Huskies' 'next step' season suddenly at a crossroads
Three straight blowout losses have put serious doubt in the minds of Washington's fan base as coach Steve Sarkisian stresses belief as the remedy.
Seattle Times staff reporter
TUCSON, Ariz. — The scoreboard didn't lie, relaying a 52-17 Washington loss to Arizona that was reflective of the way the game had unfolded.
And afterward, as he stood just off the field where the carnage had occurred, Steve Sarkisian didn't try to skirt the glaringly evident truth — that this UW season is suddenly at a crossroads after three straight double-digit losses.
"I'm concerned," said Sarkisian after the Huskies fell to 3-4 on the season and 1-3 in Pac-12 play. "Any time you lose it's hard. Any time you've lost multiple games it's hard. I've always believed that as much as winning is contagious, unfortunately so is losing. When things can get hard, doubt creeps in."
So the task now, Sarkisian said, is as much mental as physical, attempting to buck up a group of players who've had little to feel good about since a 17-13 win over Stanford on Sept. 27 that suddenly looks more mirage than jumping-off point.
"We're going to have to do a great job, starting with the staff and the leaders of this team, of coming together and making sure our belief is right in one another," said Sarkisian, whose team hosts Oregon State Saturday at CenturyLink Field. "And then (belief in) the guys next to us, that we can do this.
"Schemes are schemes, and we have to get those fixed. But our psyche and our mentality and our approach to the game is critical."
The loss dropped Sarkisian's record at UW to 22-23, the first time he has had a losing record at Washington since early in the 2011 season. It also elicited what might have been the first widespread fan dissatisfaction regarding the direction of the program since Sarkisian took over in 2009. Sarkisian's contract, extended after the 2010 season, goes through the 2015 season and every assistant on the staff has a contract through at least 2013.
Arizona was as much as an eight-point favorite, so the fact that the Huskies lost wasn't necessarily a surprise. What was, however, was the way it happened, with an Arizona team in its first year of rebuilding under Rich Rodriguez scoring the first five times it had the ball and the UW offense failing to keep up against a Wildcat defense that came in ranked 110th in the nation.
"We obviously have to address some things defensively and our ability to stop the running game and then cover guys when we're in one-on-one settings when we dedicate ourselves to stopping the run," Sarkisian said.
Job one, though, may be reviving the game of quarterback Keith Price, who had another three turnovers, including a critical fumble when UW was down 31-17 early in the third quarter and the Huskies had their best chance to make it a game.
Sarkisian had a lengthy heart-to-heart talk on the sideline with Price late in the third quarter. He explained later that he was telling Price he needed to continue to have trust in the system.
"I just want him to believe me," Sarkisian said. "I want him to believe me. I want him to take the information and the things that I'm giving him and trust me that what I'm telling him is the truth, and believe in what I'm asking of him to do and go out and do his best to try and do that. And if it doesn't work, as I told him, I'll be the first one to say, 'Keith, I was wrong. I'm sorry. I should have done a better job for you.' But we can't get to that point if there's some doubt there. So that's what we we're talking about."
Said Price: "Obviously I trust my preparation, but there were a couple of times tonight where I didn't see the looks they were giving me. I'm at a loss for words, man. I agree with Sark. I definitely need to trust in him and the system and believe that the system is going to work for me. There were a couple of times I didn't truly believe.... There were a couple of times I got out of the pocket when I had time to deliver a ball. I just have to trust what I see and trust my preparation. I prepare so hard, it's just unfortunate."
And that turn of fortune has UW needing to win three of its last five games just to be bowl-eligible in a season that Sarkisian had given the theme of "Take the next step."
The job doesn't get any easier this week against an OSU team that is 6-0 and ranked No. 7.
Sarkisian, though, said he had faith Price and the team would be able to rally.
"I think some of this stuff — you have to fight your way through it," he said. "I think he'll do that. I know we need to do that as a team. We need to lock arms, we need to come together and count on one another and believe in one another and battle and fight through this."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.