Steve Sarkisian has made it clear: “It’s about us.”
The focus of this past week wasn’t so much about preparing to play Portland State today at CenturyLink Field. It was about doing a little soul-searching to find out who this Washington Huskies football team is and what it wants to be this season.
After two games, Sarkisian admitted that his team’s play has left him nauseous. The Huskies spent the week trying to correct problems exposed in a less than stellar win over San Diego State and a blowout loss to No. 3 LSU. They haven’t focused as much on what the Vikings are doing under coach Nigel Burton, a former UW standout.
“For our program to get back on track we have to focus on ourselves right now,” Sarkisian said.
“I’ve mentioned Portland State one time to our guys, and it was what we talked about Monday. This week has been dedicated to us, and getting to playing a brand of Husky football that we’re proud of – the product that we put on the field. It really isn’t about who we are lining up against this week.”
Part of that brand of football under Sarkisian’s tenure has been a productive offense. Despite returning record-setting quarterback Keith Price and playmakers Austin Seferian-Jenkins at tight end and Kasen Williams at receiver, the Huskies haven’t scored a touchdown in their past seven quarters, and the run game has been nonexistent. That’s a problem for Sarkisian, and he takes the responsibility for it.
“I just try to take pride in creating rhythm in our offense and creating rhythm for the quarterback, for the receivers and the backs, and finding that nice balance and mix to what we do and keeping teams off balance,” he said. “So it is back to the drawing board that way on what the plan will be for (today).”
One way to help the rhythm will be to get Price going early. The junior quarterback has not looked as sharp as last season for a number of reasons, including poor protection, no defensive respect for the run game and untested receivers.
But Sarkisian believes it’s something more.
“Right now he’s got some adversity that’s going on around him and I think he is trying to fix that adversity rather than focusing on himself,” Sarkisian said. “So we’ve got to get him to shift his attention to Keith Price, No. 17, and what do I need to do all week to get ready to play at a high level on Saturday.”
Price didn’t disagree with Sarkisian’s assessment.
“The natural thing is when the offense is not going the way I expect it go, I end up pushing the ball,” he said. “I just need to settle down and let the offense work for me.”
Having the presence of a ground game would be helpful to Price. The Huskies have struggled to run the ball after losing running back Jesse Callier and having multiple injuries to the offensive line.
UW is averaging 66 yards rushing per game. Teams can simply not concern themselves with the run and concentrate their efforts on taking away Price’s receiving targets downfield.
“We just need to execute better,” Sarkisian said. “We need to communicate better and do things better for an extended period of time. We’re just spotty right now and we’ll go three plays really good and then we have a bad play and those bad plays can really hinder a drive. We’re fighting for consistency.”
The Huskies are fighting to find themselves. With the Pacific-12 Conference opener against Stanford 10 days away, they need to do so quickly. The Cardinal represents the first of a four-game stretch against ranked teams, including Oregon and USC.
Today should be a win for the Huskies; it’s why they scheduled the game. But there’s something more important than winning this game. It’s something only the Huskies can determine.
As Sarkisian said, “It’s about us.”