Obviously there was a little news out of Steve Sarkisian’s weekly press conference today as he announced that Jake Locker will not play Saturday at Oregon.
But that wasn’t all that Sarkisian discussed. He also talked about:
— the offensive line and re-inserting Cody Habben into the lineup at right tackle;
— that he thinks players are “pressing too much” and maybe trying too hard and that is helping lead to performances such as Saturdays;
— that he thinks he was still justified in some of the enthusiastic comments he made about the team in the pre-season;
— that there were no other new injuries.
Here’s the full version of what he had to say:
Opening Statement : “In review of the Stanford game, I think the game was really lost at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. We were dominated. They did what they needed to do to stop the run on defense and create a pass rush that caused us issues; offensively they were able to run the football at will. And that’s where the game started to lose. What carried over too was a lack of efficiency on third down for us – 2 for 11 – and their ability to get in third and shorts and convert to go 10 of 17. Which one, keeps their offense on the field, keeps us off the field where you have 38 minutes to 22 minutes in time of possession, and ultimately 73 plays for Stanford, to 42 for us. It felt a bit like a fighter who gets in the ring, and a fighter gets you on the ropes in the corner, and you just can’t get off the ropes. We could ‘t get out of the corner to change the momentum of the fight.
“How and why that happened, I think, in some degree we’re really pressing as a football team. It’s not about want to; we want to do well. Our kids want to do well. But I think at times we get a little too tense and guys don’t perform to the best of their abilities. And at other times we’ve got guys that are pressing and trying too hard, and instead of just doing their job they are trying to do everybody’s job and inevitably you get beat that way. So those are the things we have to get fixed, and we have to get fixed quickly, and will be our focus as we move toward Oregon.
“And as we’re moving toward Oregon, some things and some thoughts on that game; first and foremost, Jake will not be playing this week at Oregon for that ballgame, due to an injury to his ribs that has continued to escalate from week to week to week that went from a cartilage injury to a hairline fracture to now a real crack in his rib that occurred initially in the Oregon State game. The initial results from an x-ray coming out of that Oregon State game showed no break. As we continued to go and move and consult our medical staff, we did conduct an MRI as the weeks went on, and it did reveal a hairline fracture. But under the guidance of our medical staff, and dealing with Jake and dealing with Jake’s parents, the decision was made to allow him to play. Jake, as you know, is a very courageous young man, wants to play and wants to be with his teammates. The staff agreed that it was ok for him to play, and we made that decision – a decision that really is made routinely from week to week to week, not just with our quarterback, but with every player on our football team; whether he’s an offensive lineman, a defensive lineman, a receiver, a DB or whatever that may be.
“In this case, the staff has made the recommendation to hold him out to get him healthy, and we’re going along with the recommendation. The goal is to have him back, healthy, for our final three ball games as we go toward the home stretch there toward UCLA, Cal and Washington State. That being said, it’s a great opportunity for Keith Price. Making his first career start, obviously on the road in an environment like Autzen is a challenging one, but one I’ve been in before with Mark Sanchez making his first career road start in Autzen Stadium in a tough ball game. It’s going to be exciting to watch Keith Price play; he’s made great strides in development under Doug Nussmeier. He’s got a real confidence about himself right now, and I think we all saw that in some of the moments that he’s been in, especially at USC in a critical juncture of that ball game, stepping up and throwing a touchdown pass. It’ll be a great challenge for him, and a great challenge for us.
“We’re going up against the No. 1 team in the country; a team I voted as the No. 1 team in the country in my vote. They are a tremendous football team – our fourth-straight ranked opponent and sixth of the year. I’ve got a great deal of respect for what they do and how they do it; coach (Chip) Kelly has done a fantastic job of taking that program to another level, and they are rolling right now. To me, they are reminiscent of… in 2005 and when we were at USC and you have Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush and LenDale White, Dwayne Jarrett and all that stuff is just going and it’s hard to stop. And that’s where they are at. For now, I would not be surprised if they end up playing for a national championship, the way they are going.
“But for us, it’s a unique opportunity where we can’t get stuck dwelling on what’s occurred here the last couple weeks and focus on the task at hand. We’ll prepare mentally, we’ll prepare physically for this challenge and we’ll embrace the opportunity. We’ll embrace an opportunity to play a fantastic opponent, on the road in their house. It should make for a week of excitement, especially with the quarterback situation, and one we’ll embrace.”
