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Highlights from Steve Sarkisian‘s Monday press conference:
(opening thoughts after Saturday’s loss to Oregon) Thought our kids played really hard. I thought we fought, I thought we fought against a really good football team. Unfortunately, there was a little bit of lack of execution on our part and not great coaching on our part. It wasn’t our best game. And to beat that football team, you need to play one of your better games. When they win the turnover margin two to nothin’, and when you have four opportunities to score touchdowns, and you have two turnovers on their side of the ball, when you get the ball late in the first half there on the plus-49-yard line and come away with no points and then have a first-and-goal at the 5 and only come away with three points, I think those are pretty big defining moments in a ballgame against a good team. To beat a team of that caliber, you need to take advantage of those opportunities, and we just didn’t do it.
But it doesn’t take away from our fight. I thought our kids fought extremely hard. I thought they played a physical game. But (the Ducks) were the better team that night, they won that night, so onward and upward. I really believe that this is — for us, every game is the biggest game of the year. This Saturday is the biggest game for us, going to Arizona State. They’ve got an excellent football team, they’re very well coached on both sides of the ball and it’s going to take a great week of preparation from us and a good, well-played ballgame to go in there and get a victory.
(As far as the coaching, anything you would’ve done different vs. Oregon) I go in after every game and when I evaluate the film I evaluate all three phases. I evaluate the players. I evaluate the schemes and I evaluate the play-calls. I’m obviously the offensive play-caller, and there’s always four or five play calls, ‘Man, I wish I could have that one back.’ So there were a handful of those I think could’ve helped us. Obviously the first-and-goal on the 5, we liked the call. I didn’t think the play would ever turn out the way it did with a sack of minu-9 yards. But that’s what happened, so I have to live with that call. The third-and-8 with the interception by Keith; we were really in four-down territory, meaning we were going to go for it on fourth down regardless. So that probably wasn’t the best play call, to take that shot to Jaydon (Mickens) right there down the field. Maybe try something more intermediate to give us a shot to go for it on a fourth-and-short-type situation.
(on first-down plays vs. Oregon) I thought more important than anything else, our passing game really lacked explosive plays. It didn’t help air out the running game. We’ve been really explosive as a football team coming into the game and to come out of that game with only four explosive passing plays and four explosive running plays, for a total of eight, just isn’t up to par with where we’ve been. … First-down productivity is big for us in the way we operate, and it just wasn’t there where it’s normally been for us.
(on Oregon’s explosive plays) We can play better. We can play better. We lost contain a couple times, which I think we can contain the quarterback better than we did. I thought our eye discipline in the secondary was not as good as it’s been. I thought we got caught looking in the backfield at Mariota and at times we had guys running by us a getting open that we’re more accustomed to covering. But it’s also a credit to them and their execution. (Mariota) made a couple throws right on time with anticipation that guys — a couple times guys were covered, double covered and he fit it in there. So I think it was a combination of a couple things.
(worked about a “hangover effect” with two straight losses?) I don’t know if worried is the right word, but I’m aware of the potential. My assessment to the team today was, We’re at halftime. We’re in the locker room and we’re a 4-2 football team; I think we’re 20th in the country, and we’ve played a good first half of football against some really good teams. But, just as we’ve been all season long, we’re an excellent second-half football team. And we’re going to go out in the second half and play a great half of the season. And it starts Saturday against Arizona State. We’re going to prepare really well. We’re going to come out of the blocks playing fast, physical football the way we’re capable of playing, and I think the guys understand that. I think the sky’s the limit for this football team as we continue to move forward. But it’s going to take a great week of preparation.
(special teams changes) I thought Travis (Coons) kicked the ball off relatively well, especially into the wind there in the third quarter. I thought he was effective. We moved a couple people around on kickoff coverage and we’ll continue to do that to try put our best players in positions to try be successful. I thought John Ross being back on kickoffs, I thought he showed a couple flashes there of what the future can hold — and we want the future to be this Saturday. … All in all, we’re still a work in progress in that phase of the game.
