What Steve Sarkisian termed today the most disappointing ballgame of the season didn’t dampen his willingness to talk to the media Monday. The coach spoke for almost a half-hour on a variety of topics.
Here are some of the unfiltered highlights:
OPENING STATEMENT: “(The bye week) is a good opportunity to evaluate our film from Saturday. It was probably our most disappointing ballgame of the year in all three phases. I’m going to touch on all three here. Offensively, we came out timid, did not play fast, did not play physical, in turn ran into a defense that was not hesitant, to say the least, that was playing fast, physical football, and I think we all saw the discrepancy there, especially early in the game, where we were getting knocked back. In turn, I think it created more hesitation on our end, where we started to take penalties that we hadn’t been taking all year. We dug ourselves a huge hole. Defensively, our kids played pretty hard, especially early on. They got put in some really difficult situations from a field-position standpoint, but played pretty hard and had opportunities there to create turnovers. There were four fumbles by Oregon State. We were unable to capitalize on them when the ball was on the ground, to maybe swing the momentum. It wasn’t able to happen. And we just wore out. We missed some tackles there that could’ve negated the big plays, most notably the big run by (Jacquizz) Rodgers, the 42-yarder there. We had him dead in his tracks in the backfield for about a 5-yard loss. In turn, he gets a big gain. And then on special teams, we didn’t kick the ball very well, whether it was on kickoffs or punt. For what reason, I don’t know. We’ve been pretty solid in that area all year. It’s been a situation where I love what Mahan’s done for us, what Erik Folk’s done for us. But we didn’t strike the ball well, and in turn, it caused us to not cover as good as we would’ve liked. And we’ve got to find a way to get the returns. It’s just not … You get that many kickoff returns, sooner or later you’re supposed to hit something by executing, and we’re not. It’s disappointing, from the head coach standpoint, that we didn’t look like a team that was prepared to play – mentally or physically. We got knocked off the football. It looked and appeared that Oregon State was playing harder than us, which, in my opinion, they were. So we have to address that. That’s not acceptable and that’s not OK. As I touched on Saturday, the beauty of it is, I know what we’re capable of because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it, and I know it, and I’ve seen it in other games on both sides of the ball and on special teams. We didn’t perform to those capabilities on Saturday. We’ll strive and we’ll fight and scratch and claw to get back to that point. And we’ve got two games left to do that.
ANY HINTS OF THAT PERFORMANCE IN PRACTICE LAST WEEK?: “No. That’s the hard part is for us. I thought we practiced really well. I thought we were really locked in to the game plan and what we wanted to do. If you were in our locker room before the game, you wouldn’t have thought they would have come out and played that way. I thought they were into it, they were excited. But it goes to show you that it’s not always what’s on the exterior of what your team looks like. You’ve got to find a way to get inside of them to see what they’re really feeling.”
DID THE FIRST COUPLE RUSHING PLAYS THAT WENT NOWHERE SET A TONE FOR WHAT HAPPENED?: “Oh, yeah, I was concerned right off the bat. Their defensive line made a statement. In the first three plays of the game, they made a statement. They were going to be a hard-charging group that we needed to do some things to try to slow that rush down. And that was the attempt at the start of the second series, just to spread them out. We went to a four-wide set. And, shoot, the ‘backer makes a great play and gets the interception. No doubt, I thought it was an issue. We tried to kind of slow that issue down by working some draw stuff and different things out of the shotgun. And we just weren’t able to function. We couldn’t get out of our own way. When it was second-and-15s and third-and-15s and third-and-longs, it’s hard. It’s hard for everybody involved in it: it’s hard on the quarterback, it’s hard on the offensive line, when it gets to that point. There’s nothing fun about it.”
ON LOOKING AT ARIZONA AND STANFORD AS MODELS OF PROGRAMS THAT HAVE GOTTEN BETTER THE LAST FEW YEARS: “It has, but there is not magic formula that says that is what the timetable is supposed to be. If you go back eight years, it just took USC one year to do it. After starting out 1-2 that year, they finished the year 10-2 and Orange Bowl champs and the things they were able to accomplish. Dennis Erickson in his first year had a great run his first year at Arizona State. There is no scientific formula that says this is how long it takes. You just battle and you keep fighting and when all the stars align, good things happen.”
ON NATE FELLNER’S DIAGNOSIS: “Partially torn bicep. He’s having an MRI today to see the severity of it.”
ON THE PUNT RETURN INTERFERENCE PENALTY AGAINST OSU: “They thought we ran into their guy. I don’t know what else to do. You can’t review that play. I argued it to the best of my ability, but the call’s the call. I didn’t see the TV copy of it, so I’m not exactly sure if the ball hit their player or not, but I’m sure that our player didn’t run into their punt returner.”
ON WHETHER UW WILL START GAMEPLANNING FOR WSU THIS WEEK: “Sure, we’ll look at them and there will be some things well want to touch on and look at. But we won’t get into the actual game plan till next week.”
ON WISHING THERE WAS A GAME THIS WEEK: “Any time you get your butt kicked the way we did last week, you wish you could jump right back on the horse and play to be honest with you. I wish we were playing on Saturday. But we’ve got a bye and will take advantage of it and use it to our advantage the best we can.”
WILL DONALD BUTLER CONTINUE ON THE KICKOFF RETURN TEAM?: “We’ll see him back there. Donald has been fighting to get back there. Hes done some good things from a service standpoint to go against our kickoff coverage teams. He provides a physical presence. Hes a great lead blocker. It was an easy decision.”