On Nick Montana being No. 2: “Yes, yes, We’ll get Nick prepared to play. In a perfect world, we don’t want to play him. We’d prefer to red-shirt him. We’ll have Cody Bruns and Jesse Callier ready in emergency quarterback situation, but if it is something that’s potentially a long-term issue – we’re not foreseeing that – but Nick will be ready.”
On the hits Locker took against Stanford: “Yes, took a couple pretty good shots as you guys probably saw that kind of escalated this thing to a whole another level for us. It’s unfortunate. I know Jake wants to be out there in the worst way, but this is the right thing to do.”
On breaking the news to Locker: “He was pretty shook up about it. As you guys know, Jake is a courageous guy, a competitive guy, extremely loyal. The thing that bothers him the most is that he feels like maybe he’s letting his teammates down, and his team, they don’t feel that way at all about it. They understand that, ‘Man, this is the right thing to do for him, this is the right thing to do for us as we continue to move forward.’ Hopefully we’ll get him back here in a few weeks for the UCLA game.”
On the chances of Locker not being back in time for the UCLA game: “We have to continue to monitor that of how he’s healing, and what the medical staff is saying.”
Progress of Jake’s injury: “(Cartilege), yes, yep. We did an MRI, I don’t know the exact date of that, but we did do an MRI, and that is when the hairline fracture was there. But he was still cleared to play. And then with the hit this week, it took it to another level.”
Just one rib hurt?: “Yes, just one.”
On whether the decision was made due to the bye week: “Regardless of whether it was a bye, regardless of the opponent, this is what the decision is.”
On how he was cleared with a hairline fracture: “There’s a level of ‘if it’s pain, or if it’s a true injury.’ It’s routine decisions like this get made at all positions … Kevin Smith is playing with a pin in his thumb, and things like that get made. Other guys get held out for certain injuries. This has escalated to an injury, more than just pain, so we’re dealing with as such.”
On thoughts on Locker not making excuses Saturday: “He’s an absolute stud, and he’s going to come and sit in front of you guys today. That is what makes him so special. It’s not about always the completions, or the touchdowns or the interceptions – it’s about the heart. He embodies a huge heart. I think that is why I love coaching him, and I think that’s why his teammates love playing with him.”
On what the decision was based on: “This decision is based purely on the advice from our medical staff.”
On Keith Price’s first start coming at Autzen: “As we’ve always said nothing is easy, this is hard. It’s going to be hard, a great challenge. But one of the unique qualities Keith has is he is a very positive young man. He’s always bright eyed and got a great smile on his face. He doesn’t tend to get rattled by things. I think that type of an approach is one that you really need going into Autzen Stadium. If you’re a guy that gets overly concerned and distracted by things that can happen in there, especially against a very good team. Keith is more of the approach of let’s go play and if something bad happens, it happens — Give me the ball again coach I want to shoot another jumper.”
On if there’s any rhyme or reason to struggles defending the zone read: “Football is not always about butting heads with the guy over you, you’ve got to be able to play in space and your ability to change directions, be explosive in space has been a challenge of ours now for a year and a half. We try our best to get us in positions so we can keep guys corralled and have two-on-one type matchups where we can gang tackle. But ultimately these really good teams with really speed backs and speedy quarterbacks can create a lot of pressure on you when they get on the edge. So we will continue to find schemes that will get more numbers around the football when the ball is either given or taken by the quarterback.”
On if he sees teams trying to emulate the Oregon offense: “I don’t know. I think football goes in trends and whether it was the run and shoot or the wish bone or now the zone read spread or now it’s the zone read spread with the no-huddle, up-tempo approach I think that the game kind of flows in a way that sure, people want to try to do what the teams that are playing really well do. How long that lasts, I don’t know — will it stand the test of time and last forever, I’m not sure. But I’m sure that people are going to try to emulate what Oregon is doing offensively which you probably should if you are averaging 58 points a game.”
On Mason Foster having to make a lot of tackles maybe not being a good thing: “Probably, realistically you never like to have one guy with 18 tackles. Although I think the world of Mason. It’s unfortunate we are not playing better around Mason because he is a fantastic football player and deserving of any accolades he gets at the end of the year. He’s a fantastic football player and another guy with a huge heart.”
