For the most part, the red zone has been the blackout zone for offenses facing the Washington Huskies.
Red-zone efficiency – what goes on from the opponent’s 20-yard line to the end zone – was what UW coach Steve Sarkisian deemed to be the biggest determining factor in his team’s improbable 36-33 come-from-behind victory Saturday over Arizona at Husky Stadium.
Overall, it’s as big a reason as any as to why the Huskies are 3-3 and still hanging around the leaders in the Pacific-10 Conference.
“It’s a mind-set. When they break a big play, get downfield and get within our 25 (yard line), once that happens, you really lock into something mentally, at least for me,” Huskies defensive tackle Cameron Elisara said. “We really kind of lock up, tighten up and we’re not going to let them get seven points (a touchdown) on us.”
Frankly, yards have been easy to come by against the UW. The 418.0 yards the Huskies give up per game rank ninth in the Pac-10 – ahead of only Washington State’s 489.7.
In six games, UW opponents have lived in the Huskies’ red zone – 30 times, to be exact, which is tied for the fourth-most in the country with New Mexico, trailing Rice (32), Toledo (33) and UTEP (34).
But the Huskies have been successful is the way they’ve given up points, even though they’re tied for 70th in total red-zone defense (opponents are 25-of-30 scoring in the red zone).
The UW has given up 14 field goals, most by a wide margin in the NCAA. And it has surrendered 11 touchdowns. Only six Division I schools, including the Huskies, can boast that field goal-to-touchdown ratio.
Sure, the action gets squished in finite space. As Sarkisian noted, “the concern of the deep ball isn’t there ... so you’re able to sit on routes, and route-recognition.” But that doesn’t mean the playbook is condensed in the smaller space.
“Ours, in a sense, can expand at times,” Sarkisian said “We have play calls that are very specific to the red zone that aren’t specific to the game plan. For some people, it can shrink. For other people, it can get bigger.”
On Saturday, the Wildcats got past the UW 20 on eight drives. Seven times, they put up points – four field goals and three touchdowns.
On four occasions, they got as far as the Huskies’ 7 and didn’t score touchdowns. Three times, they settled for Alex Zendejas field goals. A fourth time, they were stopped on a fourth-and-inches from the UW 1.
“In the red zone, they are really locked into the calls we’re making,” Sarkisian said. “For us, it’s something to grow on. We need to transition that out to the middle of the field now.”
Not only did UW left guard Gregory Christine (leg) shatter his right fibula Saturday against Arizona, he also shredded ankle ligaments. His surgery to repair the season-ending injuries is scheduled for later this week. To replace him, a rotation of Nick Wood, Mykenna Ikehara and Drew Schaefer will be utilized, with Wood getting the first crack as a starter. ...
Initial concerns about running back Chris Polk coming out in the first quarter Saturday were that he dislocated his shoulder trying to make a block for Jordan Polk. Sarkisian said Chris Polk was fine, and that the shoulder was only “sore.” He will continue as the team’s primary returner on kickoffs. ... Quarterback Jake Locker has a minor back bruise, but resumed full activities at practice, as did safety Nate Williams (concussion), receiver D’Andre Goodwin (concussion), running back Johri Fogerson (flu), linebacker E.J. Savannah (shoulder) and Elisara (neck). ... Linebacker Mason Foster (team-high 11 tackles, game-winning 37-yard interception return for a score) was named the Pac-10’s defensive player of the week. ... The UW-Oregon game Oct. 24 at Husky Stadium has been set for 12:30 p.m., and will be televised on ABC.
The huskies’ opponent this week
ARIZONA STATE (3-2 overall, 1-1 Pac-10)
7:15 p.m. Saturday, Sun Devil Stadium, FSN, 950-AM
Coach: Dennis Erickson, third season (18-12 record). Also coached at Idaho (1982-85, 2006), Wyoming (1986), WSU (1987-88), Miami (1989-94), Seattle Seahawks (1995-98), Oregon State (1999-2002), San Francisco 49ers (2003-04). Is 166-77-1 in 22 seasons as a head coach.
Last season: 5-7 overall, 4-5 Pac-10, tied for sixth in conference.
Against the Huskies: UW leads, 15-13, but the Sun Devils have won the past five games, including a 39-19 victory in Seattle last season. UW’s last triumph came in 2001 (33-31).
Washington connections: Erickson is an Everett native who coached at WSU and for the Seahawks. He has one assistant with a UW tie (receivers coach Eric Yarber) and four assistants with ties to WSU (defensive coordinator Craig Bray, cornerbacks coach Greg Burns, offensive coordinator Rich Olson and offensive line coach Gregg Smith).
Scouting report: The Sun Devils rank No. 3 nationally in total defense (221.8 yards per game), and are one of eight teams to hold opponents to less than a 4.0-yard-per-play average. The lofty standing is somewhat softened by wins over Idaho State, Louisiana-Monroe and WSU, but UW coach Steve Sarkisian noted that the ASU front seven, led by defensive end Dexter Davis (29 career sacks), is the best the UW will have faced.
Did you know? ASU’s 12 sacks against WSU on Saturday set a new mark, eclipsing the old record of 10, set in 1992. Nine different players had sacks. The NCAA mark is 15.
Todd Milles, The News Tribune
Sept. 5d. Idaho State, 50-3
Sept. 19d. Louisiana-Monroe, 38-14
Sept. 26lost to Georgia, 20-17
Oct. 3lost to Oregon State, 28-17
Oct. 10d. Washington State, 27-14
Oct. 24at Stanford
Nov. 14at Oregon
Nov. 21at UCLA