As you might imagine, the last-minute events of the last-minute loss at Arizona State Saturday night were still fresh on everyone’s minds during Steve Sarkisian’s meeting with the media today.
To his credit, he didn’t back down on any question, nor try to evade or change the topic — much as he surely wanted to.
So here goes, Sarkisian Unplugged on that and other matters (and this isn’t a complete transcription but just trying to hit some of the highlights):
Opening thoughts: Well, 24-hour rule is still in effect. We’ve got to move forward. When you look back at that loss yesterday (Saturday), it’s obviously a tough one. It’s a tough one to swallow for a couple reasons, but just from a philosophical standpoint of why it’s hard is because the game didn’t end the way I think in our own minds everyone thought it could end. We all envisioned … how a game might go, as its moves forward into the first quarter, second quarter, third quarter – as bleak as it was in the third quarter, it’s 17-7. You can envision, ‘OK, if we lose, we might lose 27-14,’ and as we come back and get into the game, ‘OK, it’s 17-14, OK, we might win 21-17 and if it’s a tie game, it’s 17-all. Or if we win this thing, it’s one a last-second FG. If we lose it, more than likely it could be on a last-second FG by them, but more than likely, it’s going to be an overtime game.’ So we try and get ourselves prepared for what might occur, and that’s human nature. And then when the game ended the way it did, I think that’s why it’s so heartbreaking, that’s why it’s so hard to take, because we didn’t get ourselves prepared for that moment mentally – the same way it occurred a week ago versus Arizona. That’s why it felt so good, that’s why there was so much excitement, because no one could have envisioned that’s how we were going to win that ballgame. That’s why we get so excited. The natural thing what happened vs. Arizona … ‘OK, we scored, now we got to get a stop, get a punt, now we have to drive down last-second and throw a touchdown pass to win the game.’ It didn’t happen that way, it happened off an interception off the guy’s foot. There was exuberation all over the field, the stands and everybody is excited, no one could envision that. Just from a mentality-standpoint for our football team, that’s why our kids, us as coaches took it so hard immediately after the game. But when you go back and look at the film and watch how hard our kids played, we played extremely hard. They fought back through adversity. It was not a perfect game by any means. We missed tackles that I know we can make – that we’ve made in the past. There were some assignment errors that we haven’t had all season long that showed up. And there was a case, evaluating me as a coach, I thought I tried too hard at times – too hard to make the game go in our way, to get some momentum going our way instead of allowing the game to come to us, of us just playing well. There is always room for improvement. There is always room for areas for us to get better, which we will address this week. But it’s exciting to come home to Husky Stadium, to play in a big rivalry game with Oregon. I know our kids are excited. Our fans are excited. It should make for a great day Saturday afternoon.
What happened on the Chris McGaha touchdown? I thought a couple things happen. One, we played a defense that we’ve been playing all year that has been really successful for us. It was a 3-deep coverage. We dropped eight people into coverage. We played it well throughout the game, we played it well throughout the year. And the real thought behind it was with the time left on the clock, with them having one timeout, they were going to try and get themselves into field-goal range, so we wanted to try to eliminate any outcuts, or comeback routes, but also to deploy enough guys underneath so if they checked the ball down to the running back, we had people in place to tackle him so we didn’t give up a bunch of chunks of yards to where they got into FG range. From the design of the play, that is what it looked it they were trying to do – a comeback into the boundary on their sideline. It wasn’t there. (ASU QB Danny Sullivan) reset his feet. And he looked up and saw the wideout running down the middle of the field wide-open. To the quarterback’s credit, he made a heck of a play seeing the receiver and then making the throw for the touchdown. It’s unfortunate that way for our end, it’s not like we made up a new defense for that play. It wasn’t like we went into a prevent defense and we didn’t execute it. It was a defense we’d been calling throughout the year, and throughout the night that we’ve executed extremely well.
Should there have been another safety deep? No. Nate’s a middle-third player, in between the hashes and deep as the deepest.
What were the mistakes on the last play? A variety of things. We didn’t get the pass rush we needed to 1) allow the QB that much time to see the field that long. Any time you have to cover that long, it gets difficult. In Nate’s defense, he saw the quarterback’s vision and eyes so hard left that he felt like if he doesn’t throw that comeback, the first threat is going to be this crossing route, so let me go take it. That wasn’t the case. Again, to the quarterback’s credit, his ability to come off his primary read and find a guy that probably wasn’t even in his progression for a touchdown was a great play.
Were the players mentally prepared for the last play or were they thinking it was going to overtime? I think our guys went in with the mindset of: OK, don’t let them get into field-goal range because in your mind, that’s what you’re thinking in that scenario, with that much time, with one timeout, play for a field goal. And I think that’s what they were doing. The kid made a great play. I don’t think we were overlooking the drive, by any means. I don’t think we called a defense that was overlooking the drive. It was a good defensive call; it was a safe defensive call. If we would’ve blitzed them or something, and they blocked us, and then they beat us, then I’d feel worse about it. But we were in a good defensive call that didn’t work out.
