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October 3, 2011 at 2:35 PM

Sark bites — Bye week edition

Today’s UW press conference was a little different — due to the bye week only UW coach Steve Sarkisian spoke.

But the coach talked for roughly 30 minutes on a number of topics, including goals for the bye week, the season to date and Saturday’s win over Utah.

Here’s some of what he said:

Opening statement: “Well it’s good to have the bye obviously this week. We are a pretty beat up football team right now – pretty sore. Been some physical ballgames here the last three weeks for us. The bye is coming at a great time. Feels good to be 4-1. Feels good to be 2-0 in the North. Really again proud of our guys and the way they responded and performed Saturday night in Salt Lake City – that is a good football team. Couldn’t be more proud of where we are at, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to improve, and can’t improve. This bye week will serve as great purpose for No. 1, to get healthy for injured guys, and No. 2 to focus on some of the nuances of the game that we need to improve upon, as well as focus on our young players on our team that we needed to develop – not just the guys that are playing for us now, but the guys that are redshirting that we need to develop, the technique, the fundamentals, the scheme within our team so they can help us throughout the season in preparing for opponents, as well as helping themselves prepare for spring football and into next year. It comes at a good time, and hopefully we can improve this week.”

On the defense getting on a roll: “Well it is big. They have been obviously a highly, much-criticized group here the first few weeks of the season, so I was proud of them that they were able to respond and play the way they played. Again, we don’t win that football games without our defense. In my opinion, they won the football game for us, and really helped the offense get right, because we had to get right offensively there. I thought the drive at the end of the first half was good for the offense to set the tone for the second half. None of that happens unless we play the defense that we were playing. Our guys really, really responded defensively. I think we played a lot of players, and a lot of guys got quality reps that they hadn’t been getting earlier in the year, and I think that helped, and paid dividends in the second half. We were fresh. Hopefully we can continue down that road.”

On issuing a challenge to the team and getting a response: “They listen; they are not just hearing, they are listening, and understanding the message. I think it’s also a tribute to our assistant coaches in relaying that message. It is not just me standing up in front of the team on a Monday or a Tuesday, but the message is getting reiterated over and over and over throughout the week, and into Friday night. Our guys respond. And I have been saying this since day one, this team – the guys we inherited, and the kids we’ve brought in – they are very willing to do anything we’ve asked, whether it’s on the field, off the field, in the classroom, in the community, they have really responded and have been willing to do whatever we have asked them to do without questions. And in turn, they respond to those challenges. There is going to be more of them to come, as we well know. There is a tough road ahead of us. So there are going to be more challenges posed to them that hopefully they can respond to as well.”

On Keith Price practicing during the bye week: “He will be limited quite a bit, especially today. Traditionally for me, the bye week the quarterback is pretty limited, pretty well shut down regardless of the fact of what his health is. It is just a chance to relax for a quarterback. Playing that position in our system, and in these ballgames can be stressful mentally as well as physically. I like to shut them down. Jake (Locker), where he was last year (UW’s bye came after the Nebraska game last season), wanted to get back out there because he wasn’t coming off a great game. He wanted to just keep playing. Keith will get shut down, and it will be a good opportunity to get Nick (Montana) some real quality reps this week, as well as Derrick Brown and Thomas Vincent. For all the right reasons, Keith will be pretty limited this week.”

On maintenance work during the bye week: “Something we are going to focus on, not just this week but as we move even into next week, we have to get our pad level down. We are still too high for me, for what I wanted – and that is on both sides of the line of scrimmage. I know we can be better. So it will be a focus for us. That doesn’t mean we are going to do just a bunch of banging and all of that, but there are some things there technically and fundamentally where we can get our pad level down, and be even better at the point of attack than we were Saturday night, and I thought we were pretty good Saturday night. That was the best we have been. But I think we can be better, so that will be one of the key focal points for us.”

On if he thought about playing Nick Montana in the fourth quarter: “I did. I did. You know, we got the possession with 7 1/2 minutes left and we’d been making a point and one of the challenges we talked about was finishing the game on offense. Our inability to do that a few ballgames this year could have potentially cost us the game. So it’s been a big point of emphasis for us. So I wanted to keep Keith in the game for that reason, to keep that mindset that we need to finish games. When we have a chance to put a team away and really chew up the clock, put points on the board and end a ball game, that’s why I left him in the game. And all was great. The drive was going exactly like we wanted it to. And we take, really, a dumb penalty, an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty that pushes us back and then the game basically ends right there as an offensive football team. It did come to mind. But Nick is getting plenty of good reps in practice. And he will get his opportunity in a game. We are going to need him before the season is done.”

