The Washington Huskies lost their 15th straight football game Saturday, while Steve Sarkisian fell to 0-1 as a head coach.
Under those circumstances, UW coaches and players stressed that there was no moral victory in their season-opening 31-23 loss to Louisiana State.
However, they were willing to say that if LSU is the nation’s No. 11 team, then the Huskies might be close to a breakthrough.
“I think it somewhat validates the level of play that we can play at,” Sarkisian said in his first postgame press conference. “We’re a team that can play as physical as one of the most physical teams in the country, we can play as fast as one of the fastest teams in the country, and we can compete with them. The challenge now is to find a way to win those games in the fourth quarter. That’s the ultimate change, when we ultimately change the culture here: It’s the middle of the fourth quarter, and the game is on the line, and we find a way to win it.”
Washington gets its next chance at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, when Idaho visits Husky Stadium. The Vandals opened their season with a 21-6 win over New Mexico State.
Meanwhile, UW was left to look for silver linings in the latest loss of a streak that reaches back to November 2007.
They found several.
The Huskies beat the Tigers in total offense, 478 yards to 321; beat them in first downs, 25-17; outrushed them 157 yards to 149; and outpassed them 321 yards to 172.
“My hat’s off to that new coaching staff,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “It appears to me they’re well-prepared and organized. It was really a good effort. I can tell you that team will be the most improved team in the conference; and we’re very thankful we came, performed the way we did, and came away with victory.”
The Huskies lost largely because they gave up big plays, failed to get enough points from their red-zone opportunities, committed 11 penalties to LSU’s three, and lost two turnovers. The turnovers were especially costly: A Jake Locker pass was intercepted by linebacker Jacob Cutrera and returned 29 yards for LSU’s first touchdown, and tailback Chris Polk fumbled the ball away 4 yards from LSU’s goal.
“That’s not acceptable,” Sarkisian said. “We play the game to win and unfortunately we were in the red zone five times and settled for four field goals and had a turnover. And that’s how you can lose. We talked about the turnover battle coming in, and we talked about execution. And those are two areas where it didn’t happen for us, and I thought that was the key to the ballgame.”
Individually, the Huskies were led by linebacker E.J. Savannah, who had 11 tackles; Polk, who rushed for 90 yards on 21 carries; James Johnson, who had six receptions; Devin Aguilar, who had 76 receiving yards; and Locker who completed 25 of 45 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns. Locker also was the Huskies’ second-leading rusher with 51 yards on 12 carries.
“Like I always say, I’ll do whatever I need to within the game plan, whatever Coach thinks we need to do to have the best opportunity to have success,” Locker said. “I’m on board with it. I thought we were able to move the ball. On third downs we did pretty good.”
Locker credited his team’s 11-of-19 third-down conversion rate to the play of the offensive line, which allowed one sack. And he took the blame for Cutrera’s interception, saying he misread the defense.
“It’s tough to play as well as we did at times and then make the big mistakes that we did,” he said. “We came out and played hard, we didn’t give up, we battled to the end, and I think we’re close. It’s just a matter of being a little more disciplined and taking care of the football. I think the sky’s the limit for this football team.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808
How new coaches fared in their first games at Washington since 1957:
1957Jim OwensColorado 6, at UW 6
1975Don Jamesat Arizona State 35, UW 12
1993Jim Lambrightat No. 12 UW 31, No. 15 Stanford 14
1999Rick Neuheiselat BYU 35, UW 28
2003Keith Gilbertsonat No. 2 Ohio State 28, No. 17 UW 9
2005Tyrone WillinghamAir Force 20, UW 17 *
2009Steve SarkisianNo. 11 LSU 31, at UW 23
* = UW road game at Qwest Field