Sark Has Three-Step Plan For Success

SEATTLE - Sometimes it is better to get right back on the bicycle again after you've fallen off, but if Steve Sarkisian had his way he'd never lose his seat. The Washington Huskies face their second tough road test in as many weeks as they travel to Notre Dame, and Sarkisian has a plan in place to make sure his team hasn't fallen off the pace.

"I saw a game of missed opportunities," he said Monday when asked about his review of the Cardinal's 34-14 win over UW. "The game comes down to fundamentals. You need to tackle on defense, and we need to block on offense. This is a physical game. Ultimately, all the expertise that can go into it, all of the scientific stuff that goes into it – breakdowns, film study and everything that goes into it – the bottom line when a guy has the ball in his hands, and you're there, we have to tackle him."

They couldn't tackle Stanford running back Toby Gerhart to the tune of 200 yards Saturday night. That was just one phase of the game where the Huskies - who had been pretty solid up to this point in the season - abandoned their technique, communication and trust all at the same time.

"It's not that we're not playing physical football; we are playing physical," he said. "And we're playing with great effort. But ultimately, it comes down to the technique side of the game. When it's time to tackle, it's about wrapping up and bringing the feet and getting the guy down. And when it comes to blocking, it's having good pad level, locking on a guy and finishing blocks. So it's not about our heart; it's not about our effort. It's just about our technique, and we've got to clean it up."

Sarkisian thinks he has the answer for UW's woes - a three-step process that starts Monday and ends with a great performance at Notre Dame on Saturday. "We'll take it on head on," Sarkisian said of his plan. "We'll address it as far as we need to know where we screwed up. We need to know why it happened and what happened. And that's what today's about, getting to the truth of the game. That's the first thing. Then once you get to the truth, you have to fix what needs to be fixed. And then the third thing is, we need to implement what we think is going to be successful to go beat Notre Dame.

Sounds simple enough, but how do you fix something that looked so wholly awful, so completely one-sided? It is Tell The Truth Monday, and the truth is, Saturday night wasn't pretty. While breaking down the game, Sarkisian saw some things that led him to the conclusion that the score was not necessarily indicative of the run of play. "Offensively, the first drive we went right down the field and threw a pick on the 1-yard line," he said. "You get the ball back again, you go right down the field, you have a third-and-1, you fumble the snap. You score on your next series. You start the second half on your 14-yard-line, you drive down to the 33 with a missed opportunity on a fourth-and-5, a play I think we can execute, and didn't. We get the ball again, drive down the field, have a makable third down, a makable fourth down, tipped ball and the ball gets knocked down.

"Defensively, there were more missed opportunities. We could have gotten off the field. As well as they ran the ball, especially early, there was opportunities on a couple third down occasions where we're hitting him (Gerhart) in the backfield, and he's able to break the tackle and get a first down to keep a drive alive. The most notable one, when we cut the game to 17-14 with 10:05 left in the second quarter, they have almost an eight-minute drive for a touchdown where they make two third downs that are just, one, missed assignments, and two, the ability to tackle a guy in the backfield. To me, that's a missed opportunity.

"So when you look at the game from that standpoint, I feel we missed a beautiful opportunity to play the way we're capable of playing, on the road to get a tough Pac-10 win. We didn't do it, we didn't capitalize on it."

A lack of trust in your teammates, coupled with even a hint of uncertainty in your own assignment responsibilities can make even the most aggressive teams look tame in comparison. "When a guy is hesitating...because he's unsure he's doing the right thing, he can appear to be not physical," Sarkisian said. "But the reality is not that he's not a physical player. He's just unsure, and things are happening faster than he can react. You can try too hard and not do your job. And when there's 11 guys playing, it only takes one guy making a mistake to make everything else look really bad. Everybody is taking their turns. It's about accountability and doing things right down after down after down collectively."

Collectively is the operative word here, because - for instance - it would be easy to use Jake Locker as a crutch to keep your running game going when it appears stalled, but Sarkisian knows that's not the right answer, either in the short term or the long run.

"I think we would be hitting the panic button today to say Jake needed to have 10 or 12 quarterback runs this week because we cant run the ball and then the next thing you know he gets nicked up and where are we?" Sarkisian queried, a reference to last year whether it was intended or not.

"I think things are there that we can fix. I think we'll only get better, not only from a schematic standpoint, but a physical standpoint and understand how we need to play to combat things like that when they come about."


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