Tough way to start the week for Steve Sarkisian.
On Monday, the coach of the Washington Huskies announced that starting tailback Jesse Callier and defensive end Hau’oli Jamora are lost for the season with knee injuries – anterior cruciate ligament tears in both cases.
Sarkisian also confirmed that starting right tackle Ben Riva is out indefinitely with a broken bone in his forearm. Riva will meet with an arm specialist.
Not exactly what a football team wants as it prepares to play the No. 3 team in the land – LSU – on its home field, Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La., a notoriously difficult place for visitors.
“Throughout the year we’re going to get faced with adversity,” Sarkisian said. “Guys are going to go down with injuries like what happened to us the other night – whether it’s Jesse or Ben Riva – those things can’t affect us. We have to continue to execute. We have to do the things we do and practice with numerous guys doing what they do and not just one guy at one spot.”
Callier suffered the injury to his right knee early in Saturday’s season-opening game for the Huskies, a 21-12 victory over visiting San Diego State. He took a swing pass and was running alone when he fell face first to the turf without being hit.
“Jesse is running and he thinks about making a cut, and his knee moves maybe this much,” Sarkisian said holding his hands a few inches apart. “And that happens.”
The absence of Callier means that Bishop Sankey will take over full-time tailback duties. The plan had been for the two to split carries this season.
“We’re going to find out more about Bishop Sankey in a hurry,” Sarkisian said. “He got quite a few carries the other night and he responded well. I wish we would have blocked a little better for him. I think in turn I wish he would have shown a little more patience running the ball. But I think that will come in time getting the experience there.”
Sankey seemed subdued and not overwhelmed by the challenge.
“It’s unfortunate that Jesse went down,” Sankey said. “I just want to step up and do what it takes to help the team for the rest of the year.”
With Callier sidelined, Sankey carried 22 times for 66 yards and scored a touchdown. He also had a critical fumble heading into the end zone that cost the Huskies a sure score.
“Physically he was fine, Sarkisian said. “I think it was a really good learning experience for him putting the ball on the ground there inside the 5. He’ll respond better to that next time. I thought he ran a little bit conservative after the fumble.”
Sankey isn’t the type of running back who can run conservatively with success.
“He has to run with his style and he has to continually emphasize keeping the ball high and tight,” Sarkisian said. “I don’t want to take Bishop’s stinger from him because he has big-play potential but his big-play potential won’t be there if he doesn’t run with the initiative ”
Washington isn’t exactly deep at running back. Besides Callier, Deontae Cooper was lost for the season in August with his third ACL tear. True freshman Erich Wilson II is listed as the backup to Sankey, while sophomore walk-on Willis Wilson of Lakes and redshirt freshman Dezden Petty will have increased repetitions in practice and possibly games.
Wilson II had two carries – one for no gain and another for 22 yards – in Saturday’s victory.
“Erich Wilson had a couple of nice runs,” Sarkisian said. “I thought it was good to get him in there. He had a couple of nice runs and got in the secondary and showed the natural running skills he showed in camp.”
The loss of Riva is equally concerning. It necessitates more shuffling on the offensive line in preparation for facing one of the best defensive lines in the country – an LSU team led by defensive ends Barkevios Mingo and Sam Montgomery.
“They are good,” Sarkisian said of the Tigers.
The coach fretted that the Huskies can’t afford to use an empty backfield or seven-step drops too often, or “we’ll have a tough night. So we are going to have to continually mix things up.”
Sarkisian said that starting right guard Erik Kohler, as expected, will slide out to play right tackle – a position where he started all 13 games last season. Meanwhile, sophomore James Atoe will become the starting right guard.
The loss of Jamora hurts the Huskies’ depth. But the defensive end had basically missed all of fall camp after suffering a torn ACL of the same knee injured last season in a win over California. He had surgery last season and was expected to return to being a pass-rushing presence for the Huskies.
However, he sprained his knee a week into fall practice. The initial prognosis was some damage to the meniscus, requiring minor arthroscopic surgery. However, once doctors got inside the knee, they found the damage was more severe than another tear of the ACL.
While Callier will get a redshirt for this season, Jamora cannot because he redshirted last season. He can apply for a hardship year in his senior season.
Huskies’ opponent this week
NO. 3 LSU (1-0 OVERALL)
4 p.m., Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La. TV: ESPN. Radio: 950-AM, 850-AM, 102.9-FM
Coach: Les Miles (75-18, 8th year)
Against the Huskies: The two teams have played twice in school history. In 1983, ninth-ranked Washington traveled to Baton Rouge and got drilled, 40-14, by an unranked Tigers squad. The last meeting came three years ago at Husky Stadium. UW opened the 2009 season – Steve Sarkisian’s first as head coach – against the Tigers. Washington gave LSU, ranked 11th at the time, a bit of scare. But the Tigers pulled away for a 31-23 win.
Washington connections: It starts at the top with UW director of athletics Scott Woodward, who is a native of Baton Rouge, an LSU graduate and a former LSU administrator.
Scouting report: The third-ranked LSU Tigers have legitimate national title hopes because they are really good, beginning with one of the best defenses in the country. At nearly every position, LSU has NFL-level talent, even after losing All-America defensive back Tyrann Mathieu to suspension. The defensive ends, Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, are two of the nation’s best. The same can be said for free safety Eric Reid. The Tigers’ offense is based on the power run led by tailbacks Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue, who motor behind a massive offensive line. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, a touted junior college transfer, is supposed to help solve LSU’s lack of consistency at the position.
Did you know: LSU running back Kenny Hilliard is the nephew of former LSU running back Dalton Hilliard – LSU’s second all-time rusher. Dalton Hilliard played against Washington in the game in Baton Rouge in 1983.
Sep. 1def. North Texas, 41-14SaturdayWashington
Sep. 15IdahoSept. 22at Auburn
Sept. 29TowsonOct. 6at Florida
Oct. 13South CarolinaOct. 20at Texas A&M
Nov. 3AlabamaNov. 10Mississippi State
Nov. 17Ole MissNov. 23at Arkansasryan.firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8483 blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @RyanDivish Ryan Divish, staff writer