UW’s Steve Sarkisian on his weekly Tuesday conference call with media members who cover the Pac-12:
(any interest in the other Pac-12-Big Ten matchups this week?) It’s hard to say, especially this early in the week as we are now. We’re focused on what we need to get done in our ballgame. I’ll probably have a chance — we have a pretty long flight to Chicago to kind of look at some of the matchup. But I’ll be quite honest, I’m not really sure who’s playing who right now.
(as for your own scheduling, do you wish this Pac-12 alliance with the Big Ten had continued?) I do like this type of game, but every year we always try to go play a really good football game and play against good opponents from good conferences. I don’t know if I necessarily would like to be stuck just playing the Big Ten year in and year out. We had the opportunity to play the SEC for a couple years there when we played LSU; we had a chance to play Notre Dame; we obviously had a chance to play Boise, we’ll do that again. We did play Nebraska when they were in the Big 12. I know we’re set up to play Wisconsin a few years out from now. So I’m not as concerned about it for us because I know we’re going to play a tough opponent every year from a major conference, so sometimes I feel like I don’t want to be pigeonholed just to have to play a team from the Big Ten. Not that they aren’t good football teams — they are — but sometimes you might want to play a team from the SEC or the ACC or the Big 12.
(do you have any diagnosis for your team’s struggles on the road in the past? Has it possibly gotten into their heads a little bit?) I don’t think so. I think as much or more than anything, our football team has really matured over the last few years. This is as mature as we’ve been since I’ve been here, and I can say that (because) 1, of the way we played; and 2, just the way we respond to the daily challenges and the things that are important to us as a staff and the way they respond and apply them. I really think we’re going to go out and play great Saturday. They’ve been focused. This group understands it’s not about where we’re going or what the field is or what the uniforms (are) or what the weather is — it’s about our ability to perform and execute and do things right and play the way we’re capable of playing. That’s what I’m anticipating seeing on Saturday.
(do you feel there was value in the timing of your bye week?) I think it was great for us, quite honestly. It gave us an opportunity 1, to asses the ballgame and to see the things we did well but also see the things we definitely need to improve up. … And also still have two weeks to prepare for a very good Illinois team. I’m used to this format. This is something we used to do back when I was at ‘SC with Pete (Carroll). It was relatively common that we’d play an early big ballgame like that and have an early bye and then assess, OK we played seven true freshmen in the first game here, how are we going to involve them even more so they get something out of this year? Whether it’s on special teams or offense or defense. So I think there’s a lot of value in doing it this way.
(impressions of Illinois? Seems like they’re tougher than people thought in the preseason?) They’re a very dynamic offensive football team. Nathan Scheelhaase, the quarterback, is throwing it all over the field to a variety of receivers. I think they have six players that have explosive plays of 30 yards or more on the season, and I think four or five of those have 50-yard plays. Scheelhaase is completing 74 percent of his passes right now. They’re really efficient and aggressive on the defensive side of the ball. We also know they’re going to be fired up to play at Soldier Field; it’s their homecoming, all those things. We’ll get their best effort and we know it’s going to be a great game.
(on new Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit and preparing for his offense) We had all offseason to look at coach Cubit and what he’s done. He’s a dynamic offensive mind (with) the things he’s done in his past. They run a lot of different football plays; it’s not just one play, it’s not just one scheme. They’ve got a variety of schemes and a bunch of different personnel groupings and formations. I really think that going up against (Cubit) and the quarterback, we’re going to have to be disciplined; we’re going to have to be assignment sound in the back end. We know we’re going to throw the football. We have to try to find a way to affect the quarterback, whether it’s via pass rush or disguising our coverages. Because when he gets comfortable, they’re really hard to stop. So that’s going to be one of the key emphasizes for us.