Highlights from Steve Sarkisian‘s Monday press conference:
(on Arizona State loss) It didn’t get any better on film. The way it looked like in person is kind of the way it looked like on film. A challenging, challenging time for us in that we fought like crazy the previous two weeks against two really good opponents. For one reason or another, it just didn’t come to light Saturday. I thought we started the game well; I thought the second quarter of the game really took a toll on our ball club. Our inability to get first downs on offense, giving the defense poor field position; they fought as much as they could in keeping Arizona State out of the end zone. It was a 15-7 ball game with 3:58 left in the first half and we couldn’t get a first down. Finally they wore us out and we missed some tackles and then, bang, the game is 29-7.
Obviously, as I touched on Saturday and I’ll say it again, my job here at the University of Washington is to prepare our players to be successful and to prepare our coaches to be successful, whether it’s through conditioning, whether it’s through scheme, whether it’s through fundamentals and technique, whether it’s through motivation — emotionally, mental toughness, whatever that is — and I didn’t get it done Saturday. The buck stops here. We will be better Saturday. We will play harder, faster, more physical Saturday, and we’re going to play a really good football game Saturday night.
(Where is Keith physically? Did he practice today?) We didn’t practice today. I felt like for us, we needed to regroup. We had some lengthy meetings, we did a little bit of conditioning and we lifted. So we’ll assess him tomorrow. He’s sore. His thumb is swollen, but I know Keith Price is a tough guy, he’s a fighter, and he’s going to do everything in his power to be prepared and ready to play come Saturday night.”
(How do you determine whether he’s ready to play?) Physically, that’s easy to see. Is the ball coming off his hand, is he throwing it well. The mental side is the challenging one to dig into of where he stands, in part due to some of the physical ailments that he might have. That’s some of the stuff that I try and watch closely, and not necessarily always at practice; it’s around the office, it’s around the building, it’s his body language. Again, I’ve known Keith for over five years now, and he’s a tough kid. He’s going to prepare himself mentally, emotionally, and physically to be ready to play. We’ll have to figure out if that’s good enough. That’s the challenge of my job and I embrace the challenge.
(Same thumb injury?) A little further down on his thumb, so I don’t know if that’s a byproduct of the original injury or not, but when you play quarterback and you have to grab the football your thumb plays a pivotal role in gripping that ball and throwing the ball.
(When you sat Jake (Locker) and Keith (Price) in the past, what went into that during the week?) Every decision we make…as I touched on earlier, my job is to put our team and our players in the best positions to be successful, and I felt like at that time with Jake and then obviously with Keith a couple of years ago – the other guy gave us a better chance to be successful that week. Neither one of those weeks were we as successful as we wanted to be – obviously we went down to Oregon and lost with Keith in his first career start and we went down to Corvallis with Nick Montana and lost that ball game. But I really felt at the time that was in the best interests of our program for us to be successful that week.
(Confident in Cyler Miles?) I have a great deal of confidence. Cyler is a very talented player, he works diligently in his preparation. I think Jeff Lindquist as well has improved along the way. We’re fortunate, we’ve recruited that position really well, and we’ve got some talented guys that could step in and play.
(Concerns about the offensive line?) Nah. I can do a better job of protecting those guys. We didn’t run the ball enough, we didn’t run the ball enough in the second quarter when we could have kind of slowed the game down, in a sense, and regrouped and get into halftime potentially down one score in a tight game. I don’t know if it was my frustration level of having too much belief in our ability to go out there and do it — and to Arizona State’s credit they were playing maybe a little better than I gave them credit for. They put us behind the chains and put us in some long-yardage situations that we didn’t handle great. For whatever reason — again, I go back and when I grade the film and I assess the film and the ball game, I look at myself first and how I managed the game as a head coach. I look at how I called the game as the play caller on offense, and in the middle to late second quarter I could have done a better job of keeping that game into a one or two-score game, gotten in the locker, regrouped and then come out the second half playing the way I know we’re capable of playing. I stayed aggressive and tried to throw it down the field and they pressed the pocket on us and got sacks and got penalties, holding penalties and second-and-longs, third-and-longs, and we were punting out of our own end zone a couple of times and they get great field position and it started to steamroll on us. So I’ve got to do a better job.
