Sark knows there's work to be done

Steve Sarkisian (US Presswire)

SEATTLE - Goal number one accomplished. Steve Sarkisian had been harping on his players all week to make sure they did everything in their power to get to 1-0, and sometimes even despite themselves on Saturday, they found themselves in their locker room still undefeated after a nervy 30-27 victory over Eastern Washington.

EWU did everything they could to ruin Sark's garden party. They created offense that ran circles around the Huskies like Usain Bolt suddenly realizing he's in the Senior Olympics.

"They were extremely scary," Sarkisian said of the Eagles. "There's a reason why they were (FCS) national champions last year. There's a reason why they are pre-season No. 1 in the country this year. At the end of the day we're happy to be 1-0. The reality is, when you play a lot of young guys, we're going to make some young guy mistakes. The challenge for us is to continuously push them and coach them to where we grow from these ball games as we move forward early in the season.

"Tomorrow, half the teams in the country are going to wake up 0-1, and we happen to on the other side of it this time around. We also know that we have a lot of work to do to get better, to improve as we move through the season. It's only going to get more challenging."

Sixteen young pups found their way onto the field for the first time Saturday: Colin Tanigawa, DiAndre Campbell, Kasen Williams, Bishop Sankey, Jonathan Amosa, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Micah Hatchie, Ben Riva, Josh Shirley, Andrew Hudson, Danny Shelton, Thomas Tutogi, John Timu, Jamaal Kearse, James Sample, and Lawrence Lagafuaina.

Those that played defense, including first-time starter Timu and second-time starter Fuimaono, were fresh meat for 14-start veteran Bo Levi Mitchell and the finely-tuned passing attack of EWU. They took Arizona's dink-and-dunk philosophy to a whole new level, throwing the ball a record 69 times, completing 39 of them, for 473 yards. It's not as loopy as the 510 yards Arizona's Willie Tuitama threw for in 2007 against some seriously defenseless Dawgs, and I haven't taken the time to break down all Mitchell's throws, but I'd venture to say a substantial number of those throws were for less than 10 yards.

"Defensively, they taxed us," Sarkisian said of Beau Baldwin's offense. "Sixty-nine pass attempts…that's a crazy number. It was difficult to generate a pass rush, he was getting rid of the ball so quickly, even when we had free rushers."

It was the kind of death by a thousand paper cuts that you only hear about on TMZ. With Quinton Richardson and his 30 career starts out of the starting lineup, Eastern preyed on the other long-time starter - Desmond Trufant. Going up against 6-foot-5 Brandon Kaufman, a junior All-America candidate. All he did as a sophomore was catch 1200 yards' worth of passes. He turned Trufant inside-out, upside-down, and around and around…but something was happening during all the mayhem.

Trufant was learning. "He saw what was happening and where routes were coming from, and had a couple breakups and came up with a big interception," Sarkisian said of the junior from Tacoma. "And that's what we saw in training camp - his playmaking ability, and it showed up."

Yup, it showed up - with 29 seconds left on the game clock and the interception came in his own end zone…but the play was made, and the crisis was averted. Temporarily. I mean, if a quality FCS QB like Bo Levi Mitchell can carve up Washington's defense like a Christmas ham, what is Hawaii's Bryant Moniz going to do? All Moniz did in 2010 was throw for 4,249 yards and 32 touchdowns.

Moniz has the capability to slice and dice secondaries like a Magic Bullet. But the Huskies can learn too, and Sarkisian expects a lot of soul searching to take place, starting Saturday night.

"We can all look at ourselves in the mirror tonight and tomorrow morning and know we could have been better today," he said. "That's the goal. We need to get better, because we're going to need better performances as we move forward."

It wasn't all doom and gloom; the special teams that were emphasized during fall camp came up trumps. Kiel Rasp's 55-yard punt with 1:25 left on the clock - a punt fair-caught by EWU's Ashton Clark at the 5-yard line - should have been the play that sealed the victory. Erik Folk was outstanding - 3/3 on field goal attempts, with a long of 52.

