Huskies should be beyond this kind of embarrassment
Coach Steve Sarkisian promised better than this. He told you to lift expectations, to dream big. He told you this team is far more advanced than his 2009 squad. The Huskies shouldn't lose to anyone, anywhere, by five touchdowns. Yet here they are, a blowout victim with a 1-2 record and a fresh heap of embarrassment to climb out from underneath.
Seattle Times staff columnist
It was early in the fourth quarter, and the purple-clad fans stomped away in droves, in disgust, and the 20,000 or so people dressed in red took over Husky Stadium with attempts at The Wave and "Go Big Red!" chants, and there was no stopping this bizarre, humiliating party, let alone the Nebraska offense.
The only drama left on the football field was whether the Cornhuskers would hang 60 points on Washington. They didn't. They stopped at a merciful 56.
Pretty safe to assume the Huskies didn't live up to their "Expect To Win" mantra Saturday.
During a preseason fan event last month, coach Steve Sarkisian overdosed on optimism and declared Washington wouldn't lose at home this season. And so, after a 56-21 defeat, his comments about Reggie Bush during an ABC/ESPN production meeting aren't the only words that haunt him now.
Sarkisian promised better than this. He told you to lift expectations, to dream big. He told you this team is far more advanced than his 2009 squad. The Huskies shouldn't lose to anyone, anywhere, by five touchdowns. Yet here they are, a blowout victim with a 1-2 record and a fresh heap of embarrassment to climb out from underneath.
Here they are, with tackling again an issue, with a fifth-year quarterback playing the worst game of his career and with a team that still gets shoved around by brute foes.
The Huskies are supposed to be a bowl team, and most likely, they will be by season's end. But as of mid-September, they are miles from that standard, and clearly, they don't measure up against the elite. Nebraska, the No. 8 team in the nation, revealed that much.
"It gives you a little bit of an idea of where you are at," Sarkisian said of this game. "But I also believe we are better than we played, too, you know. That one is hard for me to swallow, just to say that that team is much better than us. That one is hard for me to accept, but I guess I have to until we prove otherwise."
In his first 15 games as the Washington coach, Sarkisian has been best at minimizing disappointment over individual games, staving off crisis and keeping his team focused on its greater mission. But recovering from this level of buzz kill will be his toughest challenge to date. Fortunately, the Huskies have a bye week and nine games in a seemingly wide-open Pac-10 conference ahead of them.
Still, they wanted to get more out of this game. They thought it was a chance to announce they're a national factor again. Instead, they're left to address some major problems.
Let's start with the defense. The Cornhuskers gained 383 of their 533 yards on the ground. Three Nebraska players rushed for more than 100 yards. Freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez accounted for 287 total yards and four touchdowns. The Huskies' defense gave up three plays of 55 or more yards.
The Cornhusker offense exposed the Huskies' lack of girth, outside of 330-pound tackle Alameda Ta'amu, on the defensive line. Then Nebraska used its speed and athleticism to humble the rest of the Washington defense.
"We did not tackle very well, as you saw, and that disappoints me," defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. "I'm disappointed I didn't get the guys ready to play, especially the inside guys. I'll take the hit for this one."
Holt's words are admirable, and, yes, he could've done more. But flawless coaching won't fix all of the Huskies' problems. They still have legitimate talent issues.
But you knew that. What you didn't expect is that the offense would be in such disarray. The preseason expectation was that the Huskies would ride that unit to a solid season, but through the first three games, the offense has been a concern. The Heisman Trophy campaign for quarterback Jake Locker is officially over. Locker endured the worst performance of his college career against Nebraska — 4-for-20 passing, 71 yards, two interceptions. He hadn't thrown for fewer than 153 yards since Sarkisian became the coach.
Locker looked harried and uncertain, the offensive line didn't protect well against perhaps the nation's best defensive front, and the wide receivers couldn't get open enough against a Nebraska secondary that's even better than its front four. The Huskies ran the ball with success at times, but not consistently, and in the third quarter, they were forced to abandon the run because they were trailing by too much.
"I know we can throw the football better than that," Sarkisian said. "I know we can protect the quarterback better than that."
Throw in some bad kick coverage on special teams, and the Huskies were a mess in all three phases of the game. So far this season, you've learned that Washington is a good big-play, opportunistic football team. But it doesn't do the little things well enough to beat quality opponents.
"And the little things add up to 80-yard plays," linebacker Mason Foster said.
Sarkisian refused to call the performance a step back for the program. But it's obvious that, at least right now, his team isn't as good as you hoped it would be.
So long, preseason hype.
The Huskies have shown they don't deserve it. Not yet.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer
About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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