(Can you be more balanced now catching up because of the up-tempo look and running more plays in general instead of having to normally throw to catch up?) Potentially. At the end of the day I think Arizona State ran 93 or 94 plays and we ran 64. And both teams are going up-tempo. Our lack of execution Saturday hindered us. We’ve been an excellent third down team where we’ve been able to extend drives to get multiple plays. We weren’t very good on third down Saturday, due in part to third and long situations – which we had been good at, but when you live in third and long it’s hard to extend drives to get more plays. I think it’s a combination of a lot of things that played into it. Believe me, you know me well enough to know that I love running the ball and I love giving the ball to Bishop. To go into that game and stand in front of you guys and look at the stat sheet and he has 13 carries in a ball game, a critical ball game in the season – that’s not enough.
(What was it that ASU did to shut down your run offense?) They coach too. They’ve got good coaches too and they did a nice job scheme-wise. One thing we’ve been good at this year is sticking to the plan and making the unique little adjustments within the run game that have enabled us to create some real good running lanes, especially in the second half. I think our offensive staff does an excellent job at halftime of assessing what opponents are doing to us and making those subtle adjustments so that the running game can get going in the second half. We saw that a couple weeks ago with Oregon with Bishop. I just didn’t think we gave that a chance. Ultimately that falls on me.
(Coach James talks “seminal” losses in his career. Was this that type of loss that might inspire larger-scale change?) Well, there are some things that can get fixed and fixed quickly coming out of this game. They’ve been addressed as a staff and they’ve been addressed as a football team. So that’s first. There are those things. There are some bigger things that can come out of this. Somewhere in here, this piece of the season, this portion of the season — granted, we’ve played good teams — this portion of the season has caused us issues for five consecutive years. And so when we hit the offseason, I keep a running log of notes and things so that when January comes around, as a staff there’s (a list) of things we need to address that came up throughout the season. And this is definitely going to be one of ’em. This isn’t going to go away. We’re going to play Stanford and Oregon every year. If we have to play them back to back every year, so be it. It’s that next game after those hard-fought, emotional battles — how we deal with it. Obviously, we haven’t dealt with them well enough yet up to this point. So back to the drawing board. But those talks have to take place in January and have to get worked through in January; we can’t wait until the week of the ballgame.
(How much did conditioning play a factor vs. ASU?) I thought in the second quarter it played a factor. Our inability offensively to get first downs — our defense was on the field I think for 11 and a half minutes in the second quarter. In that heat, going up-tempo, I felt like it took its toll on our defense for sure.
(Conditioning changes, then?) I don’t think so. I’m proud of the condition our team’s in. I think we’ve been a great second-half team all year. But sooner or later, human nature, you can only go for so long. We were subbing guys, we were trying to rotate guys. We just couldn’t keep our defense off the field well enough to give them a chance to be refreshed to go out and play good football late in the second quarter. We missed a lot of tackles, I think, as a byproduct of that. I thought fatigue played into our inability to tackle them in some pretty obvious tackling situations that we normally make.
(Any specific short-term fixes?) We touched on it last week, but the passing game and the efficiency in the passing game — it has to improve. Not that we’re going to abandon the pass and go out and just run the football every down. That’s not the case. We are at our best when we are a balanced offensive football team. There’s going to be some subtle changes. Obviously I don’t want to disclose our offensive game plan to (Cal) coach (Sonny) Dykes. There’s going to be some subtle changes to what we do in the passing game to become more efficient because I think we have the capability of being so. I think we have the personnel in place and the schemes in place to get that fixed.
(on Price’s throwing problems) I just think at times the ball either has a tendency to sail or it has a tendency to dive on him. To me, that’s a result of, when you don’t have a great grip on the football, that thing just doesn’t come out the same way every time. I’ve seen Keith Price for five and a half years throw the football; he throws a beautiful football. He’s got great spin on the ball. He’s an extremely accurate passer — one of the more accurate guys I’ve been around. And when he misses sometimes the way he’s missed the past couple of weeks, to me that’s a direct result of the thumb not being where it needs to be. So I’m going to have to assess that this week to make sure that he’s capable of making the throws that he’s been capable of making these last five years. So we’ll see how it responds.
