Emotion getting the better of the Dawgs

Steve Sarkisian admitted again Monday afternoon that there were a few times during the Washington Huskies' 24-17 loss to Arizona State Friday where he tried a little too hard to force the action, seemingly putting the game in his hands, and not in the hands of his players.

And for the players' effort, it was stifled much of the time with execution breakdowns and needless penalties, the result of getting goaded into a verbal and physical sparring match with Arizona State, putting the terms of the game squarely where the home team wanted them.

It started with ASU's star freshman, Vontaze Burfict, doing his best roid-rage imitation by dialing up three personal foul calls in the first half, including two in one drive. Heck, UW even had a sideline penalty called on them that ended up being nothing more than an official hearing something that he thought was for his ears only, when it wasn't.

"You think about a 15-yard penalty, that's the equivalent to an in route or a post route or a big run," Sarkisian said Monday. "Those are big yards and then at the end of the game you picked up the stat sheet and we gave them 124 yards and that's a lot of football yards in a tight ball game.

"Just because a certain team is playing a certain way doesn't mean we should have to play that way. That's when we should go right back to being who we are and allow them to do what they want to do. Because ultimately, it's not about them; it's about us and our ability to play with great effort and execute."

Expect that battle of the mind to continue Saturday, as the Oregon Ducks come to Seattle undefeated in conference and with a point to prove to the national pundits who wrote them off after their debacle at Boise State in week one. Not only do the player need to grow emotionally and mentally for a difficult game this weekend, but the staff need to also take that next step to show that they are maturing as a group.

And all that starts with Sarkisian, who noted Saturday night that if he had the chance to do some things over again with his play-calling against the Sun Devils, he would have pulled a couple of mulligans out of his bag.

The first one was in the second quarter, with the Huskies driving deep in ASU territory. At the Sun Devils' 20-yard line, Washington quarterback Jake Locker was picked off by Burfict, but UW got the ball back when the home team was called for another personal foul. Sarkisian went to the well again, calling up another pass play for Locker. It was a jump pass, similar to what Tim Tebow at Florida is known for, but Locker's first attempt was not very Tebow-like. In fact, it ended up getting intercepted by ASU's Ryan McFoy.

"As I go back and evaluate that instance, I probably tried too hard on that one," Sarkisian said, noting that he went against his general philosophy of trying to take the heat off the quarterback a little bit by dialing up a run after the QB has been picked off.

The second instance was one where he most certainly went against his better angels. On 3-and-1 with 28 seconds left and the ball on their 19-yard line in a tie ball game, the former BYU gunslinger called up an aggressive pass play, based on something he had seen from the Arizona State cornerbacks earlier in the game.

"I really thought there was an opportunity to make a play to James Johnson," Sarkisian said. "With the thought being, if we hit this play we get the ball somewhere around midfield with three timeouts, possibly 15 to 20 seconds (left). Depending on what happens, now we can try to get a shot at a field goal and the game ends one way or another that way."

In hindsight, he now believes a run would have been the better play. If the Huskies don't get the first down, the force the Sun Devils to burn their final timeout, which makes their subsequent series a little different. With one timeout in hand, ASU could then look to the whole field, instead of just the sidelines, and then call time if they completed a pass in the middle of the field.

If the Huskies did convert the first down, they would have 15 or so seconds to maybe take a shot downfield to get close to field goal range. Either way, Sarkisian's overarching philosophy with the game on the line and his team in possession of the ball is: Don't give the ball away to end the game.

And for some reason that ultimately no one but Sarkisian will fully understand, he went up top. During his internal dialog prior to the play, the head coach in him should have overruled the quarterback in him, but that didn't happen either. During the winning drive against USC in a similar situation, Sarkisian dialed up a run-pass option to Locker, who converted for a first down.

"I thought I tried too hard at times – too hard to make the game go in our way, to get some momentum going our way instead of allowing the game to come to us, of us just playing well," he said. "There is always room for improvement. There is always room for areas for us to get better, which we will address this week."

Playcalling aside, cleaning up the penalties and sticking to their own style of play will be a tough task against the Ducks, who have outscored their opponents 187-79 and outgained them 402-265 during their current five-game winning streak.

"We won't prepare any differently," Sarkisian said. "We're going to prepare the same way from a football-standpoint, mentally and physically, as we would every week. But we won't go into a meeting room and not address it. I think we would be foolish not to do that. We need to address this thing straight up, and recognize the fact it's a rivalry game, there are a lot of emotions involved and so we need to talk about our emotions, and how we handle the emotions in pre-game and throughout the game.

"Because emotions can get the better of you, as we saw last Saturday night versus Arizona State."

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