(“biggest game” vs. ASU because it’s this week or because it really is “biggest game” of the season) I think a little bit of both. It’s a fair question. I think, 1, it’s the next one. We put so much emphasis on that game that week. But, also, I really believe that, just like we’ve done, we’ve played six ballgames. And the first drive of the third quarter of every game up to this point we’ve gone down and scored a touchdown on offense. We place a huge emphasis on that first drive and setting the momentum there in that third quarter. This is the third quarter of the season, and here’s our first drive. What are we going to do with it? And I think it’s important for us to come out and make a statement with this drive and the way we play this Saturday.
(on ASU) Very good football team. Very good football team at home. I think the quarterback (Taylor Kelly) has got a lot of game to him. Probably giving myself to much credit, but he kind of reminds me of me. No, I’m just kidding. He’s just a scrappy guy, man. He makes all the plays when he has to make them. He runs when he has to run. He throws the back-shoulder fade to Jaelen Strong extremely well. (Marion) Grice, the running back, is probably the best running back’s nobody’s heard of. The guy’s leading the country in touchdowns right now. A very active defense, an active defensive front. … We have a tall order this Saturday … but I think it’s one we can be up to if we do it right this week.
(on team’s mentality heading on the road) These last two games have been tough, hard-nosed football games, man. Two different styles, obviously, with Stanford and Oregon, but they’ve been physical games on both sides of the ball. We came to practice today and put on our shoulder pads and helmets and got after it “goods on goods” again. There weren’t guys complaining; there weren’t guys tapping out. These guys went right back to it. So I think we are more mentally tough than years past. I think guys almost embrace this role of going on the road now and here’s another great challenge for us. I think that they see this more of an opportunity than a challenge — an opportunity to go do something really cool on the road Saturday that, if we do it the right way, we can accomplish it.
(on Oregon’s offense) I think it’s, 1, they have a good scheme. I think, 2, having a quarterback who really understands the scheme and plays within the scheme. I think three, a guy who has really good talented players around him when he delivers the football accurately. And four, when things aren’t there, he’s not forcing it. He’s pulling the ball down and he’s able to escape on third down and run for 12 yards and convert a third down conversion. So he’s not put in a position to where he has to force the ball because he has a whole ’nother weapon in his arsenal of being able to escape and buy time to create more plays.
(on why the UW offense wasn’t as fast as it has been Saturday) I don’t know. Maybe we were changing personnel groupings too much. … Oregon, I think, ran 81 plays in the game, roughly. I’m not exactly sure of that. All in all, it just wasn’t there for us. We just weren’t clicking the way we’re capable of clicking offensively. That’s a credit to their defense, they’ve got a good defensive players. No. 14 (Ifo Ekpre-Olomu), probably the best defensive player we’ve seen this year for Oregon. That kid is a special player. Just wasn’t clicking the way we’re capable of playing. Kind of clawed our way back into the game there with 17 points in the third quarter. But, like I said before, I think we left points on the board. We had four opportunities to score touchdowns and came away with a total of three points, and you’re not going to beat a team like Oregon when that happens.”
(on whether Bishop Sankey is getting more respect from defenses) He should. I don’t know. You have to ask those guys. He should. He’s leading the country in rushing right now halfway through the season. I don’t know. I’d have to ask them. What I see is people playing defense and trying to defend a complete offensive football team. I think that’s what we have. Our balance is good. We weren’t great throwing the football Saturday, unfortunately, it could have helped on both sides, running it and throwing it. But we weren’t great throwing the ball on Saturday night and I think that affected it some. But we’re relatively a very balanced team, which we force you to defend both. We need to continue to strive for that.
(on Stanford’s loss to Utah) I’ve said it every week. If you don’t come to play week in and week out, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you can get beat. Utah took UCLA down to the wire the week before and came back the next week and got Stanford at home. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you better be ready to go or you can get beat.
(on team’s health) We have some bumps and bruises, but, like I said, we went to practice today and everybody practiced, which was really cool.