On Price and the playbook this week: “Something that has come out of this over the last month is that he has been practicing so much and he’s been running a lot of these plays in practice. Obviously we are not going to go into this ball game on the road with our entire playbook. It will be a game plan that suits his talents with something we feel like we can attack Oregon’s schemes with and ultimately give us the best opportunity for success.”
On when Jake got hurt: “I’m not sure and he’s not really exactly sure either.”
On whether players have lost confidence: “Uh, sure. Anytime you lose a couple of ballgames in a row especially the way we lost the last game you wonder, Doubt can creep in. That’s the challenge, to eliminate that doubt and regain that confidence by Saturday as the weeks move on. I think that as I’ve touched on before, change is inevitably and the changes in our thoughts and our feelings and emotions, it’s inevitable so we are continually striving for change in the good and not change in the bad. So I think our confidence has changed some and it’s slumped some and there is some wonder and doubt in some guys’ minds but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring that back up. That’s part of the business that we are in.”
On whether there will be any special meetings this week: “There are always some special meetings and I think that sometimes you try to get a pulse of the entire football team. 105, 115 guys, and that might give you one pulse but there are another 5-10 that might have a different emotion. There might be a guy that you go win a big ball game and didn’t play as much as he might like, he’s not as happy as the guy that scored the winning touchdown. You are always having those special meetings, but ultimately the overall mood of the team is what we’ve got to focus on first and then focus on the individuals.”
On Locker’s rib injury putting his struggles into perspective: “I think you respect the guy for wanting to be out there and being part of it. But also the fact that it’s hard to play your absolute best when you are not 100 percent. Generally, at this point in the season, nobody’s 100 percent. Everybody’s got something that’s bothering him. But hopefully we can get him back close to 100 percent if not 100 percent for the final three (games).”
On how Montana feels about being No. 2: “Oh, I think he’s excited. Nick’s kind of a happy-go-lucky kid. That’s what makes him unique that way. I think in Nick’s eyes it’s ‘Man, is it a competition this week to see who’s starting?’ (chuckles), more so than ‘I might be a play away.’ We’ll get him ready. He’s a bright kid. He’ll work at it. But right now the ball’s in Keith’s hands.”
On personal feelings that this happened during Locker’s senior year: “Um… I think it makes me want to continue to work, to strive, to battle and to compete to put him in situations to be successful — like with any of our players. Obviously, when we get him back, it’s going to be a real goal of mine to ensure he plays at a high level and that the guys around him perform at a high level.”
On if he said Locker didn’t have a fractured rib earlier for competitive reasons: “Well, there are some things that are competitively in there. When the other team knows you’ve got an injury, they are going to attack it. So we’ve got to be tactically smart in the way we address things in dealing with injuries, especially a guy who is handling the ball so much.”
On if he wasn’t telling the truth when he said Locker didn’t have a broken rib last Monday: “He didn’t have a broken rib last Monday.”
On Habben’s return to right tackle: “Starting two true freshmen next to each other was hard. We tried it. It was hard. I thought Cody when he went back into the game showed, man, he’s still a fifth-year senior. He’s got a lot of playing time under his belt. You will see Erik Kohler, he will still play some. I just think it’s the right thing to do.”
On why change right tackle instead of guard: “Yeah, at the right tackle spot we’re just trying to find some consistency there of guys playing the same position and not bouncing around.”
On why the line has struggled this year: “I think that’s two fold. One is, there’s something there when you are moving guys around and you’ve got guys who are injured and then they come back and you are trying to find the right mix. But I think, two, I feel like we’re just playing up front not to our capabilities, and part of that is, I think there’s some pressure there really to perform — ‘I’m protecting Jake Locker and I got to do it, I got to do it’ and sometimes you can paralyze yourself in a sense and you are not playing relaxed, free football to your capabilities. So we’ll try to get that back out of them this week and work towards that as we continue to go into this fourth quarter of the season.”
On any other injuries: “No, we came out pretty clean. We’ll assess Will Shamburger, see where he is at this week, we’ll continue to assess Johri (Fogerson), we’ll continue to assess Cameron Elisara.”
On why James Johnson didn’t play against Stanford: “Just the way the rotation is right now.”