(When Price was missing early vs. ASU, did you think about making a change then?) No. I wasn’t. It’s funny, I had a little time here to watch Jim Leyland’s resignation press conference. He had a quote in there that I hadn’t thought about, but it kind of hung with me for a second. He said, ‘I probably protected my players to a fault.’ Not that I’m protecting Keith Price, but I have belief in that guy. I have been in some knock-down, drag-out games where I’ve seen that guy get knocked down and get up and fight and compete, and I think that that trait that he possesses with our entire football organization. Not just the players, but the coaches, our staff. His ability to stand tall in the most adverse times — whether it’s on the field or off the field — is really, it’s something that’s really cool, that we can all see that that’s how you respond. So I wanted to give him his chance to fight and compete in a game in a tough environment (that) we knew would be a tough one, and unfortunately it didn’t work out. If that’s to a fault of mine, then it is. And I’ll take it for that knowing that our players know that I’m going to be there with them, standing in there with them, because I think he deserves that.
(So difference with Price between Stanford and ASU was physical?) I don’t know. Everyone games different. I thought as a team we played better against Stanford. As a team, we didn’t play nearly as good against Arizona State. It’s easy to look at the one guy who’s holding the ball every snap, but as a team we just didn’t play as good. That’s nothing against Arizona State. We all know the quality of opponent Stanford is, we all know the quality of that defensive front, we know the pressure that they applied on Keith. And he stood in there and delivered balls and we caught balls and we played with a great deal of confidence. That just didn’t show up on Saturday for a variety of reasons.
(What gives you reason to believe this year’s three-game skid is different than years past?) Fortunately, but unfortunately, we’ve been here before. And we’ve always responded. We’ve always bounced back. And we’ll do it again. I don’t have a shadow of doubt that our guys are going to come out and play a great football game Saturday night. What I do know to be different is that a year from now today, it’ll be a different press conference. This won’t happen again.
(More on Coach James and the impact a coach can have on players’ lives) I think that that’s the ultimate compliment as a football coach. We come to work every day, we’re around young people every day. Some days more than others, we have an impact on their life, whether it’s on the football field, in the classroom, in their personal life. As I’ve said before, my job is to put our players in the best position to be successful, and a lot of times that only resonates to on the football field. But that carries right over to the classroom, that carries over to their personal life, that carries over to life after football. And when ex-players can come back and compliment their coach 20, 30, 40 years later (on) the impact that he had on their life, that’s the ultimate compliment for us. I know Coach James heard it before he passed, and I know Carol’s hearing it after he’s passed from numerous, numerous ex-players. That is the ultimate compliment for us.
(Since Coach James left, there have been four coaches in 20 years. Do you still feel like as successor to John Wooden, that you have to try live up to that image?) I wouldn’t say we’re trying to live up to an image; we’re trying to live up to a standard that he set. But that’s the reason that I chose this job. I came here to win championships. Coach James set that standard, and that’s the beauty of coming to a place like the University of Washington, that you’re here and everybody involved in our organization is doing everything in their power to win championships. It’s not just to play football games; it’s not just to be on TV; it’s not just to put people in the stands; it’s to win championships. That’s why I chose to come here, that’s why numerous people at our university and our athletic department chose to work here. It’s the standard that he set.
(Does that resonate with these players, to be able to relate to what happened 20, 30 years ago?) He’s spoken to every team since I’ve been here. I don’t know if there’s a more iconic figure in Seattle, and obviously when you speak of the University of Washington football program. If that can’t resonate with them, I’m not sure what else does. But you’d have to ask them that question.
(on Dexter Charles’ shoulder injury) We’re hopeful. Obviously, I think a week off is helpful for him. It’s nothing structurally wrong with him. But we’re hopeful we get him back. He’s obviously a very good football player.
(on Erik Kohler’s conditioning Saturday) It was good. You know, it’s hard when you go from not playing (then) you play a half the week before and then all of a sudden you’re playing and it’s 88 degrees. So conditioning is a factor for him. That’s why the depth, even if Dexter doesn’t play the whole game, but if those guys can rotate some, I think it’ll be good for us.
(on Bishop Sankey) I think it was just everything built into it. Bishop was ready to go. He just didn’t get enough opportunities.
(The defense was on the field for almost 39 minutes. Was that the problem as much as anything, or were the tackling issues still the main thing?) We calculated we missed 20 tackles in the game. I don’t know if they’ll tell you this or if Justin (Wilcox) will tell you this, but I think it had to do with them being on the field a lot. They’ll never give you an excuse. Justin will never give you an excuse. He’ll tell you it’s gotta be better. I think we also calculated they had 190 yards of offense after contact, so those two numbers are pretty startling numbers — 20 missed tackles and 190 yards after contact. But I do believe it’s a direct result of them being on the field too much.
(on John Timu’s ankle) We’ll see tomorrow.