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November 21, 2011 at 6:01 PM

Notes from Sarkisian’s radio show and practice

There wasn’t a whole lot good to talk about as Steve Sarkisian held his regular weekly Monday night radio show, and much of it revolved — as might be expected — around the defense.

And one question from a caller elicited what was basically a state-of-the-union address on the defense.

Essentially, Sarkisian was asked what’s gone wrong with the defense and how to fix it. Here’s what he said:

“Over the last two years we’ve lost four really good NFL-caliber type players off our defense who were really playmakers for our defense, and I’m talking about Daniel Te’o-Neshiem, Donald Butler, Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa, and you could really throw Nate Williams into that mix at times, as well.

“And those guys as they moved on in their career, especially into their junior and senior years, became really playmaking players for us. All of which were excellent pass rushers and that was where we got a lot of our pass rush from. Mason was a tremendous turnover guy, causing fumbles and interceptions, and Donald Butler and some of the things he did.

“And in turn those same spots right now we are playing with some young talented guys who just aren’t there yet. I think in two or three years they will be there, but it’s a transformation of a program, and when you take over and there’s a little bit of a gap in a recruiting class the first year you are there and now you are playing a true freshman and a true sophomore at outside linebacker, two of the most critical positions on the football field right now, that’s an issue. It’s an issue at defensive end when you are playing two redshirt freshmen at defensive end, and now we are starting a true freshman at defensive tackle, and so there are things there that can take place that those things start to add up a little bit.

“And I don’t think it’s from lack of trying. I think those kids are busting their tail and coach (Nick) Holt and our defensive staff are trying to figure out everything in their power to put them in position to be successful and competitive and all of that. But at some point, somewhere in there, the really good defenses of the world, those playmakers step up and make plays. The best ones I’ve been around that’s the way it’s been and I’ve seen when we are at our best those playmakers are making their plays. Some of our best defensive games this year, most notably the Utah game, those were those kids’ best game of the year. So they are fighting the fight and they will get better and I’m not as concerned about that, we’re getting better.

“I just don’t want us to get desperate and try to go on to some new, brand new defensive scheme that we don’t know as well. We have the answers in place right now, we’ve just got to continue to coach it so that our kids are in a great position to be successful.”

— He was also asked about the long pass out of the end zone in the fourth quarter and said: “I would feel your frustration, we all understand and feel your frustration with the pass rush. If there is one single issue with the game that harbors with me it’s our inability to get to the quarterback who wasn’t the most mobile guy. … we couldn’t get there. We tried with a variety of ways and when you start getting that way you can start to get a little bit desperate that now putting guys in one-on-one situation and when they have good receivers in one-one-one matchups and not getting to the quarterback it’s a recipe for disaster. We are trying to work at it and dig at it because it’s been a bone of contention here for a while now. No better way to stop a passing attack than the get to the quarterback.”

— Asked about the cornerbacks playing soft in coverage, he said: “I think we all would like our corners to play tighter, as tight as we can play, and that really to me, when a corner can do that, it comes down to confidence, and you gain confidence when you make plays. And unfortunately I don’t think our corners have made enough plays on the ball to develop that confidence to stay right up in a receiver’s face, especially really good ones. So that’s going to be the challenge for us, not just the end of this season but as we move forward.” He added that it’s easier to play press coverage when a team has a good pass rush, and that UW is obviously struggling in that area, as well. “The challenge is if you’re not getting to the quarterback the corners start to lose the confidence that I can hang with this guy that long, so the two go hand in hand. … that’s part of the defensive battles that we go through to try to get better.”

— Asked if the defense has tried changing things up, he said: “I think we have quite honestly. We’ve probably adapted more this year than we have in the past. We’ve really tried to give our guys the best chance to line up and play as fast as they can. … the reality of it is the offenses in our conference right now you’d better have variety in your defense because if not you are going to get killed. … the fine line is where is it too much and where is it too little to allow your team to have success and have your players play fast, confident and free.”

