Sarkisian Yearns for Respect

In hearing coach Steve Sarkisian's opening comments, he's very happy that it's finally game week, especially given the fact that he's naturally an impatient person. "It's football season," he said. "That's why we're here and it's what we do. That's the mentality for us. It's been a long time coming, a lot of blood, sweat and tears for everybody.

"This is a huge challenge. LSU is a very talented football team. They are very well coached. We're going to hopefully put forth a great effort and see what happens.

"They are big and fast. They are physical and they are angry when they get there." Sarkisian recruited players like Patrick Peterson, Chad Jones and Jai Eugene when he was at USC. "These guys have the ability to make plays in the secondary that can change the momentum of a ball game in a single snap."

The Tigers also bring their top rusher (Charles Scott), their top receiver (Brandon LaFell) and their top passer (Jarrett Lee) back from last year, the first time that has happened at LSU since 1997. And they are talented enough that Lee isn't even expected to start; sophomore Jordan Jefferson is ahead of him on their official depth chart.

Sarkisian was asked about maybe starting a new era of football at Washington with maybe an easier opponent, but he noted the difficulties inherent when you have to schedule games so far ahead. He noted that Washington is in the process of putting their 2017 and 2018 schedules together right now. "There's nothing you can really do about it. It's a great gauge for us to see where we are at, where we stack up against a perennial top-10 team."

Not only is LSU a perennial top-10 team, but they hold the nation's longest non-conference winning streak (19 games), have won 12 of their last 13 openers, and have also won the last 15 times they have played on ESPN. Saturday night's game will be broadcast nationally on the ESPN family of networks.

He was asked about going from a successful program like USC and making the transition to a winless Washington team. "It's been a fun one," he said. "It hasn't been about the physical nature of play. It's been about changing the mindset, the culture, the way we think, the way we act, the way we talk, the way we walk. It's been fun to watch this progression happen.

And if a successful transition is to take place under his watch, it's because the team followed his lead all the way. "Ultimately in my opinion, the best teams embody and embrace the personality of the head coach," he said. "What SC did was Pete's personality, and what we do has to be my personality," he said.

It's more than just a little ironic that LSU happens to be the first team Sarkisian faces. In 2003 the Tigers won the national championship, but USC throttled Michigan in the Rose Bowl. USC took the top spot in the AP poll, and LSU got the top spot in the coaches poll. Both teams had one loss, so there was a lot of chirping back and forth as to who should be crowned the real national champions. "Coming from SC, there was always a little banter with the LSU fans that they should have been playing when we split the national title," Sarkisian said. "I thought to myself, 'I'm getting my chance now to play 'em'. It'll be a great atmosphere."

He said that he's learned that Washington could be better than maybe some people think, definitely better than the 0-12 team that played in 2008. "It shows that effort can go a long way, that attention to detail goes a long way," he said. "When you compete at a high level daily in practice, that makes us a better football team."

His expectations for UW football in 2009 is simple: They we're going to play hard. It's about effort, preparation and doing things right. "We're going to play with great effort," he said. "We're going to play with great energy, great enthusiasm, great intensity. We're going to take care of the ball offensively and one that gets after it on defense. We have to worry about ourselves and play the way we know how to play. If that's good enough to win, we'll see."

There's no doubt about it; this is a new era. "This is a new era for Washington football," Sarkisian said. "We got new uniforms."

They also have some new players, players that this staff were only able to recruit for two months before signing back in February. "You're going to see James Johnson and (Desmond) Trufant and (Talia) Crichton and some other guys that are going to play as true freshmen," he said. "I'm anxious to watch them because they've done nothing but impress us and I think they'll go out and play well."

Trufant might be considered the most surprising name from that group, considering the freshman from Tacoma didn't get cleared to practice this fall until roughly half-way through fall camp.

"He's a natural football player," Sarkisian said of the cornerback, the younger brother of Seattle Seahawks CB Marcus Trufant. "He's got good ball skills. He's got good savvy. He's got a quiet confidence about himself. He's got the right mentality to be a defensive back."

Sarkisian also mentioned Andru Pulu and Demitrius Bronson as two other freshmen that will definitely play. "I'm accustomed to doing that," he said, noting how they did that at USC too. "The best players play. If he's a true freshman, he's a true freshman. They aren't going to play every snap, but when they are out there they'll do things they do well so that they can get some success and build confidence.

And Jake Locker? "I'm expecting Jake to manage the football game for us," he said. "It's about distributing the football accurately and on time so that the guys around him can make plays. It's about taking care of the football, ultimately. He's responded extremely well.

"He's been efficient. His grasp of the offense has grown immensely. He's distributing the football very well. He's understanding when other guys make plays for you, it makes your job a lot easier. This is a fun offense when you allow it to work for you."

The one thing the Huskies have to watch with Locker is his propensity for taking off and trying to do too much on his own, especially with his feet. "When he runs it's in the right situations for the right reasons," Sarkisian added. "He's not taking the unnecessary hits. The idea is that we're smart with what we call, and that Jake understands the situation of the game, when it's time to avoid hits and when it's time to maybe put your head down and get a first down."

The offensive line is going to be very interesting to watch, as the five that had basically practiced as one unit together all of fall camp has been put on the shelf for the LSU game. "We tried to go back and evaluate all of fall camp and not get stuck on the ones or twos," Sarkisian said. "That's why there was a lot of shakeup during fall camp. For us, the best opportunity is to get (Ben) Ossai back at left tackle. Greg Christine has had a tremendous fall camp, and he deserves the opportunity to start at left guard. (Ryan) Tolar has been great at center, Senio (Kelemete) has been great at right guard, and Cody Habben has had a really good camp. To be able to push him back to right tackle is good. And now we get Drew Schaefer as a redshirt freshman and he doesn't have to start, but we are going to count on him. He is going to play in this first ball game."

