Phase I was opening the pages of Steve Sarkisian's massive playbook.
Phase II was learning not only the Xs and Os, but how they intertwined to make this offense one of the most promising in the country, especially after it was run successfully at Southern California.
But on Monday, Sarkisian – one of the master architects of it at USC before arriving at Montlake last December – acknowledged the offense is missing a beat. Or two. Or a few.
Phase III is still a ways away.
"Anytime it’s your first year, anytime you’re implementing a system, there are nuances within things that, as you play within a system, as you play with one another, (need to) get done," Sarkisian said. "Those nuances come with time. And to me, that’s one of the things we’re missing – subtle things that get made on the fly that we struggle with at times. That’s not to knock our kids in any way. That’s wherever you go, anywhere in the country."
At his weekly press conference Monday, Sarkisian continued to be concerned about the team's red-zone offense. In five trips inside the UCLA 20-yard line on Saturday, the Huskies came away with one touchdown.
That has been a typical occurrence. Consider:
• In 32 red-zone possessions, the UW has scored 15 TDs. The Huskies are one of 23 NCAA Division I programs that convert those chances to TDs at less than a 50-percent clip.
• In 20 series inside the opponents' 10, they have tallied 11 TDs. Those numbers are a little misleading since two of those scores were meaningless TDs late against Oregon, and four of them came against Idaho.
In conference play, they are 4-of-10 inside the 10.
"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. "And 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."
At least Saturday, the Huskies tried something different, going to their version of the scaled-down "Wildcat." In the second quarter, the UW used a direct-snap play to Chris Polk – something the team had practiced plenty all week – that went for a 1-yard gain on third-and-goal from the UCLA 2.
Their innovation might have been a way of stating they lack an identity that deep in the opponents' territory.
And those flaws are further magnified by the fact five of their six defeats have come in close games that have been decided in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Tight end Kavario Middleton had a thoughtful take on the team's new offense, and how it ideally should operate.
"For the most part, the offense relies on everyone else. If little things are messed up, the entire play can be messed up – simple blocks here and there, or simple things here and there," Middleton said.
" Ever since spring training, they've preached to us that everyone is always alive. You're never dead in this offense. Everyone has to go out and run their routes hard. A lot of it is deception. You want the defense to think it's something that is not."
Other Monday developments:
• Locker's late-game interception was a hot topic Monday. Sarkisian said he did not fault the quarterback's reasoning going to the hot receiver – in this case, Kearse – in a one-step drop and quick throw, but added the play should have gone to the receiver it was called for – Devin Aguilar.
"The one-on-one matchup with Devin Aguilar, which is what we were looking for from the slot," Sarkisian said. "We were getting a lot of man coverage. And that’s why I think you started to see Devin really start to make a lot of plays there in the fourth quarter on third down."
• The first-year UW coach said he had an opportunity to look at Terrence Austin's controversial 29-yard TD catch in the third quarter.
Sarkisian could not tell definitively if the ball hit the turf and Austin laid out for the ball and finally seizing control of it in the end zone.
What was mildly questioned was the replay booth's lack of action on the play. Action was never stopped for a review. Sarkisian thought it would, but when he realized it wouldn't, he decided not to burn any of his timeouts.
The UW contacted the Pac-10 office Monday to file a formal complaint, which is being reviewed by commissioner Larry Scott.
• Sarkisian was reminded about his earlier statement that it wouldn't take long for the UW to find its winning ways, which have faltered as of late, dropping five of its past six games.
"I thought my estimation was when we get into these tight games, we would find a way to win that would change our culture a little quicker," Sarkisian said. "We're not at a point right now where we are going to go out and beat people by four touchdowns. We are a team that's going to play tight football games, and when you beat a team like USC in the tight fashion we did, I maintained, 'Hey… we are going to win the game late because we do things right.'
"Unfortunately that hasn't occurred. That trend hasn't occurred for us. … Obviously we haven't learned that value of the nuances of doing things right late in ball games that we were able to do against (USC) and unfortunately have not been able to do in other games.''
• The starting left tackle spot may be up for grabs. Sarkisian was impressed with what Drew Schaefer did in his 50-plus plays Saturday in place of Ben Ossai, who missed the first series because of an undisclosed team violation, and was later held back by a stomach ailment.
• Running back Chris Polk (ribs) is still a little sore, but took limited snaps with the first-string offense Monday at practice. Demitrius Bronson saw the majority of action, with some carries left over for Johri Fogerson.
• Defensive tackle Cameron Elisara (neck stinger) and outside linebacker E.J. Savannah (broken left hand) will be further evaluated later this week. Both sat out of practice Monday. Also, free safety Jason Wells (right foot) will likely be out a couple days as he deals with plantar fasciitis.
"At least it's the right side, and not the left side," noted Wells, who started a game for the first time since 2007 on Saturday. He had been out with a strained left Achilles for much of fall camp and half the regular season.
• Apple Cup ticket sales have reached 64,500.