By Brent Stecker
The midseason swoon has hit the Washington Huskies once again.
With Saturday's disappointing 52-24 loss to Arizona State, the Huskies hit three games on a losing skid for the fifth time in five years under head coach Steve Sarkisian.
"Fortunately but unfortunately, we've been here before," Sarkisian said Monday, a day after the Huskies fell out of the top 25 for the first time since Week 1. "Challenging, challenging time for us in that we fought like crazy the previous two weeks against two really good opponents (No. 2 Oregon and then-No. 5 Stanford), and for one reason or another, it just didn't come to light Saturday."
Running back Marion Grice and Arizona State's offense tortured Washington's defense by possessing the ball for more than 11 minutes in the second quarter Saturday. (AP)
Sarkisian was adamant that Washington will look more like the team that started 4-0 when Cal visits Husky Stadium Saturday on a night the program will honor Don James, the longtime Huskies coach who died Sunday.
"My job here at University of Washington is to prepare our players to be successful and to prepare our coaches to be successful ... and I didn't get it done Saturday," Sarkisian said. "The buck stops here. We will be better Saturday. We will play harder, faster, more physical Saturday, and we're gonna play a really good football game Saturday night.
"We've always responded, and we've always bounced back, and we'll do it again. I don't have a shadow of a doubt that our guys are gonna come out and play a great football game Saturday night."
The loss to the Sun Devils was a definite low point for Washington, which fell to 4-3 overall and 1-3 in Pac-12 play, and a dismal second quarter where Arizona State outscored the Huskies 26-0 was the biggest letdown of all.
"I thought the second quarter of the game really took its toll on our ballclub. Our inability to get first downs on offense (gave) the defense poor field position, (and) they fought I think as much as they could in keeping Arizona State out of the end zone," Sarkisian said. "It was a 15-7 ballgame with 3:48 left in the first half, and we couldn't get a first down. Finally they wore us out, we missed some tackles, and then, bang, the game is 29-7."
The defense particularly had a tough time in the second quarter, as it spent most of the frame on the field because of Washington's offensive problems.
"Our defense was on the field I believe for 11 and a half minutes in the second quarter, in that heat, going up-tempo. I felt like it took its toll on our defense for sure," Sarkisian said. "We were subbing guys, we were trying to rotate guys, we just couldn't keep our defense off the field well enough to give them a chance to be refreshed, go out and play good football late in the second quarter. We missed a lot of tackles I think as a byproduct of that. I thought fatigue played into our inability to tackle them in some pretty obvious tackling situations."
That showed up in the stat sheet, as well.
"I think we calculated we missed 20 tackles in the game ... and they had 109 yards of offense after contact. Those two numbers are pretty startling numbers, but I do believe that it's a direct result of them being on the field too much."
Sarkisian took the blame for a running game that produced minus-5 yards against the Sun Devils.
"I can do a better job of protecting those guys (the offensive line). We didn't run the ball enough. We didn't run the ball enough in the second quarter," he said.
Junior running back Bishop Sankey, who entered the game leading the nation in rushing yards per game, had just 22 on 13 carries.
"I love running the ball, I love giving the ball to Bishop, and to go in and stand in front of you guys and look at the stat sheet and he has 13 carries in a critical ballgame of the season, that's not enough," Sarkisian said. "I just didn't think we gave that a chance, and that falls on me."
After such a taxing weekend, the Huskies had a short day of work Monday.
"We didn't practice today. I felt like for us we needed to regroup," Sarkisian said. "We had some lengthy meetings, we did a little bit of conditioning and we lifted."
Price's thumb still a concern
There will be a close eye throughout the week on senior quarterback Keith Price, who has been dealing with an injured thumb on his throwing hand for several weeks and completed a season-low 41 percent of his passes (16 for 39) against Arizona State.
"He's sore, his thumb is swollen, but I know Keith Price is a tough guy, he's a fighter, and he's gonna do everything in his power to be prepared and ready to play come Saturday night," Sarkisian said.
Price's thumb has certainly had an effect on his ability to throw.
"I just think at times the ball either has a tendency to sail or has a tendency to dive on him. To me, that's a result of when you don't have a great grip on the football and that thing just doesn't come out the same way every time," Sarkisian said. "When he misses sometimes the way he's missed the past couple of weeks, to me that's a direct result of the thumb not being where it needs to be, so I'm gonna assess that this week to make sure he's capable of making the throws that he's been capable of making for the last five years."
Sarkisian said there will be some tweaks to the air attack this week.
"There's gonna be subtle changes to what we do in the passing game to become more efficient, because I think we have the capability of being so. I think we have the personnel in place, the schemes in place to get that fixed."
• Sarkisian said he is "hopeful" that LG Dexter Charles, who missed the ASU game with a shoulder injury, will be able to play against Cal. Erik Kohler played in his place.
"Obviously I think a week off is helpful for (Charles). It's nothing structurally wrong with him, but hopeful we'll get him back," Sarkisian said.
He added that if Charles and Kohler could rotate against Cal, "I think it will be good for us."