Sark left searching for an identity

BATON ROUGE - Hey, if Mike doesn't want to move, you aren't going to make him. And Saturday night, if Washington couldn't force LSU to throw the ball they were going to get a straight dose of arguably the best group of running backs they've ever faced. At least that's what Steve Sarkisian thought.

"LSU has a stable of backs, maybe the best I've ever seen in person," Sarkisian said after the Bayou Bengals put a massive beatdown on UW. In front of the second-largest non-conference crowd in the history of Tiger Stadium, the home team ran inside, outside, over and around Washington's game but ultimately overmatched defense.

The statistics won't reveal the battering that UW received: LSU averaged less than five yards a carry and their long run was only 21 yards. And when the Huskies did start out strong, LSU used their All-American punter Brad Wing to launch a 62-yard punt into a 12 mph headwind that magnetically went out of bounds at the Washington 4-yard line.

And when Washington desperately needed something to go their way they seemed to find it early in the third quarter when Tre Watson picked up what looked to be a backwards pass that was later ruled incomplete. As Watson ran toward the LSU end zone and Steve Sarkisian pleaded with the officials to review the play, you just knew the football gods weren't going to bail UW out. And they didn't.

It was Death Valley by a thousand paper cuts.

An even deeper analysis brings one to this conclusion - you can't go on the road at night in front of a huge, hostile crowd and allow the home team to out possess you, run more plays than you do and expect to excel - especially when the juice driving your offense dries up at the pump.

The scoreboard will say 41-3, and in many ways it wasn't that close. But this game wasn't lost because of the defense, who tried in vain to pull off an act worthy of Hans Christian Andersen. But this time there wasn't enough holes to fill the leaks in UW's game plan, and the Chinese Fire Drill that became Washington's offensive line was never able to settle in and get comfortable with early success - especially after Erik Kohler dislocated his knee for the second time in over a month, forcing the Huskies into using their third right tackle.

It was a comedy of errors, and for the most part all LSU had to do was sit back and watch UW discombobulate via a string of yellow flags. The Huskies had 11 penalties called on them, some of them in short-yardage situations that resulted in stalled drives. The Tigers rolled in wave after wave of big, quick defensive linemen - including guys that weren't even on their official roster! - to pound away at a depleted UW OL.

It had disaster written all over it from the start. Even those that predicted an easy LSU win thought Washington would have a chance to keep the game going into halftime. Quarterback Keith Price had shown a tendency to show up when the spotlight was brightest, having out-dueled Robert Griffin III statistically in UW's loss to Baylor in the Alamo Bowl.

The Tigers' defense was bound to make sure Price never had a chance to put his stamp on the game, coming at him early and often - producing happy feet for Keith that Gregory Hines would have been proud of. But who could blame Price? It wasn't as if you couldn't see the football equivalent of a tropical storm coming.

Price just didn't want to stuck in the eye of said storm.

"Moving the football and calling plays are easy when it's good, it's when it gets hard, where do you find your yards, where do you find your plays, where do you find your points?" asked Sarkisian after the game. "And we've had a hard time finding that here for the last two weeks."

Games like the one Saturday night at LSU are a great benchmark when figuring out where a team is in it's evolution. Are they just a few plays or players away from going toe-to-toe with a team like the Tigers, riding a current 39-game non-conference home winning streak? Or are they a few classes away?

"We played them last time at their place and they are a better football team," LSU Head Coach Les Miles said. "I think we are also a better football team."

Case in point: LSU lost their starting left tackle Chris Faulk to a season-ending knee injury. In steps Josh Dworaczyk without skipping a beat. The LSU offense gave up one tackle for loss and no sacks on Saturday.

Conversely the Huskies lose their second right tackle in as many games and they are scrambling for answers. Routine adjustments and calls are being blown at the line of scrimmage, and not just by players filling in for starters, allowing LSU defenders to take free shots at Price - who was sacked four times on the night and could have probably been taken down at least four other times if it wasn't for his athleticism and toughness.

"We will get to a point where we will believe in our plan and we will go out and execute it really well," Sarkisian said. Sark has noted time and time again how his offensive system is one that has withstood the test of time - but how much longer are Washington fans going to wait? And who would have thought that would ever be the case after what the offense contributed last year?

The Huskies lost 40-14 in Baton Rouge in 1983 and Don James vowed never to play down there again. Sarkisian could produce the same mandate but will he be around long enough to see it through to the point where they might be able to compete with the LSU's of the world in future playoff games? One would hope that means a turnaround happens much sooner than later.

It seems inconceivable for Sark to be on the hot seat only two games into the season, but one thing is for sure - when you have gone seven quarters without a touchdown something is seriously amiss, especially for a playcaller known for helping to put up points by the bushel with his imaginative scripts.

"We still have a lot of ball to play," Price said. "We just have to find our identity offensively, as Coach Sark has said. And once we get our pass game and our run game going - seeing what fits our personnel…"

Price hit at the most important point; Sarkisian still hasn't found the offense's sweet spot yet - that balance of run, pass and go-to playmakers to get the UW engine running on all cylinders. Realistically Sark has only one more game to fine tune things and get that motor humming. If he is searching for answers come league play his seat will undoubtedly warm up - because the defense has only so many answers for the porous dam known as Husky Football circa 2012.


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