ON HANDLING THE LOSSES THE LAST FEW WEEKS AND KEEPING BELIEF IN WHAT THE TEAM IS DOING NOW: “It’s difficult from the standpoint that we all have expectations of where we want to be. And what we think were capable of. And you strive to maximize those capabilities, but also that’s the beauty of this game. That’s the challenge as a coach and why we do what we do. Not that we always want to be in this situations. But we are in one, and how are we going to get out of it? What’s the best way of doing it? How can we tweak something? think ultimately when it all gets said and done and you sit back and look at it. You gotta keep doing what you believe in. As you continue to work, as you continue to get better, as belief continues to grow, good things start to occur. Belief starts to spread. You look at what Stanford’s doing, you look at what Arizona’s doing — two completely different programs — but programs that have grown. Now is not the time panic, now is not the time to dump what we’ve been doing, and we gotta put the spread in, or become a power I team, We have to do what we believe in, because they are proven systems and withstood the test of time. Yeah we have some growing pains, but we’ll fight through it. We’ll battle through it, there’s good times ahead of us.”
EVALUATING JAKE LOCKER’S SEASON TO DATE: “I think somewhat up and down. There has been some really bright moments, obviously some electrifying drives, some great throws but then there have been the learning moments where he would love to have a throw back, love to have a decision back. but that’s part of the process, that’s part of growing at the position and not just one individual player but part of growing as a football team, from the offensive line to the backs to the wideouts to ultimately find that consistency as a collective group helps the quarterback immensely, and we’re not there yet. We’re fighting and scratching and clawing for it ,and we’re not there yet as a group and in turn it shows up in Jake’s play. There are some inconsistencies there.”
HOW DID JAKE GRADE OUT SATURDAY? “He had his moments. there were some opportunities there early that may have spooked him from a footwork standpoint that might have got him out of rhythm. But I loved as always, the way Jake competed. He had a big, long run called back over a questionable holding call that could have gotten us going there again. I think the guy has battled, competed, done some things really, really well, and there are some things we’re finding out that if we don’t rep the way we want to rep and we get a different look in the game he’s not quite as comfortable as he could have been. And that’s not because the guy can’t handle the system or isn’t comfortable in the system, it’s just from lack of repetition of running plays and understanding a system or a scheme. and that’s the difference between a Mark Sanchez in his fourth year in a system making his first year of starting compared to a guy who is in his 10th month in a system, second year of starting really, in a new system. So the nuisances of it, the ok, this isn’t the exact coverage we wanted, where do I go. That decision making process and being able to do it quickly is really difficult.”
ON THE PROCESS OF LOCKER’S DECISION WHETHER TO GO TO THE NFL: “Well I think this with that decision and there is obviously going to be a lot more talk about that after our last two games are done but with every quarterback from a maturation standpoint you always benefit from coming back. and every NFL scout and executive will tell you the same thing. the challenge is the risk-reward you take and where all that fits is the challenge. Because a lot of times you think coming back you might be losing money in a sense but in a sense you might be making a lot of money, too. If you think about it, if you come back your senior year and you go from an end of the first round draft pick to a top 3 draft pick you make yourself $25, $30 million dollars. That’s really what you play for your senior year you made that money. there is a lot of things that go into it. We’ll assess it after the year and I think Jake is a bright young man who is patient. He’s got two tremendous parents that have raised him extremely well and we’ll get all the proper information in place and he’ll make a really good decision in what’s best for he and his family and not just the immediate but for his future as well.
ON WHAT HIS ROLE WILL BE IN THE PRCOESS: “Oh yeah. The fortunate thing for Jake is that I’ve been through this thing a few times and with quarterbacks, obviously starting with Carson (Palmer) going through to (Matt) Leinart and his decision, to Sanchez and being part of that, and also to some other position group guys that have been through that either deciding to stay or leave early. We’ve got the proper resources in place and we’ll put everything out there front so he can come to a really clear decision.”
ON WHETHER HE WILL ADVISE LOCKER ONE WAY OR THE OTHER: “I never, I’m not going to tell Jake and I didn’t tell Mark what he should or shouldn’t do. My job is to provide information so that he can make a very clear decision and ultimately the decision is going to be on the individual because he is the one that’s going to live the rest of his life. I’m not. Nor is Pete Carroll, nor is anybody else. It’s got to be Mark Sanchez’s and it’s got to from his heart so that he feels good about it so that when he gets to a point where adversity strikes in his life, because nobody’s life is perfect, he can fall back on ‘man I made a great decision that I believe in and good things are going to come.”
DO YOU THINK HE’S READY?: “Yeah, sure, he’s ready. Everybody is ready to some degree.”
ON WHETHER THEY’LL PUT MUCH STOCK IN THE MOCK DRAFTS: “I don’t know what Mel Kiper says, I don’t have time to read those guys. I don’t know what they are saying. At the end of the year, like I said, we will gather the best information we can we will get to the right executives in the NFL and trust their evaluation and go with the right information, and it’s no there is no knock on the Mel Kipers, the Todd McShays or anybody else who makes those predictions. But those guys haven’t drafted a lot of players. That’s the reality of it. They haven’t developed quarterbacks. They don’t have the specific needs. So I don’t know what those guys are looking for or not. We’ll just go with the information we think is pertinent to each situation, and when that times comes we will evaluate it and give it all to Jake so he can make a really clear decision.”
WILL THIS BYE WEEK BE ANY DIFFERENT THAN THE LAST ONE? “Very similar. We will emphasize the young guys again for three days, really try to continue to get them better, get them the work that they deserve and need. We’ll have an emphasis on a few special situations within the game for us, most notably the red zone on offense. We will spend some more time there, but then Thursday and Friday and into the weekend will be huge recruiting days for us again.”