Sark Out of Sync

TEMPE, ARIZ. - Taking a cue from Top Gun for a moment, a head coach is always taught to evaluate what has happened during a game so that he can apply what he has learned. And while second-guessing is just part of the process, Washington fans may have seen a new side of Steve Sarkisian Saturday night; the human side.

And for all the right moves the first-year head coach has made over the course of this roller-coaster ride of a season - and he's made plenty - Sarkisian is going to have to take one squarely on the chin after the Arizona State Sun Devils pulled out a stunning 24-17 win at Sun Devil Stadium.

The win wasn't too shocking; truth be told, the Sun Devils deserved to win the game. And for anyone that has followed Washington football this year, it wasn't shocking either that the Huskies stayed in the game far longer than expected considering their lack of consistent execution in any of the three phases of the game.

But there they were anyway - denying scores in the red zone and playing just enough offense to keep everyone in suspense. Then, with 1:17 left in the game and the score tied, Sarkisian felt a sense of Deja Vu. This was the USC game all over again.

And then he got brave.

After two runs by Chris Polk to their own 19-yard line, the UW play-caller dialed up a pass play that he felt would catch Arizona State with their pants down, but the Huskies couldn't convert. A punt later and the ball was at midfield with 13 seconds remaining.

ASU would try for the obvious, right? A 20-yard pass or so to get their kicker in field goal range to try and pull out the improbable win? The Devils did one better, and when QB Danny Sullivan found Chris McGaha streaking down the center of the field, everyone else got a taste of Deja Vu: It felt like Alex Brink to Brandon Gibson in the 2007 Apple Cup all over again.

The biggest difference, however, was that Brink to Gibson was just a great play at the right moment by an offense that had the ball at the end of the game. In Washington's case Saturday night, the coaches put it on the defense to pull them out of the pits of Sparky.

It was just too much to ask for.

"Seven games in and I feel like every week it keeps getting crazier and crazier," Sarkisian said. "Some of the stuff tonight is hard for me to explain."

To his credit, Sarkisian did try to explain the final play, which had the Huskies in a Cover-3 zone. That means the free safety is in the middle of the field and his job is to make sure he's as deep as the deepest receiver between the hash marks.

"We jumped a crossing route and left the middle of the field wide open," Sarkisian said, adding that he wasn't sure why it happened that way because he hadn't been able to see the replay.

The bust notwithstanding, most will go back to the third-and-one at their own 19. It's easy for people to say after the fact what should have been called, but let's just say that, knowing what we know now, Sark's pass call was an ill-fated moment of hubris. And for this night at least, he wasn't the boy genius that had learned at the feet of Norm Chow and had been a key member of the offensive brain trust behind a national championship at USC; he was simply a coach who gambled at the wrong time and lost.

If Jake Locker completes the pass to James Johnson, we're not talking about it. It simply becomes just one of the 65 plays Sarkisian called on the night. But the play didn't work, and in the process Sarkisian found himself straying from one of his fundamental tenants; the offense gets to dictate the terms.

He rode that philosophy to smashing success against USC earlier this year, ironically enough. It also helped that Locker and receiver Jermaine Kearse played out of their minds that day. "The game would have ended with us having the ball in our hands," Sarkisian said. "That's what you always want in a tie ball game."

But this ASU game felt different from the very beginning, and it had nothing to do with the 94 degree temperatures and 15 percent humidity. It was just stilted and strange, there was just no flow to the pace of play. The two teams were called for 21 total penalties, and Washington had two 15-yard penalties called on the same play. How often does that happen? The officiating crew made such a hash out of the second quarter they had fans from both teams booing them.

Arizona State's heralded frosh linebacker, Vontaze Burfict, was taking swings at anyone within arm's reach. At times it looked like he was ready to unload on his own players just so he wouldn't get a penalty by lashing out on the opponent. And on Chris Polk's 23-yard touchdown to bring the Huskies to within three points, Burfict tried to hit UW receiver James Johnson.

Nothing happened.

"I was trying to figure out why it wasn't a penalty," Sarkisian said. "I couldn't quite get the explanation."

In looking for answers of their own, Washington fans will invariably be drawn to their final offensive possession of the game. It appeared overtime was well within reach, and an almost certainty if the Huskies had simply played the odds and kept the ball in their hands. "I could have managed the ball game better," he said, matter-of-factly. "I pride myself on doing that, and I didn't do a very good job tonight."


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