Huskies Have To Grow Up in a Hurry

SEATTLE - It was a scene out of your kid's youth soccer league game, but it happened on an NFL field. It was halftime and all the players gathered around a frustrated head coach as he let loose a torrent of words expressing his displeasure for how the Washington Huskies had finished their half of play - a record-setting half, by the way.

Steve Sarkisian ranted like a man on tilt, like a coach who was on the wrong end of a 45-0 30-minute throttling. Sarkisian, as he talked about after UW put down Portland State 52-13 in front of 54,922 fans at CenturyLink Field, is trying hard to emphasize the way Washington plays as much as how they play - as evidenced by his impromptu standup routine to his Huskies while a beleaguered and thoroughly defeated Vikings squad sauntered into their locker room, probably unsure of what was taking place across the field.

"I was just probably a bit emotional myself at the time because it had been such a big point to me this week," Sarkisian said. "And we had just gotten the unsportsmanlike conduct on the interception for the TD and then to make that play with no time on the clock to hit a guy late out of bounds is just not a smart football play and it bothered me to a point where it felt like we were at practice quite honestly and that's a good thing to get into that setting and I felt like it needed to be addressed immediately and not run 60 yards in the locker room, I wanted to address it right then and there."

The scene of 100 players in purple and gold surrounding their head coach at the half for all to see was a bit weird. What was even crazier is that the Huskies had just reached a milestone. The 31 points scored by UW in the second quarter was the most ever scored in any quarter in the history of the program - and the 45 points scored tied the most ever for a half. The first half included a run for a touchdown, a few passes that hit paydirt, a blocked kick returned for six, a pick-six by a backup and a 41-yard field goal at the end for good measure.

I was at one of those blowout halves - it was at Oregon State in 1999. The Huskies had scored 45 by half, and while both teams went to their respective locker rooms, the message came across the giant screen on the east end of Reser Stadium.

"It's a GREAT Day to be a Beaver," it said.

Push forward 13 years, and Sarkisian's unscripted Pow-Wow had the same surreal feel about it. It just came out of nowhere. Sark is a passionate, passionate man, and just like John Lee Hooker and the boogie woogie, he just had to let it out. Washington's senior safety Justin Glenn was the fulcrum, as his personal foul on Portland State return man Justin Lilley lit the fuse.

"It was a penalty that wasn't us," junior captain John Timu said. "That wasn't Husky football."

The question is - if they are practicing with it as a point of emphasis, why exactly is Husky football nowadays? Why do promising drives stall with needless penalties far too often? Why are shots taken when there's no earthly reason to do so? And on top of that, why were players hovering over Lilley on the UW sideline woofing at him?

"I do believe in some areas, we're a bit immature, we have to respond to the adversity we get faced with at times in games. But that's the beauty of football, that's why you play 13 games and that's why practice is so important," Sarkisian said.

When Glenn was asked about the play, he noted without hesitation that it 'wouldn't happen again'. Washington fans have heard this before. It was almost expected after the LSU loss because the gulf in class between the two teams was beyond noticeable. This was the week where things were going to get cleaned up, where the little details of 'playing the game the right way' were going to be unleashed on the Vikings with fury.

And for the most part that area of the game plan was realized. But the nine penalties for 80 yards, the three fumbles (all recovered by Washington) and a milquetoast run game simply means the Huskies have to go back to the drawing board again to get themselves wired for the Black-out a week from Thursday versus Stanford.

Don't get me wrong. Washington isn't the only one looking to fine tune their motor. "You're not going to survive with 12 penalties against anyone coming up on our schedule," said Oregon Head Coach Chip Kelly Saturday after their walkover win versus Tennessee Tech. But with a statement game less than two weeks away and a litany of questions still on the table - does this Washington team have what it takes to get past their own blunders and put on a show for their fans?

Like their injury reports, there was little to be gleaned Saturday as to what the immediate future holds for UW football. It's a struggle to get a firm hold on what the team can do well and what they have to work on, and Saturday's blowout win did nothing to solve those issues. You talk to the players after the game and they are earnest in their belief that they will find the answers between now and Stanford. There's nothing to suggest insincerity or guys going 'player speak'. They genuinely believe and trust that the coaches will get them where they need to be.

And UW Nation has slightly less than two weeks to work themselves in a lather while the Huskies get back to work. While the coaches and players will talk next week and game week about how they have to take one game at a time and no one game is more important than the others, a sense of reckoning looms over their contest with the Cardinal. It's as if a debt needs to be paid and it comes due on September 27th.

Now in his fourth year and expectations at an all-time high, Steve Sarkisian has never faced a bigger game in his Washington tenure. In reality, it's not an all-or-nothing game for him and his team, but why does it feel that way anyway? Partly it's because a win over Stanford could set the Huskies up for an even bigger win - perhaps over Oregon or USC. But these pups have some growing up to do and not a lot of time to do it if they want to take that next step that everyone on Montlake so desperately craves.


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