The Huskies also forced four turnovers, without giving one up themselves. "You win the turnover battle, you win football games," Sarkisian said, matter-of-factly. "Today, 4-0, and we ended up winning. It speaks volumes to what we preach."

Washington also dominated the run game, out-pacing the Eagles 148-31 on the ground. So UW won by running the ball, coming up with key stops, and winning the battle of special teams.

Kind of sounds like the way Don James used to win games. Granted, what it took Mitchell a game to accomplish via the air would take a Don James-coached team a season to surrender, but this team isn't there yet. Not by a longshot. But they have stumbled upon the right formula. Now it's up to them to hone it, refine it, perfect it, and turn their weaknesses into strengths.

And that starts Sunday as they prepare for another team like likes to chuck it around the park.

"We're probably going to see another 60 pass attempts next week from Hawaii, so we better figure it out," Sarkisian said. "They are going to learn from this game and this film immensely. And when we call on them, they'll go harder. And we're going to get there a half-second, a second quicker, and that's going to cause some more errant throws. We just have to learn from it."

And when it comes to getting corrected in a hurry, Sarkisian believes there's nothing he saw Saturday that can't be fixed. And fixed fast.

"You practice and you practice, and you try to create scenarios as best you can, but then the game happens," he said. "Tension occurs, then mistakes occur. Fatigue kicks in. There's all these extraneous distractions that take over. We can learn from this and seeing the mistakes we made - I think the majority of them can be easily fixed.

"This isn't about our kids; this is about me and about us, and about our ability to coach off this film and off this game to get better."


Notes:
Injury Updates: Jermaine Kearse came up hobbling with an ankle sprain with his only catch of the game in the first quarter. Kearse wanted to come back in, but Sarkisian saw something in the senior receiver that gave him pause. "Jermaine's a tough guy," Sarkisian said. "I've been around him for three years now, and for him to lay on the field - I knew he was hurt. He wanted to go back in, but I think it was best for us to sit him down and start the treatment today in the hopes of getting him back next week. We'll have to wait and see." Not as high of an ankle sprain as what Richardson is dealing with. "We'll have to see how he responds tomorrow and see what the swelling looks like - but if I know Jermaine, he'll do all the treatment he can to get back out there - he's a great competitor. And we need him out there. We need his leadership, as much as anything."

The other player to suffer a leg injury was quarterback Keith Price, who suffered a knee sprain in the first half of the game. He came back into the game late in the second quarter with a knee brace on, was re-evaluated at halftime, and then continued to play with the brace, though his effectiveness as a runner appeared greatly compromised. "Keith's an elusive guy; he likes to create and move around in the pocket," Sarkisian said. "When the knee sprain came and the knee brace went on, that limited him. Hopefully he can get healthy and gets back to the way he likes to play the game."

Sarkisian was asked post-game if he thought about putting in their backup, Nick Montana, and he said they were in the process of doing just that. "We were doing it, but the doctors cleared (Price)," he added. "We went back and forth. We were planning on going with Nick, and Keith came back. We're going to have to assess where Keith is at tomorrow and the next few days. We'll get Nick ready to go. I'm confident in Nick's abilities that he can go in and play well if called upon."

Chris Polk was a player that ended up being a game-time decision, although Sarkisian admitted he was confident Friday that the junior running back would play, despite only being two weeks and two days removed from knee surgery. Polk finished the game with 125 yards on 23 carries. "I had a really good feeling yesterday morning," Sarkisian said of Polk. "I just wanted him and I to be on the same page. I wanted to know where we was at and what he felt like. I thought he looked great leading up to that point, and there was no swelling. So when the time came to play, he played. He showed up. He obviously responded with a great ball game for us, but I think he can even play better, and he'd be the first one to tell you that."

Sarkisian also noted that the trainers asked Polk during the game if he was OK, and he told them that his shoulder was a little sore. "So he wasn't worried about his knee," Sarkisian said with a chuckle.

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