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September 7, 2011

Apologetic Huskies better grow up fast

He couldn't stop apologizing.

As he talked about how his team played against Eastern Washington, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian sounded more like the losing coach than the winner.

"We were too cautious," he explained. "Too careful. We need to be more physical."

Surprisingly, Sarkisian, a winner of his first season opener as Washington's head coach, found himself in an awkward position of explaining how his 18-point favorites narrowly escaped with a 30-27 victory against Eastern Washington Saturday, saved by Desmond Trufant's leaping interception in the end zone with just 29 seconds left.

"Obviously, it's good to be 1-0," Sarkisian said. "But there's a lot of work left to be done. I know we're better than the way we played."

Just three years removed from Washington's disastrous winless season, an 0-12 stinker, winning is no longer enough. Sarkisian, in his third season as UW's head coach, has fans believing again in Montlake country, his remodel job in accelerated mode now after January's bowl win against Nebraska.

Statistically, Washington looked like the loser against Eastern, outgained 504-250 in total yardage. EWU had an uncanny 30-14 edge in first downs. But the equalizer was UW's 4-0 edge in turnovers, intercepting two passes and recovering two fumbles.

"There's a lot of work left to be done," Sarkisian said. "I know we're better than the way we played. It starts with the style of play. We're a much more physical, relentless football team. We didn't show that. We have to get back to that brand of football."

Sarkisian wants to see more energy and more enthusiasm. More fly-around, make-something-happen play.

"We didn't play Washington football," Sarkisian said. "We can't play with hesitation."

Washington will have to be quick, decisive and physical Saturday against Hawaii, a team coming off an impressive 34-17 win against Colorado. Even though Eastern Washington attempted 69 passes, 10 more than any opponent had ever thrown against the Huskies, Hawaii will be even a greater test for the Huskies young and at times hesitant defense.

Hawaii's quarterback, Bryant Moniz, has the arm and the legs to beat the Huskies. After throwing for a national-best 5,040 yards last year in Hawaii's 10-win season, Moniz shelved his arm against Colorado and ran for 121 yards and three touchdowns.

He completed 20 of 33 passes for 178 yards, well below last season's 360-yard average.

But even if the Huskies' young secondary do a better job in their zone coverage, forcing Moniz to tuck the ball and run, that's not necessarily a positive. Against Colorado, Moniz' legs and not his arm was the difference.

He had three long runs - 22, 34 and 57 yards. His longest run didn't come on a scramble. It came on an option. He faked a handoff, avoided a tackle and raced untouched 57 yards to the end zone.

So, it's grow up in a hurry for UW cornerback Greg Ducre, who got his first start against EWU. Freshman safety James Sample and little-used cornerback Anthony Gobern also got significant playing time against Eastern and will need to play "older" against Hawaii.

While disappointed with how his team played in the opener, Sarkisian at least didn't have to explain a loss, which Oregon State coach Mike Riley did after an embarrassing 28-27 overtime loss to Sacramento State. Despite the despair and concern, Washington is still on a five-game win streak, sixth longest in the country.

Could Washington's defense looked better? No question. There weren't enough sacks. Enough tight man-to-man coverage. Enough smack-mouth football. But maybe even a greater concern is Washington's lack of offense.

Quarterback Keith Price has to do something more than toss dink-passes, averaging just 4.1 yards a completion as he did against Eastern. He's got to throw upfield more. Sarkisian also has to turn Price loose and let him throw deep more.

And Washington's cautious defense has to turn reckless in order for the Huskies to improve to 2-0 for just the second time in 10 years. They're going to have to put some pressure on the quarterback, get some sacks and force some interceptions.

Only then will Sarkisian see what he wants - a win with smash-mouth, fly-around intensity. And only then will he not have to apologize after a win.

Gail Wood can be reached at splinters5@reachone.com


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