On Price’s ankle: “It’s OK. It’s sore. This week is going to be great for him.”
On if a part of him would want to keep rolling with the team playing well: “I don’t know. Again, we’re pretty beat up. It may not have showed that totally on Saturday, but we are pretty banged up. I think on a lot of fronts this will be good for us. I think this will be refeshing for our staff, to get a good self-evaluation, looking at our cut-ups and our schemes and what is really looking good. And what we think is looking good, and then you look at the numbers and it’s not performing as well as we would have liked. So there’s a lot of good things that we can get out of this week. Health is one. Self-scouting is another. Then, the third, again, I know I touched on this but we’ve got a handful of guys on this team that, you know, they are redshirting and they are grinding away and they are preparing our opponents’ scout-team looks. There’s something to be said about coaching those guys for a week and re-energizing them and getting them feeling like they are getting coached and noticed and all those things. So on a lot fronts it’s great because it’s going to be a grind here. After this we’ve got seven straight and they are going to be physical ball games and we will have to keep grindin.”
On if Taz Stevenson and James Sample can redshirt: “Well, they’ve already played. There is no redshirt available there, unfortunately. They’ve played. So the challenge is, again, for this week is to try to get them healthy. And I think James is closer than Taz on that front. And this will be a great week for a James Sample, to go back to training-camp type stuff and teaching him technique and fundamentals and alignments that it takes to play. So he will be one of the key folks this week in coaching him and getting him right.”

On Jamaal Kearse and the competition at that spot when John Timu returns: “It’s great. It’s a great problem to have. I thought Jamaal did his job, did a nice job. Now obviously scoring a touchdown was a pretty big deal on the first play of the game, but did his job, did a nice job. He’s pretty athletic in the pass game, he can cover ground. So when we get Timu back, it’s good. Again, another position with depth, and you’ve gotta have it in this conference. If you don’t, you’re in trouble. And you need to have depth, especially up front on defense…and that will be provided when Johnny comes back.”

On what Kearse has been doing that he wasn’t doing midway through fall camp: “Linebacker, you’ve gotta be tough. That’s one of the pre-requisites of the course. To play linebacker, you’ve got to be willing to put your face on people and be willing to take on linemen and fullbacks and tight ends. I don’t know if we saw that early on from Jamaal. Again, this is a new position to him. We’re talking about a kid in high school that was playing receiver and safety. He gets here, and for the first year of this trying to find his way through, and I think he just started to figure it out and what it meant and how to play physical and still use his athleticism, and he’s been doing that. He’s done a nice job, and I think he’s only going to get better. His future is very, very bright at that position.”

On Jonathan Amosa: “He’s doing a nice job. He’s not crushing people; he’s not killing people – but that’s not what we’re asking him to do. We want him to fit people up, we need him to be good in protection, we need him to be able to take on linebackers in the hole – and he’s done that. Very blue-collar approach kid, very serious…I think he brings a very serious approach to the huddle that I think Chris (Polk) appreciates when they are in their together. He knows Amosa is going to put it out there for him, give him the best chance to open up a hole. He’s been great. We haven’t thrown him the ball a bunch, but when we have he catches it.”

On Garret Gilliland: “Garret is actually a big-play guy. My perception of him has changed. I thought he would be more of a consistent guy, but I was off now that he’s been playing more. He’s a big-play guy that maybe needs to find more consistency. He’s not right as much as I thought he would be when he played, but he also provides a lot of big plays for us. Everybody’s got work to do in their own areas, and for Garret it’s finding consistency. Because when he really consistent and doing things right, he can be even a better player. But he does provide the big-play ability.”

On if there’s a battle between Gilliland and Princeton Fuimaono at weakside linebacker: “They already are. They are already playing a bit, and Princeton’s getting a lot of the nickel looks and Garret is getting a lot of the base looks. Again, it minimizes some of their total reps in the game, but I think it keeps them hungry, keeps them fresh, and keeps them playing hard.”

On the most surprising thing about the first five games: “Surprised? I don’t know if surprised is the best word I want to use, but I’ll answer. I’m really impressed with our special teams. I know we’ve had some moments when we’ve interfered with some kicks and we dropped a kickoff; those things are going to happen. But I think overall, the thing that maybe I’ve been most impressed with, after what Keith has done, is just the overall play of our special teams. I’m proud of that because it’s been an emphasis. It’s been an emphasis since last season, then after the season, and into spring ball. It carried right over into fall camp. I think our kids have really bought into it. They enjoy special teams. We’ve got enough depth to be successful on special teams. I think we’re really reaping the benefits of that. We’re playing well, we’re kicking the ball well, we’re covering like crazy, our kickoff return team is one of the top, if not the top, in our conference. I feel like, ‘man,’ how you should feel, ‘this one might go the distance.’ That’s how you should feel when a team’s kicking off to you. So all in all, that’s been the biggest area that has had a real impact on this football team and is one of the big reasons we’re 4-1.”

