They have quarterback Jake Locker, who can break off any kind of scoring run at any time.
They have running back Chris Polk, rapidly emerging as one of the Pacific-10 Conference’s best big-play threats.
They have coach Steve Sarkisian, an established offensive play-caller from a championship college program at Southern California.
And for all that – the Washington Huskies still have issues when they get anywhere near the opposing end zone.
On paper, you’d say the Huskies are one of the better red-zone scoring teams in the country. Their success rate, 84.4 percent, ranks in the upper third in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision ranks.
The issue is, placekicker Erik Folk is getting more action in the scoring than the UW offense – something Sarkisian acknowledged after a 43-19 loss to Oregon two weeks ago, and brought up again Monday after the Huskies’ 24-23 defeat at UCLA.
“It’s frustrating when you look at our efficiency in the red zone – not just in this game, but as the season’s worn on. We’re just not getting it done there,” the first-year UW coach said. “Then our inability in this game, which was really one of the first games this year, of converting on third downs, especially in the first half.”
UW had five red-zone opportunities Saturday, and came out with one touchdown – Locker’s 17-yard scoring pass to Jermaine Kearse on the team’s second series.
That has been exemplary of the Huskies’ success all season. Of their 32 red-zone trips, they’ve scored 15 TDs – and are one of 23 NCAA FBS schools converting their chances to TDs at less than a 50 percent clip.
Only UCLA (9-of-26) is worse in the Pac-10.
And the closer the Huskies have gotten to the end zone – say, inside the opposing 10-yard line – their proficiency has improved little. They’ve had 20 drives reach the 10, and tallied 11 TDs.
Against Pac-10 defenses, only four of their 10 goal-to-go series have ended in TDs.
One of those typical blown scoring chances came in the second quarter against UCLA. The Huskies had a first-and-goal at the Bruins’ 2:
• First play, Locker scrambled and passed incomplete to tight end Chris Izbicki.
• Second play, Polk was tackled on a zone-read run out of shotgun formation.
• Third play, UW tried a direct snap to Polk – Sarkisian wouldn’t call it a “Wildcat” call, even though it was an element specifically put in for this game – and he was stopped after a 1-yard gain. Folk kicked a 20-yard field goal to end the drive.
“We went back and looked at the film, and it was one or two guys here and there not doing their assignments right,” Locker said. “It goes for me and every other guy on the offense … (to) put it all together and all do the right thing on the same play.”
Schematically, the players by now comprehend the mechanics of Sarkisian’s new system. The next step, the coach said, is understanding the “nuances” of how to run it in game-specific situations on the fly.
“It’s all the things coming together. It’s understanding the personality of your football team. It’s understanding the scheme, what your opponent’s giving you. It’s playing to your strengths as a football team,” Sarkisian said. “Somewhere in there, we have not been able to find the right mix. Part of that is the play-calling. Part of that is execution. And part of that is tipping your hat to your opponent.”
Running back Chris Polk (ribs) did practice with the first-string offense, but Demitrius Bronson took the majority of the repetitions. … Starting defensive players who sat out Monday included tackle Cameron Elisara (neck stinger), linebacker E.J. Savannah (broken left wrist) and free safety Jason Wells (right foot). Sarkisian said Elisara and Savannah will be evaluated later in the week and are questionable to play at Oregon State. Wells, who expects to miss a couple of days of practice with plantar fasciitis, is probable. … Sarkisian commended the play of redshirt freshman Drew Schaefer at left tackle Saturday in place of Ben Ossai, who missed much of the game because of a stomach ailment. Schaefer will be considered for the starting position this week, the coach said. He took the majority of the snaps at practice Monday. … Reserve linebacker Jordan Wallace (right knee) was a limited participant Monday. … The UW filed a formal complaint with the Pacific-10 Conference office about the replay booth’s unwillingness to stop the action and formally review Terrence Austin’s bobbling 29-yard touchdown catch for UCLA in the third quarter. … Tickets sold for the Apple Cup on Nov. 28 at Husky Stadium are at 64,500.
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442