To all those restless Husky fans, the ones seething over the latest lost opportunity in Pasadena, Steve Sarkisian has a message.
“For people to feel however they feel, I understand it,’’ he said. “But believe me, if they could jump inside me, and in my heart and in my head, nobody feels more frustrated and worse about it than me.’’
While the vultures circle, Sarkisian is doing what football coaches do: Preparing for the next game, which occurs Saturday against Oregon State in Corvallis. It’s the latest road test in this season of diminishing returns for the Huskies.
So far, Washington has flunked them all, by varying degrees. There was the agonizing last-minute defeat against Stanford, in which a potential game-winning drive was undone when a seeming reception by Kevin Smith was overturned by the replay official.
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There was the 53-24 blowout against Arizona State, an indefensible breakdown.
And then, last Friday, a devastating start — two turnovers on their first two possessions by the Huskies’ most reliable players, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Bishop Sankey — helped doom them to a 41-31 loss to UCLA.
Throw in the annual double-digit defeat to Oregon, and the result has been an underachieving season for a program that genuinely felt, without being at all delusional, that this was the year it would leap back to national prominence.
The Huskies did, for a while, reaching No. 15 in The Associated Press poll after a 4-0 start. But the narrow Stanford defeat has been followed by a series of disappointments, interrupted only by routs of the Pac-12 dregs, California and Colorado.
That has led to much saber-rattling in Husky Nation, which includes a vocal segment out for blood. The Huskies, who once aspired to the conference title and major bowls, now must come to terms with the fact that those prizes no longer await.
The new aspiration, which falls into the category of baby steps, is to win the final two regular-season games against Oregon State and Washington State, and catapult past the 7-6 rut of the past three seasons.
For that to happen, Sarkisian will have to finally discover the so-far elusive answer to his team’s road woes. They have one signature victory — over Lane Kiffin’s USC squad in 2010 — and a 7-20 road record.
“We’ve got to dig deep into our sports psychology to figure out why that’s occurring, and what’s going on, because we’re capable of much more than what we’ve put out there, especially on the road,’’ Sarkisian said.
However, those who want Sark’s scalp — and I’m hearing from them, believe me — need to take a deep breath and remember just how low this program had fallen under Tyrone Willingham.
That’s obviously not an excuse for a lifetime, but Sarkisian has transformed a winless laughing stock into a team that’s sprinkled with elite talent, respected throughout the conference, and headed to its fourth consecutive bowl. The Husky players have shown no sign of playing with anything but total effort.
The time is fast coming when that won’t be enough. The heat will only increase if they lose Saturday against a Beavers team “that’s hungry and upset because they’ve lost three heartbreakers in a row, too,’’ Sarkisian said.
The Huskies have had some bad luck, and each defeat has been to a nationally ranked opponent, but they also have created much of their own travails. The flags are maddening (the Huskies are the most penalized team in the nation), and they’ve had enough self-inflicted breakdowns to undermine their efforts.
“It’s been a variety of things,’’ Sarkisian said, “but when you play good teams and make mistakes, good teams capitalize on it. … We need to go out and play a good, clean football game, and when we do, we’re pretty good. That’s the goal for Saturday night.”
I believe Sarkisian has earned a longer rope, but the time has come to start reeling in that lifeline, as he’s well aware. Sarkisian began his Monday news conference by saying, “We’re tired of being close, I have to admit to you.”
Sarkisian added, “We went down to L.A. to win the game, and we didn’t. We’re upset about it, we’re frustrated. But we know what we’re capable of, and we know there’s plenty still for us to go out and accomplish.’’
It’s not necessary to jump inside Sarkisian’s heart and head to understand how vital it would be to make that happen.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.