Running game also a question mark as Huskies prepare to play at Notre Dame
The bumps in the road were an inevitable, if undesirable, part of the rebuilding process for Washington coach Steve Sarkisian.
“This is just another one of those things we have to learn from,” Sarkisian said Monday in reviewing Saturday’s 34-14 loss at Stanford. “Everything this year is a year of firsts and this is the first one of these where our will got challenged. And now we’ve got to respond.”
The initial step of that response was to endure what Sarkisian calls “Tell The Truth Mondays” — a frank rehash of the previous week’s game with his players.
Players at Monday’s news luncheon were prepared to hear some harder truths than any of the previous Mondays.
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“This loss hurts more than the LSU loss,” said safety Nate Williams. “The LSU loss we played our tails off, we gave it our 110 percent effort to the final whistle, and LSU felt us when they walked up that tunnel. This time, Stanford, personally, I can’t say the same thing. I just don’t think we had the same energy and intensity and Stanford came out and hit us in the throat first and we never really responded to that.”
So Monday was for trying to figure out why before moving on to the task of preparing for Saturday’s game at Notre Dame.
Sarkisian said again that he thought the effort and attitude was fine.
“We just didn’t do things right,” he said.
The two most worrisome problem areas for the Huskies going forward might be missed tackles on defense and blocking struggles on offense.
“It wasn’t that we weren’t emotionally ready, it wasn’t that we didn’t understand the game plan,” Sarkisian said. “This is a physical game. Ultimately, all the expertise that can go into it, all of the scientific stuff that goes into it — breakdowns, film study and everything that goes into it — the bottom line when a guy has the ball in his hands, and you’re there, we have to tackle him.”
Williams said he thought maybe some of the Huskies got too caught up in trying to levy highlight-worthy wallops on Stanford running back Toby Gerhart.
“Maybe in the open field we tried to make the big hit as opposed to just hitting him, wrapping him up, tripping him a little bit and letting the linebackers run to the play and help out, and letting other teammates run to the play and help out,” Williams said. “I think we tried to take the running back down with just one shot.”
The blocking issues are a little harder to decipher. UW is going primarily with a new zone blocking scheme this season that requires lots of teamwork, which could be an issue right now. The problems blocking have led to fewer rushing attempts the last few weeks — UW is ninth in the league in rushing offense at 108.2 yards per game.
“I think there is a little bit of lack of communication there that takes place,” Sarkisian said. “We need to assess from a coaching standpoint what we are doing and how we are doing it. Is it too much for these guys? We’ll assess that. But we are better than that and I know we are better than that and we just haven’t run the ball the last couple of weeks the way I know we are capable of, and that’s a huge part of our offense. I don’t want to become a one-dimensional offense.”
Some have wondered if the Huskies might improve their running game by letting Jake Locker run more — the QB has just 15 rushes in three games, not including sacks, about what he averaged per game his first two years.
But Sarkisian said the plan with Locker remains the same.
“I think we would be hitting the panic button today to say Jake needed to have 10 or 12 quarterback runs this week because we can’t run the ball, and then the next thing you know he gets nicked up and where are we,” Sarkisian said. “I think we’ve got a system in place, as we talked about, that has withstood the test of time.
“We have a great belief in our run game. Jake is going to get his opportunities to run the ball like he always has and will, but we are not going to hit the panic button and say ‘Here Jake, here’s the ball.’ I think that’s a big mistake to make.”
• Linebacker E.J. Savannah did not practice Monday as the team awaited results of an MRI on his foot. Savannah sat out the second half of the Stanford game with a plantar fasciitis injury. Cort Dennison took his place in the starting lineup in Monday’s practice.
• The Oct. 10 home game against Arizona will be a 7 p.m. kickoff and televised live on FSN.