Sarkisian Has Tough Truth To Face

SEATTLE - Because of radio obligations, I stayed in Seattle this trip - missing a game for the first time in a very long time. It was a bit weird watching Washington lose 52-17 at Arizona via television; not so much the loss but how disengaged you get covering a game that way. It's not nearly as visceral as being there.

When you watch a game via the boob tube it's hard not to put your fan hat on and go ballistic at some of the play calls UW Head Coach Steve Sarkisian made or how the Husky players played in general. Washington gave up more points to the Wildcats this year than in any other game played between the two ever, despite the fact that UA has also scored in the 40's three out of the last six meetings. They gave up another special teams touchdown. They turned the ball over more than their opponent again.

Apparently UW has a tougher time stopping the 'Cats than themselves - which they've been pretty masterful at so far this season.

"We've got so many injuries up front and the guys filling in are doing a good job. Our defensive staff does a great job. We've got a lot of guys…we're just hanging on, playing a lot of plays - a lot of guys playing for the first time - I'm really proud of them."

The words of Sarkisian post-game? Try Rich Rodriguez, the head coach of the team that just won by five touchdowns. Fact is, Sarkisian pointed directly to this game during fall camp as the most important game of the year - and yet his team played like the memo had just been handed to them as they were getting off the bus.

"I'm concerned," Sarkisian noted after the 35-point beatdown. "Any time you lose it's hard. Any time you've lot multiple games it's hard. I've always believed that as much as winning is contagious unfortunately so is losing. When things can get hard, doubt creeps in."

That doubt has enveloped Washington's quarterback like a London fog. Keith Price, despite having decent statistics, was still a shell of the old Keith Price, dodging an Arizona defensive line that was dead last in sacks prior to Saturday night. The Huskies' offensive line surrendered four sacks when they weren't getting called for false starts, holding, clipping, etc… meaning the Wildcats aren't in the conference sacks cellar anymore.

That distinction now belongs to the Washington Huskies.

"I think at some point we have to understand that when you're in one-on-one settings as a football team in general, you have to have confidence in yourself that you can win one-on-one battles - whether it's tackling, blocking, covering, running routes…you have to believe that you can win one-on-one - you have to believe you can beat the man across from you," Sarkisian said. "And right now that appears to be in question to me."

Appears to be in question? When you boil football down to its base elements - its essentials - isn't that what the game is all about? Breaking the other guy's ankles - literally and figuratively? And Sarkisian doesn't think his guys believe they can beat the guys across from them one-on-one? In game seven of year four at Washington?

That's pretty scary stuff, even if we are getting close to Halloween. But it gets even worse. Apparently a trust issue has developed between Sarkisian and Price. Between the third and fourth quarters UW's head coach sat down and talked with his quarterback for some time.

"I just want him to believe me," Sarkisian said, clearly looking for answers as to why Price's productivity and confidence have dropped off the map in equal measure. "I want him to believe me. I want him to take the information and the things that I'm giving him and trust me that what I'm telling him is the truth, and believe in what I'm asking of him to do and go out and do his best to try and do that. And if it doesn't work - as I told him - I'll be the first one to say, 'Keith, I was wrong. I'm sorry. I should have done a better job for you', but we can't get to that point if there's some doubt there. So that's what we were talking about."

On Monday Sarkisian will have an opportunity to get his points across to the Washington fan base after what will most likely be a very rough 36 hours of soul searching. So far at Washington he's 4-15 on the road and in 2012 the Huskies are giving up nearly 50 points a game in their three road defeats. Washington has now gone over a year without a road win. Tyrone Willingham lost his final 12 road contests before being let go in favor of Sarkisian - but when it comes to his predecessor Sark isn't really faring that much better than Willingham away from Seattle. In fact two of Willingham's road wins during his four years at UW came in Tucson.

"I don't want to go there that our entire team doesn't believe that we can't win and we can't be good; I don't think that's necessarily the case," Sarkisian said, noting the lack of success when it came to the 'man-beaters'.

Fact is, Sarkisian couldn't beat the man across from him either; Rodriguez had his number all night long. When Sark zigged with his passing game, Rich Rod zagged with Ka'Deem Carey and his 22 first half touches. And when Carey wasn't doing damage, it was UA quarterback Matt Scott, who threw three touchdown passes on the night, all of them to ridiculously wide-open teammates.

"The first touchdown in the far corner, we're in three-deep coverage and we get beat on a double move. It's hard to explain that," Sarkisian wondered aloud. He had a chance to keep Arizona's potent offense off the field with some ball control offense of his own, but invariably drives would stall after incomplete passes - often in a row.

All of it is very hard to explain, and even harder to stomach if you are a Washington fan. There's so many things that went wrong Saturday night - where do you start?

The head coach might be as good as anyplace else, and that's why after the season Sarkisian will have some tough truths to face. Obviously the Huskies are too far along in 2012 to make any wholesale changes for this year, but what happens when the off-season rolls around?

Difficult questions will have to be asked, and right at the top of the list will be - Can Sark be the best head coach possible at UW in his current capacity, meaning as head coach and play caller? And does he have it in him to make another change, much like he did in firing good friend Nick Holt in an attempt to improve Washington's defense? It may be inconceivable to Sarkisian to even contemplate giving up his play calling duties, but many would have also thought it inconceivable for Sark to lose the trust and belief in his quarterback halfway into his fourth season at UW. After all, Sarkisian made his name in the college football game as a quarterback guru.

I know it's en vogue to be the hot coordinator that moves to the head coaching chair and handles both duties like Will Muschamp at Florida or Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia, but is it in the best long-term interests of Washington to model themselves that way? If you go by the first three-and-a-half years of Sarkisian's tenure, the results are extremely average. In fact, after the Arizona blowout Sark's current UW record is 22-22.

Washington isn't getting the talent of a USC or Oregon right now, so is it possible defenses have started to catch up to Sarkisian's time-proven systems? Or is Sark's record simply a reflection of the talent UW has on hand and nothing more than that? Would that explain why Price was so successful in 2011 but is struggling like never before right now? Is it truly all about the Jimmies and Joes to the point where it's irrelevant who calls the plays or what plays are called anyway?

Who honestly knows what the winning formula should be, but one thing is clear after Saturday's loss; Sarkisian is in the woods right now in a desperate search for said formula and he's clearly having difficulty finding his way out. There doesn't seem to be any end in sight to Washington's offensive woes, and UW's next game - at home with Oregon State - will be the Huskies' fifth top-10 opponent they've faced this year.

"It's disappointing," he said of the Arizona loss. "It's really disappointing because we're better than this. We're better than that, I know that."

Sarkisian has always prided himself on being able to tell the truth and admit when something isn't working, and frankly it's one of the reasons UW fans should still have faith that he has the necessary inner makeup and fortitude to be a good head coach in the long term. He's shown an ability to subjugate ego in the best interests of the program in an attempt to help Washington Football move ahead. But would the abandonment of his play calling duties be the equivalent of Sarkisian crossing the Rubicon?

Would Sark look in the mirror and realize that the answers he's searching for just might be staring him right in the face? He's always been good about not sugar-coating things, but when will the time come when Sarkisian will be held accountable for more than just being a straight-shooter?

No matter how well they play at home, if Steve Sarkisian's Washington Huskies continue to lose on the road by an average of nearly 35 points a game, he won't have to worry about a ton of self-reflection - at least at Montlake. The mirror and the rest of his belongings will have already been packed and shipped off to parts unknown as he interviews for a new gig.

And he knows that better than anyone.


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