Pushing Ossai back to tackle after a spring and fall at guard was apparently part of a bigger plan for the senior from Bakersfield. "The idea was to get him mentally and physically tougher," Sarkisian said. "When you go inside you have to deal with 3-technique, nose guard and a-gap blitzers and different things, it allows you to develop some of that mental and physical toughness."

Christine will be the first walk-on offensive linemen in at least 20 years to make a start for the Huskies. "He's taken to the coaching of Danny Cozzetto," Sarkisian said of Christine, a junior from Camarillo, Calif. "He communicates well up front. He's physical, he's tough. He's got a blue-collar mentality, which you love to have from an offensive lineman. I think he brings a lot of energy up front to our group, which I think our guys feed off of."

And he reiterated that, even with the switches made on the OL, it's not being done as a result of what LSU brings to the table. "It's what best suits our football team. This isn't about LSU. This is what's best for our football team. We have to take care of ourselves first and not worry about what's lying ahead of us. That comes with practicing really well."

Even though the team is out of fall camp, the competition continues. "You'll see a lot of guys playing in this game," Sarkisian said. "There will be a lot of rotation and things going on. "De'Shon Matthews has really come on here in the last week or so, and Cameron Elisara has had a great camp, so we may see those guys out there together. Talia Crichton has had a nice camp. Cort Dennison has really come on the last two weeks of camp. Victor Aiyewa in the secondary spot..there's guys we have to push on the field and allow them to play to see how they respond."

That rotation will be just as evident with the receivers, as two of the three listed WR spots in the depth chart have an 'or' next to them - meaning a lot of pass catchers will see the field. "You're gonna see for sure at least five or six guys playing," Sarkisian said. "They deserve it. They had a great camp. They will all be out there, doing the things that they do well."

The same goes for the running back corps, where Sarkisian has five legitimate options to use, and he said he expects to use all five at his disposal - Chris Polk, Johri Fogerson, Willie Griffin, Curtis Shaw and Demitrius Bronson.

But Polk, the redshirt frosh from Redlands East Valley, will get the starting nod Saturday night. "He's our most complete player," Sarkisian said. "He can run inside the tackles. He's physical. He can get out on the perimeter. He's got nice football intelligence. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He's done a nice job in pass protection. So I think it's been his overall job that has elevated him to this point."

In the end, Sarkisian hopes to maximize all the advantages Washington has at home to their fullest potential. "We're excited it's a home field advantage to us," he said. "It's going to be an electric atmosphere. And the forecast is showing rain on Saturday, so we'll embrace that as a home field advantage in a sense. Those temperatures keep dippin'. But from a preparation standpoint, it's a wash because they get the same amount of time to prepare for us as we get for them."

But the staff has done everything in their power to get the team focused on the game, so they don't have to worry about things like going to the team hotel and where they need to be for meetings and such. They already went through a dry run of a game-day experience this past weekend to familiarize the team and staff with everything that goes into it, so by the time this Saturday comes around, they've already communicated everything and it feels like routine.

"We try to minimize as much of the unknown factor as possible," Sarkisian said. "We want our kids to be comfortable in their environment - whether that's dealing the hotel, pre-game rituals, how we come out of the tunnel, how our uniform feels like when we have it on...because ultimately we want our guys focused in on the game and what the responsibilities are and the opponent.

"The challenge is to stay fresh, stay upbeat, kid your kids motivated, keep practices energetic, enthusiastic and intense, but get the work done that's needed to get done. I want our kids locked in and focused, but I don't want it so drawn out that we lose that."

And when the game starts, what's the biggest challenge Sarkisian and his staff will face? "It'll be dealing with the adversity that comes with playing a game," he said. "No football game ever goes perfect, and when adversity strikes - and it can strike in any form - how we respond to it and refocus and get right back to the grind of playing with great effort and doing things right. That's my biggest concern and our biggest challenge as a coaching staff."

And at the end of the night, regardless of what it says on the scoreboard, Sarkisian is most concerned about respect. And when you're trying to build back a once-proud tradition, respect is huge. "You play hard, you play with great effort, you're relentless," he said. "You're physical, you do things right. You challenge them, both mentally and physically. And at the end of the day they know they played a very tough opponent, an opponent they need to respect.

"Regardless of the score, they need to walk off the field respecting the Huskies."
Notes:
Injury update: Justin Glenn's sore knee is keeping him out of the starting lineup for now, but Sarkisian said he expects the redshirt frosh from Kamiak to be available for Monday night's practice and should be 100 percent for the game. The same goes for sophomore TE Kavario Middleton, who is nursing a sore hamstring. Sarkisian expects both Middleton and sophomore Chris Izbicki to play a lot against LSU. Johri Fogerson is still limited by an ankle, but Sarkisian expects him out at practice no later than Tuesday night. Matt Houston is looking more and more doubtful for Saturday's game with a bicep tear. Skyler Fancher and Jason Wells are already out.

No news on Tucker: Freshman linebacker Tim Tucker, who was pulled from fall camp because of issues surrounding his final clearance by the NCAA Clearinghouse, is still in a holding patter as of Monday, Sarkisian said. "It's as frustrating for me as it is for you," he said.

Recruiting boon: Sarkisian hopes to capitalize on a great Saturday night as the Huskies plan on hosting a number of prospects from out of state, both on official and unofficial visits. We'll have a more comprehensive list of recruits as we get closer to game time. "It's going to be a great night," he said. "A national televised game, a night game, the electricity is in the air. We're trying to take advantage of a great event, not just a football game. It was an ideal opportunity to bring in some kids to show 'em what UW and our football program is all about.


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