Below is the transcript from Steve Sarkisian‘s Monday press conference. About the only real news is that Sarkisian said starting left guard Dexter Charles returned to practice this morning. Charles has missed the past two games with a shoulder injury.
(opening) I feel like the bye week was positive for us. I think it came at a good time. I think physically for our football team we got an opportunity to get some guys healthy. Dexter Charles was back practicing today, which was big for us. But just a lot the guys with those nagging bumps and bruises looked fresh and upbeat running around today. I thought it was good. That was a long month for us, so from a psyche standpoint I thought the energy was good by the guys that practiced today and excited to go finish the season. We’re in the fourth quarter of it all now. We’ve got four football games ahead of us now that we think are very winnable if we do it the right way, if we prepare the right way.
It starts this week with Colorado, a team in my opinion that’s getting better. They play hard. I think coach (Mike) MacIntyre has done a good job of changing the culture there and getting his guys to play hard. They have some good football players. Obviously the wide receiver Paul Richardson is one of the premier guys in our conference, if not the country. We’re obviously very aware of their young quarterback. We recruited Sefo (Liufau) out of Bellarmine Prep and he’s improving weekly. So it should be a great ball game here at 5 o’clock in Husky Stadium.
(Did the bye week allow you to go big picture to think about things as you head into this ‘fourth quarter’) We definitely do a big self-scout or self-analysis of ourselves in all three phases. And I think it’s a great opportunity for us to look at what we do well and look at some of the things we’re not doing so hot that maybe we thought we were doing well but when you actually watch the cut-ups of them it doesn’t look so good. And then you look at some of your personnel and who is playing where and how and try to incorporate that into the final four games. I think it’s something we’ve definitely focused on and we should see a more productive football team based on what the numbers tell us and what the stats tell us and what the film tells us when you can look at it as a whole and not just week to week.
(Can you talk about a few things that need to change?) I don’t know if they need to change; there’s more things to build upon. I think that we have to find a way to continue to get John Ross the football. You just look at sheer numbers and when he has the ball in his hands he creates big plays. Damore’ea Stringfellow is another guy, and obviously Austin (Seferian-Jenkins) and getting those guys to where Kevin (Smith) and Jaydon (Mickens) can be even more of a factor. So that’s big.
I think the reality of it defensively is continuing to incorporate some of our young pass rushers — JoJo Mathis, Marcus Farria. I think incorporating Kevin King; when he’s on the field he does good things for us. So that side of it has been great.
In the kick return game we’ve been so close, and so we’re trying to tweak a couple of things scheme-wise that I think can help us go to the next level in the return game. And then just sheer fundamentals in the way we teach and the things we’re doing well from a tackling standpoint, from a coverage standpoint on defense, to the schemes that have been effective for us running the football and other ones that we call a lot that the numbers tell us just haven’t been very good. Those are all the things that we’re focusing on.
(What gives you optimism that this team is ready to make the final push they need to?) I’ve been talking about the maturity of this team all year long. They understand what’s in front of them. They understand that there are some unique challenges here. Each one of these games will be different, but that we’re capable of doing it. I see no reason why we won’t; I think we’re going to play great football. They are all going to be hard. None of them are going to be easy. They are all hard, football’s hard. Colorado’s going to come fired up and ready to play, it’s always difficult to win at UCLA and Oregon State and then obviously the Apple Cup. They’re going to be hard, but I just think we’ll be ready to go.
(Any facet of your play that has surprised you?) I want us to be good at everything, first of all. You don’t ever want to say, ‘Gosh, I’m OK with us being OK right here.’ I think our drop-back pass game has been OK. I thought we had a good week last week so I’m hopeful that improvement can stay the course. I think defensively some of our stuff in the run game hasn’t been exactly where we want to be. I thought we’d be a little bit better at just sheerly stopping the run with some of the guys we have. It’s been good in some games and it’s been OK in others. And then the tackling thing defensively — we’ve had some games here this season where we haven’t tackled great. It’s a point of emphasis for us, and it’ll continue to be.
