Washington looking to kick-start its return game
Among the many aspects of Saturday's 48-21 loss to Oregon State on Saturday that made it, in the words of Washington coach Steve Sarkisian...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Washington State @ Washington, 3:30 p.m., FSN
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Among the many aspects of Saturday's 48-21 loss to Oregon State on Saturday that made it, in the words of Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, the most disappointing game of the season for the Huskies, was the lack of decent kickoff returns.
Despite having a season-high nine kickoff return attempts — in itself, indicative of how the day went — the Huskies never broke one for longer than 21 yards, averaging 15.3 yards.
That dropped UW to last in the Pac-10 at 18.3 yards per attempt.
"We've got to find a way to get the returns," Sarkisian said at his weekly news conference Monday. "You get that many kickoff returns, sooner or later you're supposed to hit something by executing, and we're not."
It's not for lack of experimentation by the coaches. Six players have been tried as kickoff returners this season, UW having settled the past couple of games on receiver James Johnson and running back Chris Polk.
But the experimentation hasn't stopped. The Huskies also continue to try to find a lead blocker to pave the way for the deep men, and on Saturday went with starting middle linebacker Donald Butler.
"Donald has been fighting to get back there," Sarkisian said, adding that he envisions Butler again manning that spot when UW plays next on Nov. 28 against Washington State in the Apple Cup.
Butler said the birth of his return duties came one day when he talked with special-teams coach Johnny Nansen and returned a kick in practice.
"I returned it about 50, 60 yards; ever since then I've kind of been in consideration for that spot," said Butler, who scored 38 touchdowns as a running back his last two years in high school. "I like it. The reason why I'm back here is because some of the other guys weren't blocking and we need somebody back there to block for our returners. So I said, 'Coach, put me in there and I'll do it.' "
Butler said he got a couple of "knockdowns" against Oregon State and hopes to serve in the same role the next two weeks.
Kicking woes, continued
It was a tough day all around for special teams Saturday. Will Mahan had a 7-yard punt in the first quarter that led to an OSU field goal. And kicker Erik Folk, who averaged just 47.5 yards on his four kickoffs, had one short attempt returned 84 yards to the UW 1-yard line by James Rodgers to start the second half, setting up a Beavers touchdown.
"We didn't kick the ball very well, whether it was on kickoffs or punts," Sarkisian said. "For what reason, I don't know. We've been pretty solid in that area all year. It's been a situation where I love what Mahan's done for us, what Erik Folk's done for us. But we didn't strike the ball well, and in turn, it caused us to not cover as good as we would've liked."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com
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