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UW notebook: Red-zone play key to ending slow starts

By Brent Stecker

The No. 17 Washington Huskies have scored 72 points in their two wins this season, but just 20 have come before halftime. Head coach Steve Sarkisian believes he has the answer why.

"The first half of these games has been interesting. We've had a lot of yards, and I've been trying to figure it out myself," he said Monday. "We've also had a lot of long fields. We've been starting on the 20, on the 5, on the 6, on the 10, and over time, those long drives, that just means you have to do things right over and over. And we've stubbed our toe on a couple of those drives."

That was the case in Saturday's 34-24 win on the road against Illinois, a game where Washington never reached the red zone in a scoreless first quarter, lost a pair of fumbles before halftime, and settled for a chip-shot field goal on an 86-yard drive late in the second quarter.

Sarkisian said the offense will need help from the defense to turn around their low-scoring ways in the first half.

price illini
Washington's Keith Price has thrown four touchdowns this season, but only one has come before halftime. (AP)
"I think (the defense has to) get after the football better than we have here over the first two games," he said. "Our ability to create turnovers to get field position I think will only help the offense score more early rather than those long drives that we've happened to have."

While Sarkisian has an idea of what's been slowing the Huskies' offense, senior quarterback Keith Price said he hasn't seen a difference between the way the team has played in the first half compared to the second half.

"We just have to figure out a way to get in the end zone. I'm sure if we got in the end zone, I think our stats are probably the same both halves," Price said. "It's just the fact that we can't score points in the first half for some reason. Hopefully we can get that fixed this week."

One clear-cut way Washington can boost its first-half production is improve its success in the red zone, as it has managed to score touchdowns in just six of its 10 trips inside the 20-yard line this year.

"Obviously the red-zone efficiency is not where we want to be and need to be, so we'll continue to work on that," Sarkisian said. "I think we have plenty of good weapons, I think we have good schemes, it's just finding the right rhythm of the game of when we're calling what we're calling and making sure that the timing is there in the right place with the receivers and the quarterback, and then how the running game ties into that. It felt a little bit like we were just a tiny bit off (against Illinois)."

It's something Price recognizes as well.

"We understand that we need to score touchdowns in the red zone, especially as we move on," he said. "The Pac-12 is putting up numbers, so we have to be able to match that. And I have to be better in the red zone, making better decisions, throwing it to open guys."

But with the bad news is good news for Huskies, who have been plenty successful putting points on the board after halftime.

"I think it's a credit to our offensive staff, when we get in at halftime, of recognizing a couple things – formations that we really like, plays that we feel are conducive in the gameplan that we can lean on more," Sarkisian said. "In turn, the players are really aware of what those plays are, and our guys went out and executed them really well. We had three really good drives there right in a row in the third quarter that were about as impressive as we've been."

Rusty return for ASJ

Austin Seferian-Jenkins' first action of the season looked just like that, according to Sarkisian.

"It was like a first game back. It was kind of what you'd expect out of a team in a first game," Sarkisian said of the junior tight end who served a one-game suspension during the season opener for his March DUI citation.

Seferian-Jenkins caught three passes for eight yards against the Illini, and he was whistled for three penalties – two holding calls and one false start.

"(There were) some really good things in the running game I thought for Austin," Sarkisian said. "A little bit of fatigue – he did play 80 snaps in the game, which is a lot at that tempo, so we'll have to monitor that a little better next time out. He's expecting to play better Saturday, I think we're expecting him to play better Saturday, and when he does we'll be better for it as a team."

Bengals at a glance

With the Huskies ranked among the top 20 teams in the nation, Saturday's noon home game against Idaho State is simply a chance for them to take care of business against an FCS opponent, even if the Bengals are also 2-0 on the season.

"You're just never too big for an opponent, no matter who it may be coming into your house," said defensive end Josh Shirley, who is coming off a three-sack effort against Illinois. "You have to take them on like (you're) Goliath coming in and they're trying to take you down."

Idaho State will try to match Washington's up-tempo pace, but it will rely on the air a lot more to move the ball.

"They're gonna throw the ball," Sarkisian said. "They're fast like us as far as tempo-wise. They probably throw the ball a lot more than we do – they throw it about 75 percent of the time. They have an aggressive blitzing-style defense, and they're 2-0, so they're coming in here with a lot of confidence."

Notes

• Two monster performances from RB Bishop Sankey have put him in the NCAA lead for rushing yards per game at 184.5. Sankey, who rushed for 161 yards against Boise State and 208 yards against Illinois, leads Rutgers' Paul James by 20.3 yards per game. He also is eighth in the nation in total rushing yards with 369.

• Washington's leading tackler in 2012, MLB John Timu, is day-to-day with a bruise in his rotator cuff. He missed the entire second half Saturday after injuring the shoulder in the first half.

"He couldn't lift it. I would say he's day-to-day, quite honestly, with how the inflammation in the shoulder goes," Sarkisian said. "There's nothing structurally wrong in there, which is a great sign."

• Sarkisian said he's not worried about redshirt freshman RB Dwayne Washington, who lost two fumbles in the first half and didn't play in the second half against Illinois.

"Dwayne Washington's going to be fine. We have a lot of confidence in our young players," he said.

Sarkisian added that Sankey's 35 carries Saturday were more than he'd like, and that between Washington, Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper, the Huskies will look to spread the carries around to help protect Sankey.

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