Don’t expect a live duck in a cage this week at Washington football practice.
Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian was in downplay mode Monday with second-ranked Oregon looming Saturday.
Sarkisian’s consistent message was that his Huskies, ranked 23rd in the country in the AP poll of writers and broadcasters, are serious-minded and don’t respond to publicity stunts such as bringing a live tiger to practice, which Sarkisian arranged prior to the LSU game in Baton Rouge, La.
“I’m kind of over external motivators,” Sarkisian said. “Maybe you learn a lesson as a coach with different things. I think this team, I don’t think external motivators push their buttons.”
Not that there needs to be further juice when playing the second-ranked team in the country, let alone rival Oregon. The vitriol between the Northwest schools has risen the past few years, reaching a point that the Ducks’ name and brand almost surpass the rivalry with Washington State.
“I don’t necessarily hate another team that we play, but anything we’re going to face, I’m going to have a little hate towards them,” said sophomore defensive tackle Danny Shelton from Auburn.
Regardless of emotions, the issue is this: Oregon presents a fresh set of extreme challenges a little more than a week after the Huskies faced and defeated then-eighth-ranked Stanford, 17-13.
The Ducks’ manic spread offense shares primary tenets with the Cardinal: they want to run and use play-action. But, Oregon works to snap the ball every eight seconds. It’s a thoroughbred to Stanford’s plow horse.
That relentless approach continually shifts the second halves of games in Oregon’s favor. The past three against Washington are prime examples. Washington was outscored 50-22 in the first halves of the three meetings against the Ducks under Sarkisian. Oregon has outscored Washington 130-52 in the second halves of those games.
“So, the games have been there and then they have pulled away,” Sarkisian said. “I would like to think that through our recruiting we have some pretty good depth in place to where we can minimize them trying to pull away there late third, early fourth quarter.’’
That depth, however, took another shot Monday when Sarkisian announced that defensive tackle Lawrence Lagafuaina is out for the season. It’s a moderate blow (Lagafuaina made five tackles in three games and didn’t play against Stanford) to a Washington defense that has been turned around under new coordinator Justin Wilcox.
The Huskies are second in the conference in total defense, ahead of Stanford and trailing only Arizona State. Washington is allowing 315 yards a game, a massive flip from last season, when it gave up 453.3 yards a game, which was 11th in the conference.
Part of the turnaround is a result of better tackling. Under Wilcox, Washington increased its live tackling and tackling technique work in practice through spring and falls camps.
“It was a big focal point,” safety Sean Parker said. “We practiced in individual periods, we did more tackling, just working on our technique.”
The challenge with the Ducks is to catch them first.
Sarkisian said Kendyl Taylor, who is listed on this week’s depth chart as the No. 2 running back and received his first carries against Stanford, is a running back and wide receiver. … Sarkisian also said he wanted to get Austin Seferian-Jenkins more involved against Stanford. Seferian-Jenkins had a season-low two catches for 10 yards against the Cardinal. … Washington’s two nominees for Pac-12 player of the week were running back Bishop Sankey and linebacker Thomas Tutogi. Oregon State QB Sean Mannion, Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton and Arizona punter Kyle Dugandzic were named the conference’s players of the week. … When USC visits Washington on Oct. 13, kickoff will be at 4 p.m. on Ch. firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @Todd_Dybas