On Cort Dennison’s triceps injury: “I think he’ll be ok, but again we’ll assess.”
On if there is something to learn from the way the team bounced back from the Nebraska game: “I don’t know it’s a whole lot different other than you’re starting a new quarterback. We’re obviously going on the road into a hostile environment, but I think we’ve got a pretty mentally tough football team. they’re still a resilient group, although we didn’t bounce back the way we would have liked last week, I still think this is a team that is tough minded, resilient and we’ll bounce back. It’s a great challenge, trust me, believe me, they understand that, but we’re going to go give it our best shot, that’s for sure.”
On what the last 24 hours have been like: “I think the process has been for the last 24 hours, one, not been a lot of sleep. There is a lot of thoughts and trying to take you through the steps of what and why this may have occurred and I think ultimately what I’ve come to is that we’re pressing. We want to win, and these kids want to play well, they prepare extremely well, but we’re pressing. We’re trying so hard that maybe we’re not allowing the game to come to us. And sometimes you can try too hard to try and make every play and get yourself out of place and when you’ve missed your opportunities for plays, or you put so much pressure on yourself that you don’t play well because you’ve inhibited yourself from the movements and relaxations of playing the way your capable of playing. that will be the real focus as we move through the week and come closer to game day.”
On whether the coaches may also be trying to hard: “Potentially, yeah, they coached their butts off. they work at this thing they want to see their kids do well and maybe we’ve got to relax a little too and smile. It’s OK to smile. Even though we lost the game, the sun still came up the next day. We’ve got to be able to relax and the kids will feed off us, that’s for sure.”
On what the assessment showed about schemes: “We’ve got to continue to take advantage of our matchups. Right now when we’re at our best is when we’re outside, with our skill guys and getting the ball on the perimeter and taking advantage of that matchup. That doesn’t mean we won’t attack you internally and we won’t run the football inside, but when we’re at our best the ball is getting outside and the guys are making plays.”
More on guys needing to play with less fear: “We’ll try to address it head on and assess it the way we need to in talking to the guys and understanding that they’re at their best when they’re relaxed and playing at their best and not concerned of what might occur if I get beat right here. I know that Cody Habben’s played good football for us before. I know Senio Kelemete’s played good football for us before. Ryan Tolar, Drew Schaefer. I know it because I’ve seen it before. It’s a matter of a fact of getting them back to that level of play.”
On if Oregon is at the level of the USC offense in 2005: “The only time I’ve seen anything close to this or reminiscent of this is 2005 as we touched on. That was a pretty explosive offense with (Matt) Leinart and (Reggie) Bush and LenDale White. Dwayne Jarrett. Steve Smith. They really had it rolling. Oregon’s doing it right now. And they’re doing it in a real style and fashion that’s fitting their game. It’s such uptempo. They have the playmaking ability from the quarterback, the running back. They do a nice job and they’re efficient in the passing game. They’re throwing the ball downfield more so than I remember them throwing it in the last few years. They’ve kind of got it all going right now and it feels good to them. You can see their confidence. There are no bad plays because they believe in everything, it’s going to work. Whether it’s a screen, a run, a pass down the field. They’re really believing in what’s happening.”
On if he wishes he hadn’t said before the year that UW would win every home game and compete for the Pac-10 title:“No. I believe that if we could have performed the way that we were capable of that we could be there. To think to the fact that we’ve beaten a 6-2 Syracuse team that’s potentially a ranked team. We beat USC on the road. We beat a very good Oregon State team that just got down scoring 35-7 against Cal. Potentially, we’re there. I love Husky Stadium. I believe in playing at Husky Stadium. I believe in our fans. I thought we had a chance to be that. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have said it.”
On if there was an area he was off on in evaluating the team in the pre-season: “I thought we would have handled ourselves a little better upfront on both sides of the ball. We just haven’t been able to do it. The games in which we’ve struggled, we’ve struggled upfront. It’ll be obviously a point of emphasis as we move into the fourth quarter of this season and it will be a big point of emphasis when we get to the offseason. But for right now we still have a lot of football left to play.”
On how to practice for Oregon’s tempo: “You have to try to practice at their tempo. That’s the only way you can do it. We’ll do some unique things this week to try to generate that tempo.”