Seattle - If you count fall camp, the Washington Huskies have been in nonstop football mode for almost three months.
First there was the lengthy grind of training camp, followed by an emotional up-and-down eight-week ride of scintillating and surprising wins, heart-breaking last-second losses and a couple of bad defeats, including last Saturday’s 43-19 loss to the Oregon Ducks at Husky Stadium.
And now, fortunately and mercifully, the Huskies get a much-needed reprieve with a bye week. In the Pacific-10 Conference, only Washington and Stanford have yet to have a week off this season – both will have it this weekend – and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
“I think the bye came at a great time for us,” Sarkisian said during his Monday press conference. “We’re a football team that is physically, and a little mentally, beat up.”
The physical punishment is expected after eight games, but the Huskies’ lack depth has forced some of their top players to play far more snaps than their counterparts on other Pac-10 teams.
Such players as quarterback Jake Locker, linebackers E.J. Savannah, Donald Butler and Mason Foster, safety Nate Williams and running back Chris Polk are starting to show some wear and tear.
“We’re a team that is still somewhat fragile – obviously physically,” Sarkisian said. “We don’t quite have the depth, and we talked about it going in, when injuries start to mount, it takes its toll. The natural thing is to look at offense-defense. Well, it can take its toll on special teams as well.”
It showed against Oregon, which blocked a UW punt for a touchdown, executed a fake field goal and converted a two-point conversion, all because of some confusion by the Huskies.
Put simply, some of the players that the Huskies are forced to play on special teams aren’t physically ready. But Sarkisian can’t play every one of his starters either, since most are already contributing to special teams more than he would like. He pointed to UW opponents such as Oregon, USC and LSU, which don’t have such concerns.
“They’re good on special teams because of the depth on their team,” he said. “They’re not playing with starters and if they are it’s one or two. It’s the second- and third-string guys that are going out there and can really run and are really physical and they change field position and they make game changing plays on special teams.”
UW doesn’t have that kind of depth, and Sarkisian knew that before the season started.
To address the bumps, bruises and injuries that bother UW, some players – including Locker, Polk and Savannah – will not do much in the three practices (Monday through Wednesday) this week. Instead, Sarkisian will give some less experienced players a chance to impress the coaches beyond being scout team fodder.
“You’re going to see Keith Price in at quarterback more,” Sarkisian said. “You’ll see Ronnie Fouch more. We’ll give Jake a chance to rest his body here. But Tuesday and Wednesday, we’re going to get after it pretty good, but for the most part with our young kids. I want to see Demitrius Bronson play more football. I want to see Dorson Boyce play football and get a chance to catch some footballs and get tackled. Talia Crichton, those types of guys, Andru Pulu.”
Boyce, Pulu or Crichton, who have have had limited playing time, could play more in the Huskies’ final four games.
“The goal is to assess in these three days, of those guys who aren’t playing a whole lot for us, who can (contribute in) these last four games that can play a substantial role in what we’re doing and give us an opportunity to play better,” Sarkisian said. “These practices are really important to us.”
That takes care of players resting and getting more experience. But how beat up is UW mentally?
“We’re a football team that’s been in some really gut-wrenching ballgames that some have turned out for the positive and some have turned out for the negative,” Sarkisian said. “For eight straight weeks, we’ve been at it. Then you throw in training camp, and this has been a long haul of really intense, locked-in, emotional football games that our kids are learning from. They’re gaining value in playing in these types of games. But somewhere in there, it’s great to have a little break.”
To help recharge mentally, Sarkisian talked about “self-scouting” to reassess the Huskies as a team.
“I think we’re a fragile team, somewhat, mentally,” he said. “Adversity can come in a lot of different shapes, forms, sizes in football games. And we’ve been faced with a boatload of adversity this year. Sometimes we’ve responded well, and other times we haven’t. So the challenge for us to assess is: How do we rebound? What’s the best way, from a coach’s standpoint, to bring out that way, to bring out that mentality of a mentally tough football team in our players so that we respond every time great to adversity, not just some of the time.”
Locker was hurt
Sarkisian said Locker suffered a bruised thigh early in the Oregon game that affected his mobility.
“He wasn’t running like we’ve all known Jake to run,” Sarkisian said. “And he wasn’t able to run. It was a pretty good shot early in the ballgame. I think it was our second series when that happened.”
The injury limited what Sarkisian could call.
“It sure did affect it” Sarkisian said. “If you notice the rest of the game there weren’t any real designed quarterback runs.”
Locker was one of a handful of players who did not participate in practice Monday. Others included Savannah and defensive end Kalani Aldrich and wide receiver Jordan Polk.
Locker was named as one of 15 semifinalists for the Davey O’Brien Award, given annually to the nation’s top quarterback. Another semifinalist is Boise State quarterback and Prosser grad Kellen Moore. … Savannah reinjured his broken right thumb. He will get a new cast and will be limited in practice this week. … Kickoff for the Nov. 7 game at UCLA has been set for 12:30 p.m. It will be broadcast on FSN.
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483