What would you have done differently? There are different calls, depending on the offenses you’re playing. And I’m not going to get into the specifics of: ‘Man, I played Cover-2, Cover-4, Cover-3, Man-to-Man.’ I just know that we’re going to play, whenever those situations come, we’re going to be sound. We’re not going to sit down and make something up or try to do something different. We’re going to do things that we’ve done well for an extended period of time, and that’s what we tried to do as a defense. And it didn’t work out.
You said maybe you as a coach were trying too hard. Any examples? I think the interception Jake (Locker) had in the end zone. We tried a play the play before that got intercepted by (Vontaze) Burfict where they had a hands-to-the-face by the defensive lineman. We have been very aggressive in the red zone, and we will continue to be. But I felt at that time, when a quarterback throws an interception, you can take some of the burden off him and possibly run the ball there – whether it’s with Jake or with a running back – but take some of the burden off him and not try to force the issue. And as I go back and evaluate that instance, I probably tried too hard on that one, especially. And then late in the game, when you get into the moments of tie ball games, you want to end the game with the ball in your hands. Whether or not you win or you tie, we have the ball and you eliminate their opportunity to win the game. I think the classic example was the SC game, where we got the ball with four minutes left and we utilized the clock and we did a great job of not allowing them to get the ball back. Either way, if we would have scored, got the field goal, they weren’t getting the ball back. In this game, with a minute and change left on the clock, and we had three timeouts. Perfect world, you get the ball on the 20. He kicks it, guy makes a pretty good punt down to the 10, and we wanted to be relatively aggressive, but again, end the game with the ball in our hands. Doug Nussmeier reminded me of that just as we were going; that’s why we ran the two runs to start the series, which were relatively effective. Unfortunately, we didn’t execute the way I’m hoping we execute next time. And as the third one came, I really thought there was an opportunity to make a play to James Johnson, with the thought being, if we hit this play. We get the ball somewhere around midfield with three timeouts, possibly 15 to 20 seconds, depending on what happens, now we can try to get a shot at a field goal and the game ends one way or another that way. And as I go back and look at it now, the reality of it is I should’ve ran the ball on third down to get a first down then possibly take our shots to get downfield. I wish we could’ve gotten the first down on the second-down play; it would’ve made things a lot easier. But you learn from it. You go back to evaluate yourself as a football coach and as a team to say, man, stick to your guns, do what you believe in and get the first down so they don’t get the ball back.
Was the slant pass on the third down of the series before the tying FG a play you remembered in trying to set up the final third down pass to Johnson that went incomplete? That showed up a little bit more earlier in the game. And I felt like we finally got the right matchup where it was their right corner and the way the thing was set up wit the formation. So you go with an aggressive nature. And that’s who I am. I’m not going to change the way I think and the way I attack the football game seven games into a very young career here at the University of Washington. So we’re going to remain very aggressive. But we also will learn from the things we do and be smart with the things we do. But if we can make a play, we’re going to go make a play.
What happened on the sideline penalty? They thought we said something to their sideline judge when in reality something was said further out to the field, and the guy called the penalty.
Was it on Nick Holt? No, it was not on Nick Holt.
Paul Homer had his first carry of the game Saturday. Any plans to get him more involved? Our system isn’t one where the fullback carries the ball a whole bunch, but there is some versatility where you can utilize the fullback and we’re looking to do that.
Will Adam Long and Victor Aiyewa start again this week? We’ll evaluate that as the week goes on. our defensive backfield is definitely a work in progress and we’ve got a lot of guys that are getting some much needed game experience that we need to evaluate.
How you want your players to react instead of retaliating when games get chippy as they did Saturday? Well, appreciate the free 15 yards and then keep executing and then appreciate another free 15 yards and continue to execute. You think about a 15 yard penalty, that’s the equivalent to an in route or a post route or a big run. Those are big yards and then at the end of the game you picked up the stat sheet and we gave them 124 yards and that’s a lot of football yards in a tight ball game.
Any new injuries? Just the same coming out of the ball game, just the same stuff. We’re a little sore, nicked up which you are going to be coming out of a Pac-10 football game but come Saturday we’ll be fine. … Jake’s fine.
Elisara? His stinger and we are going to have to monitor his strength as we move forward throughout the week.
Can you talk about the new kickoff return lineup with Chris Polk and Johnson? We’re just finding out that when have only one returner people are going to be creative and not kick him the ball and I wouldn’t kick Chris Polk the ball either, he’s a dynamic football player. So now if we can get James and Chris back there together to pose a dual-headed monster hopefully it will continue to create some big plays for us.
Can you assess your running game? I feel like we can be better, I know we can be better. There is some unfortunate things to that that ‘man we are going up against really good defenses. ‘ I keep saying that, but ASU coming into the game, we all knew what their numbers were and it was hard to quite get a real good gauge because of some of their earlier opponents but their front seven is really good. Look at Lawrence Guy what he did inside, the nose tackle, the two ends, the linebackers — they played six linebackers against us that are really good that make it hard. They are a good defense and a good run defense for a reason. So it’s challenging and we are not going to give up on it. Going to continue to try to run the football because you reap the benefits of whether or not how hugely successful you are but when you are trying to establish the run you can create big plays with the play action pass which iss what we were able to do early in the game against Arizona State.
All for now.