— Asked the most frustrating thing about the defense, he said: “If there’s one number that is the most frustrating to me it is our opponents third-down conversion rate. We’ve traditonally been a good third-down defense and an excellent red zone defense, but our opponents are converting 50 percent of third downs so we are not getting off the field,. … those take a toll on you because you want to get your offense back out on the field and that’s a momentum thing. …”

— Another another point, he said it’s a reality that the stats of today are different than in past generations of football. “I don’t know if anybody is playing great defense. … I think the day and age of football right now, and take out maybe LSU and Alabama, the days of scoring 10 points a game and holding teams to 250 yards a game, I think those days are over, quite honesty … there’s too much offense to think you are going to hold a team to 200 yards and sack the quarterback six times week in and week out. … ”

— He also said that there are some true freshmen who maybe could have helped UW’s defense this year that they decided to redshirt, saying “we made it a real point to make some tough decisions to redshirt some kids.” He mentioned safety Travis Feeney, cornerback Marcus Peters, defensive end Jarett Finau and safety Evan Zeger — “just to name a few,” he said — as guys that they redshirted “for the betterment of our football program it was the right decision to redshirt those kids because we’ll be better for it not just next year but the next four years to come.”
— Also, when asked if the game was the most disappointing of his time at UW, he said: “I don’t know if I can say one is more disappointing than the others. They all hurt. The effort that goes into winning a football game is the same for all of them so they all hurt.”

— He said he thought Nick Montana “performed admirably” and that “we had a plan going in that we were going to emphasize Chris Polk and running the football and that minimized some of our snaps and we had some things called down the field that didn’t work out.”

— He pointed again to “a handful of plays” that might have made the difference, including the drop by Austin Seferian-Jenkins and the pass to Kasen Williams and said “those two kids that those plays didn’t happen for are going to make a lot of plays here the next three years for the purple and gold so I’m not going to worry about that.” He added that “there were a handful of plays that really could have changed the complexion of the game and it just didn’t happen for us.” He said in baseball terms it’s as if “we’re hitting the ball hard we’re just hitting it right at people right now.”

— On the interception on the ball to Kasen Williams: He said the pass would have been completed if it were thrown just a couple of inches closer to Williams and that “I think he will make that nine out of 10 times the rest of his career. …. We just haven’t been able to capitalize on those things, not just last week but the last few weeks.”

— In fact, he said he used a baseball analogy with the team in the meeting today, talking about the slow start this year of Albert Pujols and how he stuck with his plan and ended up having his usual good year. “I just wanted to make sure with our team that we don’t lose belief in what we are doing and who we are and how we prepare. We shouldn’t lose confidence because we are a pretty good team.”

— He said he thought the team’s attitude was good today saying “they showed up and practiced their tails off and showed me we have great senior leadership and they are ready to show up and show again this is the class that has turned Husky football around.”

— He said he didn’t think the team needed a stern talking to this week saying “that was last week, I thought we needed to (do that). To me, if anything the USC game was the letdown game. I didn’t think we played hard enough (against USC). This week, that wasn’t what it was about. … we played extremely hard we just didn’t get the plays we needed to make and we didn’t call the right plays we needed to call, either.”

— He added that: “I thought we had a great team meeting today and really practiced well this afternoon. Think they understand if we finish this regular season 7-5 that’s three-year improvement from 5-7, to 6-6 to 7-5 and a pretty good bowl game, so there’s a lot to play for.”

— He said he had no second thoughts over the way he used Keith Price, repeating what he’d said at the press conference earlier that the medical staff had advised he be used only in spot duty. He said of when he used Price that “the timing was right, we had our chance, he had a spark, we scored, we had a chance.”

— As far as practice (which was no pads and inside), LT Senio Kelemete was absent for personal reasons but expected back soon. With Kelemete out, and Colin Tanigawa now done for the year with a knee injury, Micah Hatchie and Nick Wood worked on the left side of the line along with the other three usual OL starters. No other real significant personnel news. Adam Long was doing a lot of sprinting on the side and appears to be making progress in recovery from his knee injury. Price, as expected, ran the No. 1 offense and Montana the No. 2.



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