploits in 2013, as Sarkisian pointed out.
“We’ve played six ballgames and the first drive of the third quarter of every game we’ve played up until this point we’ve gone down and scored a touchdown as an offense. We place a huge emphasis on that first drive and setting the momentum there in the third quarter. This is the third quarter of the season – here’s our first drive with the ball, what are we going to do with it? And I think it’s important for us to come out and make a statement with this drive, the way we play it, and the way we play this Saturday.”
Even if the Huskies play like their second-half version, they can expect another offensive shootout against Arizona State.
“Very good football team. Very good football team at home,” Sarkisian said of the Sun Devils. “I think the quarterback (Taylor Kelly) has just got a lot of game to him. … He’s just a scrappy guy. He makes all the plays when he has to make them. He runs when he has to run. He throws it. He throws the back-shoulder fade to Jaelen Strong extremely well.”
Kelly also has an impressive running back behind him in Marion Grice (395 rushing yards), who leads the NCAA with 15 touchdowns, including 10 on the ground.
“(Grice) is probably the best running back nobody’s heard of,” Sarkisian said.
Is ASJ being used enough?
The use of Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the Huskies’ offense has garnered a lot of attention, as the tight end has just 16 receptions for 185 yards and three touchdowns in five games. When questioned about it, Sarkisian didn’t dwell much on ASJ’s lack of attention.
“The point of emphasis for us is to score as many points as we can, be the most efficient offense we can be,” he said. “We’ve got a talented offensive football team in a lot of phases, and we know we’re better when we’re balanced. That being said, would I like Austin to probably have more catches coming out of ballgames? Sure. Same with Kasen (Williams), same with Kevin Smith, same with Jaydon Mickens, same with John Ross and Bishop Sankey and all that.”
When pressed a second time about how the Huskies could incorporate Seferian-Jenkins into the offense more, Sarkisian was short with his answer.
“I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I think we’re a top 10 offense in America, so I feel good about where we’re at as an offensive football team,” he said.
In that respect, Sarkisian is right – the Huskies’ 3,161 yards of total offense ranks 10th in the nation.
Seferian-Jenkins hauled in the Huskies’ lone red-zone touchdown against Oregon on an 8-yard strike from Keith Price, but Washington had to settle for a field goal later in the game after Price was sacked and lost 9 yards on first-and-goal at the 5. That play, and the fact that Seferian-Jenkins didn’t see a pass come his way on it, has been widely scrutinized.
Sarkisian pointed at bigger problems for the offense stemming from the 45-24 loss to Oregon than trying to get more passes to its 6-foot-6 tight end, however.
“We’ve gotta go faster. We only had 74 plays Saturday. That’s not good enough,” he said. “I thought more importantly than anything else, our passing game really lacked explosive plays in the ballgame, and it didn’t help air out the running game. We’ve been really explosive as a football team coming into the game, and to come out of that game with only four explosive passing plays and four explosive running plays for a total of eight just isn’t up to par for where we’ve been, so I think it all went together.”
• Sarkisian said QB Keith Price, who has been playing with an injured right thumb and conducted postgame interviews Saturday with the thumb wrapped in ice, practiced as usual Monday.
“He did everything normal today that he would normally do,” Sarkisian said.
• Sophomore LG Dexter Charles, who left the Oregon game with a shoulder injury, could miss the Arizona State game, Sarkisian said. Junior Erik Kohler, who filled in for Charles against the Ducks, would be his likely replacement. Charles has started 17 straight games for Washington.