Highlights from Steve Sarkisian‘s weekly Monday press conference today:
(opening statement) Just to recap the Illinois game, I was proud of our guys that we were able to go on the road against a good football team and find a way to pull out the victory. I thought there were some real positives in there. Obviously, I thought our offensive line had one of their better performances that I can remember in quite some time. Bishop Sankey was tremendous. You go back and watch some of the runs he had, and then his ability to have an affect in the passing game — and not just catching the ball but in protection I thought he was tremendous as well. …
I thought Josh Shirley had an impact rushing the passer, I thought a lot of guys made it uncomfortable for (Illinois’ quarterback who) coming into the game was completing 75 percent of his passes for 400-something yards game and to hold him to 9 of 25 for 150 yards and (72) of those came on one play we all wish we could have back. So I thought that was a real positive. The beauty of it is coming out of it there’s plenty to work on — that’s the great part about being in a season and having a team and learning to get better and progress from week in and week out, myself included. Obviously, the red-zone efficiency is not where we want to be and need to be, so we’ll continue to work on that. Some of the penalty issues that I think we can really clean up this week, which we started on today. And then minimizing the big play. We did such a good job in the Boise game of facing 88 plays and only giving up two ‘explosive’ plays; contrastly, this week against Illinois we only faced I think 62 plays, but they had 10 explosive plays in the game. So our ability to keep the ball in front of us and make teams work to drive it down the field will be important, but all it all it was a solid performance for our team but still with plenty of areas for improvement.
(more on red-zone offense) We had four trips this game in the red zone and we scored two touchdowns and settled for two field goals. The first trip down … the three (pass) plays we called were really trying to go to our primary red-zone targets. I give credit to Illinois — they did a good job trying to defend our red-zone targets. It’s pretty safe to say Kasen (Williams) and Austin (Seferian-Jenkins) are good red-zone weapons for us and (Illinois) did a good job of pushing coverage their way and forcing the ball to go to different places. … I’m not hitting the panic button about us in the red zone. I think we have plenty of good weapons. I think we have good schemes. It’s just finding the right rhythm of the game of when we’re calling what we’re calling and making sure the timing is there. … We need to work through it and it will be a point of emphasis for us this week in practice.
(on Jesse Callier‘s touchdown run) It was awesome. I was really happy for Jesse. I had a chance to reflect about it on the flight home. You think about a guy going into last season as our starting tailback. The first drive of the season against San Diego State, in the red zone, he’s about to score a touchdown, makes a cut and tears his ACL. It’s a year later, he finds his way back. He gets thrown into the action probably a little bit more than he was anticipating. Two huge plays. The touchdown run he has on third-and-7, we don’t block the defensive end. (Callier) absolutely makes the defensive end miss, then he makes the safety miss about at about 7 yards and then he make the second safety miss inside the 10. It was just a tremendous individual effort by Jesse. And then the screen play is probably the other most critical play in the game to get us into field-goal range on the other third-and-long (in the fourth quarter). That stuff is easy to see. What not a lot of people see is what he does for us on special teams — he’s just got a great energy about himself. I’m happy for Jesse.
(On Dwayne Washington’s two fumbles and the backup tailback roles) It’s great competition. Dwayne Washington’s going to be fine. I remember sitting in front of you guys after a Nebraska game a few years ago when Bishop dropped a kickoff and put the ball on the 1-yard line. The sky wasn’t falling on Bishop either then. He was going to be fine. We have a lot of confidence in our young players … and we’ll continually build up Dwayne. He’s going to be a good football player for us. It was unfortunate. They were two very close, bang-bang plays. I almost still think his knee was down on the first one, but hey, you know … and the second one he really got bent back pretty well on his right knee and I think he got a little bit scared, like probably we all would, and just kind of panicked and let go of the ball. So he’ll be OK. I just felt like at that junction of the game, I didn’t think it would be fair to put him back in there to carry the ball, and that’s why Jesse got more of those carries and why Bishop got more of those carries. That was probably — 35 carries is not the number we want for Bishop Sankey every week. That’s too many carries for him over the longevity of the season. So we’ll continue to spread those things out, and hopefully we can continue to bring Deontae Cooper along as well.
(on Sankey’s patience as a runner) He’s got a great feel, he really does. He works at it. I thought one drive (to open the third quarter), we ran the same play I think it was seven times in a row out of the same formation. And the ball hit in different spots every time and I think that’s a sign of a good runner, of understanding the run and the blocking schemes and then being patient and then accelerating through the holes when they’re there. And then he’s got a unique feel for — he doesn’t take too many head-on-type hits. He’s kind of slippery and slides and ducks and get under tacklers. … I’m not surprised by what he’s doing right now.
(do you think defenses still underestimate Sankey?) I hope they do. I love it. … I think we’ve got a good scheme going right now where we can force the ball on the perimeter with some of our speed guys that makes (opponents) deploy defenders to stretch all 53 and a third yards of the field, and in turn it can create some running lanes for Bishop up inside.
(on being 53-point favorites vs. Idaho State and how much better UW can be this week) I think a lot (better), quite honestly. There’s things we have to work on and get better at. The one thing about this game, as with every game … is it’s about the process and embracing the process. It’s not about who the opponent is on Saturday, it’s not about where we’re playing the game or what uniforms we’re wearing or what the weather’s supposed to be or what the surface of the field is — it’s about the process of preparation and our ability to focus, to have great practices every single day, to compete with one another on a daily basis so that when Saturday rolls around we’re so prepared and we have such confidence and believe in what we’re doing and we know how hard the practices were that the opponent, not to say they’re irrelevant, but they shouldn’t be the external motivating factor of, ‘Are we going to play well or not?’ So there’s plenty of stuff I want us to get better at.
(on Seferian-Jenkins’ first game of the season) It was like a first game back. … Some really good things in the running game for Austin. A little bit of fatigue; he did play 80 snaps in the game, which is a lot at that tempo, so we’ll have to monitor that a little better next time out. A little sloppy. He had one false start where he got out just a milli-second before the snap. Had a holding penalty that was a legitimate one; had another holding penalty that I really didn’t agree with. SO it was kind of like everyone’s first game. He’s expecting to play better Saturday and we’re expecting him to play better Saturday.
(on dispute with Northwestern in reported agreement to use one of its practice fields in Evanston, Ill., on Friday. Late in the week, Northwestern changed its mind, and the Huskies ended up doing their walk-through at a park in Chicago instead.) It’s an unfortunate situation. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of love lost right now between the Big Ten and Pac-12 right now, quite honestly, especially after the Arizona State-Wisconsin game. So it is what it is. (Northwestern coach) Pat Fitzgerald and I exchanged some comments, and we’re fine. I don’t know where it’s going to go from a conference level. It was unfortunate. (But) in the end, for me, I think it was a positive. It just kept lending to, there’s no distractions for us on this team. If we have to walk through the streets of Chicago to a park in downtown Chicago with a lightpole in the middle of the field to practice, we’ll do it. And our guys didn’t skip a beat. … It actually worked out really well for us. It’s not a big deal for us anymore. We’ve moved on.