(on Damore’ea Stringfellow) I’m hopeful that with this opportunity, of Kasen going down unfortunately for us, this is a great opportunity for ‘String’ to step in and perform and play and do it at a high level, and I really think he’s capable of doing it.
(What do you need to see out of Saturday’s game to springboard you through this final stretch?) I just want to win. I want to win Saturday. I want to play good football, I want to take care of the ball and create turnovers and play fast and play physical. Start fast and finish strong, because when all those things happen, that generally results in a ‘W.’ So we want to win. That’s what I want to see. That’s the end result. But I want to play a good football game. I think that’s something we’re capable of. We’re putting a game plan together in all three phases that I think it conducive to the things that we’ve been doing well, and now we can really focus on and built upon here down the stretch run.
(on Sankey and where he’s improved the most since arriving on campus) I think it’s just confidence when you’re a young kid, you know. Believing in yourself that you can go make those plays. He’s got extreme confidence right now, which (is) deservedly so. He’s a talented guy and he should be confident. But when you’re young, sometimes you lack that. We’re just trying to keep him confident, because when he’s running confidently, he’s tough to tackle. He makes people miss and he’s got tremendous endurance, and we’re going to need a great stretch run out of him if we want to accomplish the things we think we can accomplish here in the last four games.
(on Colorado’s Sefo Luifau) Really good command for a true freshman kid out there. It’s not easy, especially in some of the games that they’ve been behind in since he’s been in. But he doesn’t panic, he competes, he plays hard and I’ve been very impressed.
(Is he a dual threat?) He’s an athletic kid, for sure. Sefo is an athletic kid, highly competitive. He comes from a really good program here in state and we know he’ll be ready to play, for sure. He’s been coming to games here at Husky Stadium for a long time, so he’ll be fired up.
(on Colorado’s strengths) They play hard. That’s a credit to their coaching staff. Christian Powell is a big, physical runner coming out of the backfield, a heavy guy. Obviously Paul Richardson, Nelson Spruce (are) good wide receivers for them. I think up front, their defensive front there’s some guys there who have played a lot of football: Juda Parker … Uzo-Diribe. They’ve got a true freshman middle linebacker (Addison Gillam) who’s leading our conference in tackles right now. So they’re a team that’s playing hard, and they’re trying to find that one to get over the hump in conference play. We just gotta make sure we’re not the one. We need to go out and play a really good football game, and we’re going to need to. I think having a weekend where you can watch some football — we all watched the Seahawks-Tampa Bay game yesterday, too. Every team coaches, every team practices, every team plays, everybody wants to win. So you have to perform if that’s what you want to get done. Luckily, the Seahawks were able to get out of it with a victory yesterday, and we’d like to go out and perform to where we get a victory on Saturday.
(on the O-line) We’re getting healthy. Getting Dexter back was big. And we got some good experience for Erik (Kohler) and for James Atoe, so having Dexter back is big for us.
(Is Sankey’s success him creating plays or a credit to the O-line?) I’d like to think it’s a combination of both. I think we’re blocking well, we’ve got good schemes and then ultimately he’s hard to tackle in space one-on-one. He makes people miss.
(How would you characterize where you’re at in recruiting right now?) It’s November fourth. Recruiting is an ongoing process. We got three months, and three months is like an eternity in the recruiting process. So we’re staying the course. I think we’re on the right kids, the right type of kids, whether it’s athletically or character-wise. This day in age, you gotta ask me that first Wednesday in February. These guys commit, decommit, commit — they jump all over the place. So we just want to stay the course and keep doing a good job from building a relationship with the kids and their families.
(Does this final stretch of Saturday-Friday-Saturday-Friday games create any changes?) Not too much. We’ll tweak a few things, but it’ll be relatively standard for us. It should’ve affect us too much.
(Any update on Kasen Williams?) Nothing new. He’s just resting.