By Brent Stecker
As the Huskies' season has moved into the final quarter of the season, mentions of their up-tempo offense have been few and far between. There's a reason for that – Washington hasn't maintained the breakneck pace that frustrated opponents during its 4-0 start.
The Huskies ran at least 80 plays in each of their first five games, but they haven't topped that number since. It very well could be a reason they were undefeated through September, and it very well could be a reason they're 5-3 to begin November.
The Huskies ran at least 80 plays in each of their first five games, but the pace has slowed in recent games, including an Oct. 19 loss to Arizona State in which Washington ran a season-low 65 plays. (AP)
Washington did take a step toward getting back to the magic number with 78 plays in its 41-17 win over Cal on Oct. 26, but coach Steve Sarkisian said Thursday that he wants to see the offense look even more like its early-season version.
"I felt like there in the last little bit of stretch we slowed down a little," Sarkisian said. "I want to make sure this final month here we're playing really fast football, and that starts with our pace. It starts with our tempo and how we're running plays. ... We're going to go as fast as we can go, but yet be efficient and execute really well and do things the right way."
The offense's pace was one of several aspects of the Huskies' game to hit a low point in a 53-24 loss to Arizona State on Oct. 19, when they ran a season-low 65 plays.
"I felt like our actual speed, we had slowed down a little. We talked about being a little lethargic at Arizona State, maybe not appearing as fast," Sarkisian said.
Perhaps not coincidentally that game was also the first one missed by left guard Dexter Charles, who injured his shoulder the week before in a loss to Oregon. Charles has practiced all week, though, and his expected return for Saturday's 5 p.m. game against Colorado could be big in the Huskies' ability to play at a faster pace.
"It's a little bit of a unique challenge when you start losing a couple guys at key positions," Sarkisian said. "Dexter's back going, which is good. ... Obviously it's an important piece to what we do. The continuity's really good when it's he and Micah (Hatchie) and Mike Criste there. It's good to have your original five back together."
Even if Charles' return to the field doesn't necessarily factor into the Huskies' pace, it should at least help give running back Bishop Sankey and quarterback Keith Price more room to work with.
"Dexter is a physical player, he's excellent in the run game, he's stout against the bigger defensive tackles and quicker defensive tackles that we face," Sarkisian said. "We miss his talents, quite honestly. ... He's a good player. Like anything, when you lose a good football player, you lose the attributes they possess."
Charles is also one of the Huskies' leaders on the field, even though he's not an upperclassmen.
"Dexter's got a lot of fire in his belly. I think he's a natural leader," Sarkisian said. "Even though he's only a redshirt sophomore, he's got natural leadership skills that he not only has but he utilizes when needed."
• Price has struggled with a thumb injury on his throwing hand in recent games, but the Huskies' bye week was apparently just what the doctor ordered.
"He looks good. I thought today he threw the ball exceptionally well," Sarkisian said Thursday. "I think Keith this week has gotten better and better and better, and I think today was the best day of him throwing the ball, which is a great sign."
Price's thumb woes were at their worst in the Arizona State game, when he completed just 16 of 39 attempts. He rebounded well against Cal, however, throwing for 376 yards and two touchdowns on 20 of 32 passing.