On how he felt coming out of the Utah game: “One of our themes for that game was: ‘send a message.’ It wasn’t as much about Utah as it was, just in general, about who we are. Every game we’ve come out of, we knew we were better than the way we played. So let’s get to the point where we can play at the level that we’re really capable of as a team. And if we do that, it’ll send a great message, just to the college football world about what the University of Washington football is all about, and the way we play. And I thought we were able to do that.”

On how the players are feeling heading into the bye: “I think they feel good. They should feel good. Not that we’re going to act as if we just won the conference championship, but we should feel good. After five games, they’re 4-1, they’ve played good teams, they’ve found a way to win close ball games, we’ve improved. I don’t want to knock them back down and say they’re not good, because I think they are. I’ve been proud of them to get to the point we’re at, and I want to make sure they enjoy that. And when it’s time, we’ll get back, and we’ll get right, and we’ll lock in and focus on Colorado. But for right now, this week is really about us, about getting healthy, about getting our young players better, and then come next week we’ll get ready to go.”

On if there’s anyone who won’t practice: “There will be no one that’s just completely just out of practice, but there will be some guys that all they do is our individual work and then they’ll be shut down.”

On Greg Ducre’s progress: “If you don’t know, Greg, in high school, was really a safety, an outside linebacker/safety type. He hadn’t really truly played corner, bump-and-run and off and all those things. And so two years into this, or a year-and-a-half into this now, we’re really starting to see his comfort level rise up. He feels good being out there. Again, what a tremendous play he makes on the interception there in the third quarter. A big play in the game, really, when you think about it. We’d just scored 10 points in a row there, and the first play coming out of the series to give us good field position. So I just think it’s his comfort level. And it’s his ability to really take to coaching. I think Demetrice Martin has really done a nice job of teaching him the fundamentals and the techniques needed, and Greg has bought into those and is doing a nice job.”

On if Ducre has won that spot from Quinton Richardson (the questioner asking if he had Wally Pipped Richardson: “I don’t know if Wally Pipp’s the right guy to use, but I do know that he’s making it difficult to put Quinton back out on the field every down. Quinton’s getting reps, and he was out there at nickel with us and got a couple series at corner. Ultimately, we’re going to do what we’ve always said: we’re going to put the guys on the field that give us the best chance to be successful, and right now Greg is proving to do that when we’re in our base defense.”

On what Ducere has done to stand out: “We always knew he was talented. We always knew he had the speed and the length and the athleticism to do it. It’s just the comfort level. You’ve got to go stand out there on that island and look across at a guy who might be as fast as you and might be four inches taller and can jump, and to feel confident, and to get beat and to get back on the horse and go play the next snap. I think that’s what maybe took time. It wasn’t about his athleticism; it was about the mentality of playing the position of cornerback and understanding the thick skin and the ability to bounce back after getting beat after a pass interference – because that stuff’s going to happen; that’s football. We still have 70 more snaps in a ball game that we need to play, and I think he’s understanding that now.”

On deciding to defer the coin toss working out well against and getting the ball to end first half and begin the second: “That’s kind of the plan. That’s the blueprint for it when you look at how you want to manage a ball game. In a perfect world, I would wish we would’ve ended the game on offense as well. You end up with one more series than your opponent does, and that should be, in a tight game, that’s how you win. You get the extended series in a ball game. It’s why we wanted to make sure at the end of the first half we didn’t give Utah the ball back. Then you start the second half and, bang, there’s 10 points and you haven’t touched the ball. And then, y’know, hopefully we’ll figure out how not to give them the ball at the end of the game either.”

On the importance of being ranked: “It can be a nice motivator at times, and at some point it matters, as you start moving later into the season. Obviously, 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the Pac-12 isn’t good enough to be in the top 25. So we’ve got to get better.”

On if word is getting out about the Huskies: “I don’t know. I don’t know. We can’t be concerned about what everybody else thinks about us. I just have to make sure that our mentality is right and what we believe in ourselves. And that’s more important than what our opponents think of us. If they want to respect us, great – it’s going to be a great game. If they don’t respect us, hopefully we can take advantage of that lack of respect and play even better.”

On Kasen Williams’ ankle: “Y’know, he rolled it, but nothing serious. All the X-rays came back negative, so it’s just going to be a matter of where his pain threshold is and what he looks like today out on the field.”

