Coming Close Isn't In Sarkisian's Plans

SEATTLE - Shortly after UW's Monday press conference, Joanne Bowers, Head Coach of Washington's Gymnastics team, stopped by and congratulated Steve Sarkisian. It's something Sarkisian has gotten used to in the past 48 hours since his Husky coaching debut, but the irony is - he's not sure how to handle the accolades.

"That's new to me," Sarkisian said Monday. "I've never been congratulated so much for losing. We don't want to get too used to that. The goal around here is to win the game. It was nice to get the praise for playing hard, but we're trying to win the game. I don't want anyone of us to get too used to being congratulated for losing."

The Huskies lost the game, 31-23 to LSU, but the feeling shared by many leaving Husky Stadium is that Washington football is back. "They are recognizing improvement," he said of the fans. "They are recognizing a football team that's playing with great passion, with great energy and with great effort. And they are also recognizing what the potential can be. People are excited about the enthusiasm and the experience of game day. People are excited about being competitive against a top-tier opponent.

And without question, there are numerous positives the team can draw from: They dominated the Tigers in every facet offensively, but one - the scoreboard. For the last 15 games, the scoreboard has been a consistent reminder of just how bad Washington football has been. Which makes the forward momentum generated in Saturday's loss feel like a win to all that suffered through the previous six years of pigskin hell.

But Sarkisian isn't buying it. And he certainly isn't going to let their good play stand as a crutch. In any other era, the Huskies would roll through Idaho like a combine through the wheat fields of the Palouse. Although they are three-touchdown favorites, the Huskies head coach doesn't mind his team having plenty to prove.

"This is a big week for our football team," he said. "We've got to get prepared mentally and physically for a tough ball game."

The litany of losses piled up by UW in the five years is impressive. There aren't many that can match their 12-47 (now 12-48) record for futility the last half-decade. Rolling out that list to the team isn't going enough this week, according to Sarkisian. In his mind, they have to be ready for a physical and emotional letdown. "We need to coach really well this week," he said. "It's about us. It's about getting each other ready. It's not about the opponent. It wasn't about LSU. It's not about Idaho. It's about us."

Getting last week out of his system might be hard for Sarkisian. He watched the game long into the wee small hours of Sunday morning. What he felt happened Saturday night was confirmed on film. They didn't take advantage in the red zone. Out of the 35 possible points they could have had in five drives deep, they came up with only nine.

They killed themselves with turnovers: One interception was returned for a touchdown and the other was a fumble deep in LSU territory. That's a 14-point swing.

"I'm not that great at math, but that's not a winning formula," Sarkisian said.

These numbers might cheer him up a little; Idaho has never won in Husky Stadium in 27 tries. They haven't beaten the Huskies period in over a century. Since 1940, they have won by an average of 31-10, which is probably why the oddsmakers have installed UW as an early 21-point favorite.

But that's all they are to Sarkisian right now - numbers. He's focused on two numbers; 15 and 1. 15 is the current losing streak; 1 is the number of wins he'd like to have as of Saturday afternoon.

"To me, this is a very challenging week for our coaching staff," he said, noting that they have to do a great job of getting the players re-energized, re-focused after a grueling week getting prepared for LSU. "There can be a natural letdown. This has to be our week where we motivate better than ever. It starts with practice. We have to compete really well so we can continue to improve."

His team competed very well on the field Saturday night, but Sarkisian was not happy at all with the way they did their work off the field. "In my opinion, our sideline needs to be more than what it was," he said. "I thought we were dead on my gauge. And we'll work on that. We need to all be in the game. When we're echoing for a certain team or certain substitution, it needs to come from all the players, not just the coach. We need to help and to work together to make this thing happen."

But the fans did their job. And Sarkisian will take their congratulations gratefully, if not with just a tinge of ambivalence. After all, he wasn't brought in to lose.

"I wanted to win, and I felt like we had an opportunity to win the game," he said. "And that's what you want, that's what you strive for - to have an opportunity to win the game in the fourth quarter. We had that and we didn't take advantage of that. And I never want to have to settle for that."

And if he can get that first win under his belt this weekend, he won't have to worry about those congratulatory messages for coming close ever again.


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