As mind-boggling as it was, especially coming off a relatively crisp training camp, miscommunication was happening all over the field against Brigham Young University on Saturday night.
That, said UW coach Steve Sarkisian, was the biggest culprit in the offense misfiring on key fourth-quarter plays in a 23-17 loss – and others throughout the game as well.
"There were some things up front that we've been doing for weeks that we made mistakes on, which to me, is a lack of communication, which was a big focus going into this game," Sarkisian said. "You get on the road, you get a little hot, you get a little tired with the altitude, and it gets a little loud – their crowd did a nice job – and we made some mistakes where we weren't on the same page."
Translation: Blockers – aside from left tackle Senio Kelemete – be on alert this week. You're under close scrutiny.
The aforementioned statement, or versions of it, were repeated three or four times throughout the second-year coach's nearly half-hour weekly press conference at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
Sarkisian also later stated that he wants to see more of true freshmen Erik Kohler, a tackle; and Colin Porter, a guard/center.
"I'm going to find a way to get them on the field this week," Sarkisian said.
If Kohler and Porter push for more time, it likely would come at the expense of Gregory Christine, Cody Habben and Ryan Tolar (although Christine had the unit's most definitive block on quarterback Jake Locker's 9-yard touchdown run in the second quarter).
The play that provided the most discussion was the third-and-5 play on the UW's final drive when Locker tried running right, and got dropped for a 2-yard loss.
"We didn't run the play the way that we wanted," Sarkisian said. "It set us back, in a sense."
Locker said the responsibility lies on him: "(The linemen) were going a different way than I was going. Yeah, it was on me. It was my fault.
"I thought we moved the ball on that last drive really well and then just kind of stalled out there. That obviously was a big play for us. I didn’t do a good job of … I called the wrong way, and that’s going to cost you at that point in the game."
The Huskies were 0-for-4 on third- and fourth-and-short plays.
"It's easy to see, we're not the Nebraska Cornhuskers with Tommie Frazier and those guys, and Lawrence Phillips where they were just lining up and pounding you off the ball," Sarkisian said. "But we're physical enough to block people. But if you don't block the right guys, it can make it difficult. We've got to make sure we're blocking the right guys."
It's as much about desire as it is focus, Sarkisian noted.
"All five guys up there – and if you want to throw in the tight end, make it six, and if you want to throw in the fullback, make it seven – those guys need to be cohesive, and do this thing together and take pride in doing it together, and not, 'Oh, so-and-so made the wrong call, so we were all wrong,'" Sarkisian said. "Well, if you think he's making the wrong call, somebody else has got to fix it. That's what is going to be our point of emphasis this week."
Other leftover bytes:
• Sarkisian was not shy about sharing his opinion about the 15-yard tripping call assessed to receiver Jermaine Kearse that negated a first down on the opening drives of the second half:
"Phantom tripping penalty," he said.
Replays show Kearse, who went down to cut a defender down, rolled on the ground and appeared to bring his leg up – intentionally or not – that tripped a BYU player.
The play wiped out Jesse Callier's 14-yard gain on a screen pass from Locker.
"He didn't trip him. He cut him, like there are cut blocks on every play," Sarkisian said. "I don't understand what the penalty was."
• Strong safety Nate Fellner had his own tripping issues on a near-interception for the Huskies in the fourth quarter.
On first-and-25, quarterback Riley Nelson tried hitting McKay Jacobson on a pass toward the right sideline. Fellner had the best play on it, but it bounced off his hands.
"I just remember seeing the ball, and I was going for it and my shoe came off," Fellner said. "I went up for it, and it hit the tip of my fingers. No excuses, I feel like I should catch that easily."
Neither team committed a turnover in the game.
• On BYU's second drive, which stalled, the Huskies gambled with a five-man stunt going after the punt. And Gregory Ducre, who was later called for a 15-yard roughing-the-penalty, almost cashed in on what would have been a timely boost.
"He's right there, and the poor kid, he has it blocked and it goes through his hands, and he ends up roughing the punter," Sarkisian said.
• Sarkisian said the UW will go to a two-man kickoff return system. Chris Polk will be one return guy, and the other one will likely go to Callier, although Kevin Smith could see time there as well.
• Receiver James Johnson (ankle) did not play Saturday night despite practicing all week at near-full speed.
"I just didn't think he was ready to go. I didn't think he had enough practice time," Sarkisian said. "And to his credit, Cody Bruns has been practicing great and he went out and played really well (in a career-high 23 plays). I don't know if he could have done more; every opportunity he had, he made his plays."
• Speaking of Callier, Sarkisian said he will find the true freshman from Downey, Calif. more touches – in the run and passing game. Not good news for Johri Fogerson.
• Linebacker Mason Foster was officially credited for a game-high 14 tackles. UW scorekeeper counted 17.
"I think in high school, I made 18, the most I ever had," Foster said. "I was trying to make any play I possibly could. Seventeen tackles is a lot of tackles, regardless."
• Locker was asked about Kearse's two dropped passes Saturday, and if that would have any carryover effect this week.
"Jermaine is a really talented football player, really talented receiver and he makes a lot of plays," Locker said. "There is no loss of confidence. Those aren't easy catches, but if you ask him, they are catches he knows he can make. I have all the confidence in the world that he will make those plays."
** MONDAY PRACTICE UPDATE: Drip, drip – the team went outdoors amid light rain and cool temperatures for a 63-minute practice in helmets, jerseys and shorts. … For scout-team work, Kohler (left tackle), Porter (right guard) and true freshman Michael Hartvigson (tight end) all came in together to work with the No. 1 offense (and a little with the second unit and quarterback Keith Price). Then, for the late-practice team session, Kohler lined up at starting left guard, in place of Tolar. … Johnson (ankle) worked exclusively with the No. 2 offense. … Ducre did get that blocked-punt fumble returned for a touchdown – in practice. He also had two interceptions in scout-team work. … Callier also blocked a punt and returned it for a score in special-teams action. … Safety Will Shamburger made the day's best catch – an acrobatic one-handed interception in scout team.