On Justin Glenn and what they do when Nate Fellner returns to full health: “I think in looking at it I wish quite honestly we would have played Nate in that game Saturday. I thought that we got sloppy in that ball game and part of that was from fatigue. I think it was Sean (Parker) and Justin. So getting Nate back in the rotation and having those three guys really rolling through there will only help us not only for the long haul of the season but within ball games so that we are fresh and playing clear-minded football and feeling like I have to save myself for later in the game because I’m going to go play 85 straight snaps. To minimize those snaps for those three guys I think we will benefit from.”

On how Glenn has played: “Really well. Been proud of him and a heck of a play he makes late in the game is on the deep ball they hit down our sideline. The receiver just gets his knee down but the strip that he gets to rip the ball out even though the receiver gets his knee down is a tremendous play, so he’s playing at a high level, he really is.”

On why Semisi Tokolahi and Alameda Ta’amu play so well together: “Well, they are big physical guys. You are talking about well over 600 pounds in there, well over 650 pounds stopping the run. So that part of it and then I think that connected with Everrette (Thompson) at end, those are three long, big, physical guys defending the run for you so that was good. But again I thought it was good for Lawrence (Lagafuiana) getting in that ball game and doing what he did. Sione got some opportunities and I think his level of play is starting to get better and we are going to need him to play at a higher level. And when we get Danny (Shelton) back healthy — we held him out, his foot just didn’t look great in pre-game warm-ups — we get him rolling in there too those are big, physical guys and what it does is it helps Alameda and takes some of the reps off of him, especially early in the game and allows him to perform well into the second half defending the run and doing the things he does well.”

Was Colorado when you thought you’d get Semisi back?: “That’s what I was hopeful for, if you would have asked me like you guys did in early August what’s the time line, I was hopeful coming out of the bye that Semisi could be an every down normal player for us and he’s getting close to that. I don’t know his exact number of snaps, I think it was about 30 or so in the ball game Saturday, that’s a good number for a defensive tackle that hasn’t played all season until this point so is he 100 percent? No but he’s getting better every day and just by playing and getting that experience is only going to help him as we move forward.”
On the offensive line playing better in the second half: “There’s something to be said about that. We were just a little bit screwed up offensively in the first half. They gave us a couple kind of funky looks up front that caused a little hesitation, not only for the O-line but for the quarterback, and probably for me calling plays, just trying to find the rhythm of attacking what they were doing to us. But real credit to Danny Cozzetto at halftime cleaning that stuff up and understanding not only what they were doing but how we were going to attack it and they played a really physical second half of the game in that ballgame.”

On how the team is different since the Eastern Washington game: “We are playing faster, we are playing more tenacious football in my opinion in all three phases. I felt like we were going through the motions against Eastern. I didn’t like the way it looked, tasted, smelled, none of it. I couldn’t stand it. But now when you watch us on film our team characterizes the things that I would want us to look like. We play hard, we play fast, we play physical. We may not always be right. We may not be perfect scheme-wise or athletically or fundamentally. But I do know we play hard. We are going to play hard from the opening snap like we saw Saturday on the opening kickoff — a great hit knocked the ball out and touchdown. And we are going to play to the last snap, and that’s why you saw so much effort out of us trying to keep Utah out of the end zone there at the end. There’s a lot of pride on this team and I think that comes from our coaching staff but also the leaders on our team. And I like our team because we have evolved that way. I don’t think we played that way in week one against Eastern. But now, you total up the offensive snaps, the defensive snaps and special teams, we play hard every snap. We don’t save ourselves.”

On why that is: “We have to coach to it I think, hopefully you’d like to think when you point things out and challenge the to different things, you have to coach it in practice and critique effort first around here and then worry about fundamentals and scheme second. But if you want that to be your style of play you have to coach to it and I think we have identified that and done that.”
On assessing Price through five weeks: “I think he’s playing great football. I was on the phone with a couple other coaches in the conference on some different issues, and I don’t think it’s just us seeing it. For this guy to have 17 touchdown passes in five ball games, completing 69 percent of his balls, competing through injury, the leadership he’s provided this team — I couldn’t have asked for more than what he’s given us through five weeks of the season. That being said, we’ve got to find that fine line between extending plays and extending plays too long. We saw another example of that late in the first quarter. We’re backed up. He’s scrambling around, and it’s not there. It’s that fine line of having that ability of throwing the ball away and not taking that sack-fumble. We could have easily turned that ball over there. And that was one of the keys coming in. We didn’t want to have a turnover backed up, giving Utah a short field. So that’s going to be his area, to find that area of, ‘Where can I play and play at a high level of extending these plays, and where is it too much? Where is it trying too hard?’ So that’s going to be his biggest challenge moving forward, as well as getting healthy.”

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