To really see how Steve Sarkisian ticks, to know how much he wants to be that NCAA Division I football coach with the stone-faced exterior, to convince the public a win is just a win weird bounce or not and a loss is a loss, visit a Washington Huskies postgame news conference.
Last Saturday night was a primary example.
UW had just finished off a 36-33 victory over Arizona. Indeed pleased, Sarkisian was neither overly excited nor loose-lipped. He didnt label it the highlight of his coaching career or proclaim it the pinnacle of his teams season.
But unsolicited, when speaking of the Huskies 3-3 record, he did mention the two most profound words in the Pacific-10 Conference at the midway point.
Is Washington in position to be thinking that way?
Sure. And at 2-1 in the conference, why not?
I think of it that way, in the fact we still have an opportunity for it. In reality, I like our guys thinking about this game (against ASU), Sarkisian said after practice Wednesday. But when theres something still sitting there for you to accomplish, its nice to look at it to know, Man, the hard work I put in today might help us accomplish something down the road.
Nobody in their right mind before the season during the long days of spring and preseason camps would have thought UW could even think about a January game in Pasadena. And its still a long shot, with games against Oregon and California remaining.
But it also shows the ground Sarkisian and his staff have made up in a short amount of time.
Here is a look at the highlights and lowlights of the first half of 2009:
Youth movement: If the Pac-10 newcomer of the year vote were to come today, Southern Californias Matt Barkley would likely get the nod.
But as a group, the Huskies would be right there.
Redshirt freshman Chris Polk is third in the conference in carries (115) and has 486 yards rushing. No running back in the league makes up more of his teams rushing totals than the Redlands, Calif., product.
Wilson Highs Desmond Trufant already is UWs best cover guy at cornerback, and hes a true freshman.
James Johnson is an exciting force at wide receiver, catching a touchdown on his first career reception. He, too, is a true freshman.
On this weeks depth chart for the game at Arizona State, half of the 22 starters are either sophomores or freshmen.
These young guys are just playing ball, Sarkisian said. They believe in themselves.
Lumber at linebacker: Senior Donald Butler is second in the Pac-10 in tackles per game (8.5), and he had his career-best game in the Huskies 16-13 upset of then-No. 3 USC.
Junior Mason Foster keeps displaying some of the fastest hands in the conference. His heads-up interception off a deflection late Saturday against the Arizona Wildcats turned a loss into a win.
With different personnel shifting in and out on almost a play-by-play basis around them, these two veterans and their big-play efforts have given UWs defense a much-needed presence.
The Sarkisian way: Earlier this week, ASU coach Dennis Erickson said if he had a vote for Pac-10 coach of the year, it would go to the Huskies first-year head honcho.
Last week, Arizona coach Mike Stoops commented that this UW team couldnt be compared to any of the squads of the recent past, including the 0-12 team from a year ago.
Obviously, the organization is much different, Stoops said.
There are a number of reasons why that is. But the bottom line is that the belief is different. Sarkisian not only has taught this team how to believe in itself, but also how to win again.
Defensive line issues: Nobody Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Nick Holt included ever said the defense didnt have its issues. And those issues have shown up pretty consistently over six games.
The Huskies give up 161.3 rushing yards per game, second-to-last in the conference. Their 418 total yards given up per game also is ninth in the Pac-10.
Holt could foresee that coming. That is why in the offseason, he emphasized over and over that his unit needed to be opportunistic in order to keep pace.
The Huskies 11 turnovers created are tied for third-most in the Pac-10. Their red-zone defense has been off the charts.
The one area theyre really lacking in is getting to the quarterback. They have just eight sacks in six games.
Defensive end Daniel Teo-Nesheim is getting double-teamed consistently. And the revolving door on the other side among Darrion Jones, Talia Crichton and Kalani Aldrich has done next to nothing.
Lone ranger at running back: Polk deserves all the early season credit available. Hes been nothing short of the reliable, workhorse running back the Huskies have needed to keep defenses off quarterback Jake Locker.
The disappointment comes from what is behind him, and to a lesser extent, Johri Fogerson. Curtis Shaw has five carries, all in mop-up time against Idaho. Demitrius Bronson has two, coming last week against Arizona when Polk was dinged up. Willie Griffin has one.
The punishment dished out on Polk by defenses should be a constant worry, especially since hes just 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds. Sarkisian notes he has no other choice because Polk has been so good. And last week, he made Polk the primary kickoff returner because, by his words, no one else has seized the opportunity.
A return on special teams: Heres the odd stat for the Huskies this season theyre averaging more return yards on punts (18.5, best in Pac-10) than on kickoffs (18.3, worst in Pac-10).
Simply put, theyre getting next to nothing on kickoff returns. Sarkisian has tried Shaw, Jordan Polk and Quinton Richardson and now has resorted to Chris Polk all following lead blocker Cole Sager, a walk-on.
Seventeen of UWs drives have started from its own 20-yard line or worse mostly because of lackluster kickoff returns. That has to improve drastically during the second half of the season.
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442