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Originally published September 15, 2012 at 7:30 PM | Page modified September 16, 2012 at 1:14 PM

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No more time for Huskies to be sloppy

At the end of the first half, ahead of Portland State 45-0, Steve Sarkisian kept his players on the field, gathered them in a semicircle...

Seattle Times staff columnist

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At the end of the first half, ahead of Portland State 45-0, Steve Sarkisian kept his players on the field, gathered them in a semicircle in front of their bench. And, standing in the middle, the eye of his man-made hurricane, he lit into them.

In the final moments of that half, his team was flagged for two personal fouls, including fifth-year senior Justin Glenn's late hit out of bounds on the final play of the half.

Throwing his hat on the turf, Washington's head coach made it clear, in front of his team, the CenturyLink fans and the television cameras that he wasn't going to tolerate such undisciplined play.

He wouldn't accept late hits and false starts and all of the little things that still litter Washington's game.

"We had a pretty good heart-to-heart moment at the end of the first half," Sarkisian said after the 52-13 win Saturday. "We, me — really pride ourselves on not taunting our opponent, not hitting guys out of bounds. It's just not us.

"So I wanted to make sure that we don't accept that. There's a style and a fashion in which we play the game that is us. It was a point of emphasis this week and, obviously, it didn't completely hit home and so it will continue to be one throughout the bye week until we understand what it means to play smart football, executing at a high level, disciplined football."

Sarkisian could have waited until his team got into the locker room and chastised them behind closed doors. But he said he felt a sense of urgency. He needed to get his point across quickly, while his anger still was boiling.

"Hopefully, the point got made," he said.

This game was Washington's last laugh. Now the season truly begins. There is no time for sloppiness. No room for taunting. No place for undisciplined mistakes.

The conference season begins a week from Thursday when the Huskies begin a Murderer's Row of games against Stanford, at Oregon, USC and at Arizona.

Now it gets real, and despite this chuckle of a win Saturday, Washington doesn't look ready for this most dangerous stretch of games in Sarkisian's four seasons at Washington.

The offensive line is beaten up. Ben Riva is out with a broken forearm. Erik Kohler has reinjured his knee and guard Colin Tanigawa didn't play against Portland State, out with an apparent knee injury.

After season-ending injuries to Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper, the Huskies are down to one experienced running back, sophomore Bishop Sankey, who had his first 100-yard rushing day against Portland State but isn't ready to carry the ball 25 to 30 times a game against the teams that are lurking on the schedule.

Silken quarterback Keith Price, who threw for 181 yards and three touchdowns in a little more than two quarters on Saturday, has been trying to do too much to compensate for those offensive absentees. He hasn't been as efficient this season as he was last.

But beginning with Stanford on Sept. 27, he has to be better than he was last season. Price is comfortable in Sarkisian's system. After four years together, Price and Sarkisian practically can finish each other's sentences.

But early in this season, the play-calling, one of Sarkisian's strengths, has been as uninspired as it was in last year's opener against Eastern Washington. And Price has looked tentative.

No team in the country has it more difficult than Washington in the next month, and now, in this fourth season of the Sarkisian era, it's time for the Huskies to prove themselves, to play as if they believe they can compete against the elite teams. They have to play with more conviction, show that they are capable of upsetting a nationally ranked team.

Four years in, Washington still is getting run over by the national powers that be. The Huskies actually played better their first game against LSU, Sarkisian's debut, than they did in their 41-3 loss in Baton Rouge a week ago.

Is this a program taking another step forward, or is Washington still a year or two away?

How far has Washington progressed in Sarkisian's four seasons?

There no more laughers left on the schedule. The time for answers is fast approaching.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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