Midway through a football game the Washington Huskies wouldn’t have lost had quarterback Keith Price been replaced in the third quarter by Luciano Pavarotti, their head coach lost it.
Steve Sarkisian didn’t care that his team was body-slamming Portland State’s overwhelmed Vikings up and down CenturyLink Field. He didn’t care that his team had tied a school record – 45 points in a half – by scoring almost every way possible: by ground, by air, by an interception return, by a runback of a blocked kick, by a field goal.
What Sarkisian cared about was the final play of a mostly flawless first half, when safety Justin Glenn got flagged for putting a late, out-of-bounds hit on Portland State kick returner Justin Lilley. Even though the penalty lurks as an afterthought in the Huskies’ 52-13 victory – it wasn’t even enforced until the second-half kickoff, by which time the Huskies had a 45-0 lead – the volcanic eruption of Mount Sark on the sideline turned out to be as scintillating as anything the crowd of 54,922 saw on the field.
Sarkisian bellowed, tore off his visor, then bellowed some more. It was like watching a classic Lou Piniella confrontation with an umpire, except the umps were used to those rages for the ages. They were, after all, umpires. And he, after all, was Lou.
But Sarkisian’s ire was aimed at his own players – the guys responsible for the 45-point lead.
“We still showed some immaturity,” Sarkisian said. “That needs to get better, and that’s why we had a pretty good heart-to-heart at the end of the first half.”
Heart-to-heart? It was more like belt-to-butt.
“We, and I, pride ourselves on not taunting our opponent, not hitting guys out of bounds,” Sarkisian continued. “That’s just on us. I wanted to make sure we didn’t accept that. When you are in ballgames and winning, it is great and a lot of young guys get a chance to play. But there is a style and fashion in which we play the game, which is us. It was a point of emphasis this week. It obviously didn’t completely hit home, so it will continue to be one … until we know what it means to play smart, disciplined football and to execute at a high level.”
It’s not unusual for players hear the riot act read to them at halftime. What’s unusual is that the riot-act reading was performed in public rather than behind the closed doors of the locker room.
“It had to be addressed immediately,” explained Sarkisian. “I didn’t want them jogging 65 yards off the field. It was something that to be done then and there.”
Glenn, a quick-witted senior from Mukilteo – he’s among the most outgoing players on the UW roster – acknowledged responsibility for drawing the flag that inspired the rant.
“A dumb mistake,” said Glenn. “Coach was upset, but that’s what coaches are supposed to do. They’re supposed to get on guys when they make mistakes. So you absorb it, learn from it, and play more football.”
As for the 3 hours, 4 minutes the Huskies weren’t scolded on bent knees Saturday, they executed an all-phases beating of a Portland State team without its All-America kicker and three of its long snappers.
“It’s football, so there’s no excuses,” Portland State coach Nigel Burton said before offering one. “But when you’re down to your fourth snapper and second kicker, it’s tough at any level of football.”
OK, then, erase Tre Watson’s 79-yard touchdown return of a field-goal attempt blocked by UW teammate Shaq Thompson, and replace it with a successful kick worth three points to the Vikings. And give them the extra point blocked after they finally made it into the end zone midway through the third quarter.
So now the final score becomes Washington 45, Portland State 17, which approximates the Las Vegas oddsmakers’ installation of the home team as 29-point favorites. It still was a blowout that enabled the Huskies to finally enjoy some offensive synchronicity.
Price, for the first time in 2012, resembled the quarterback who last season eased Washington past the Jake Locker Era. Sophomore Bishop Sankey finished with the first 100-yard rushing game of his career. Sankey got all the room he needed behind a patchwork offensive line that included such newcomers as redshirt freshmen Dexter Charles and Siosifa Tufunga and true freshman Shane Brostek, who made his college debut.
The defense, meanwhile, didn’t relax until the score was 52-0 in the third quarter.
But, still, the prevailing memory of Pacific-12 Conference Tuneup Day at CenturyLink Field was Sarkisian’s lecture.
Afterward, Glenn was asked if he’d ever heard a similarly fiery sermon delivered by a coach whose team owned a 45-point halftime lead.
“I can’t say I have,” he answered. “It won’t happen again.”firstname.lastname@example.org