Big-time college football coaches are a hard bunch to please.
They demand that their athletic directors schedule easier non-conference opponents. Then they get mad at their players when they learn about the inferior opponent, and play down to the lower level.
Whats up with that, coaches? You want your cupcake, and eat it, too?
After big Washington was outplayed and outcoached by little Eastern Washington Saturday, the embarrassment was tempered only modestly by the Huskies’ ability to prevail in the final 30 seconds, 30-27.
On paper, Coach Steve Sarkisian had what he wanted a home opener against a lower-tier opponent. On the field, he had the inevitable teenage human nature prevailing over coaching logic.
The Huskies experienced nearly the psychological reverse of their previous game, against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. This time it was the Huskies, not the Cornhuskers, who didnt much care.
For us to play a cautious mentality was disappointing, one of the most disappointing things Ive seen here, Sarkisian said in his weekly debriefing Monday. Instead of playing 100 mph, we were playing 75 mph.
Sarkisian manned up and said blame for that starts with him, including going way too conservative when quarterback Keith Price tweaked his knee after senior receiving star Jermaine Kearse went out with a bum ankle. But Sarkisian saw trouble well before the injuries, publicly warning fans and players a week earlier that he didnt really know, after training camp ended, what kind of team he had when the lights came on.
He found out quickly that he had a team drunk on modest achievement.
The Huskies in 2010 were 3-6 before a three-game winning streak against wobbly opponents put them in a bowl game rematch against a team that already beat them 56-21.
The set-up for upset over Nebraska was nearly as perfect as it was for Eastern, a roster full of Huskies wannabes who had a chance to show the world how UW whiffed on recruiting them — if they played harder and smarter than the hosts. That they did. But for a muffed punt or two, they would have had the W to prove it.
The Huskies did many good things in 2010, but they had been bad so long, players and fans forgot what good looked like. They arent good yet, not when they give up 504 yards to an offense that didnt belong to Nebraska, Oregon or Notre Dame the other three teams that put up a five-spot on coordinator Nick Holts overmatched troops.
They are also not good, as is the case with most football players, when they start thinking.
Maybe we got too stressed, I dont know, Sarkisian said. We could have been over-thinking. We werent playing fast and free. We werent necessarily wrong, just not doing it with the energy and passion that were capable of.
However it was that a team became cocky despite several players who remember what it was like to be an 0-12 national joke, they have been properly dope-slapped by Sarkisian and numerous fans appalled that a team with 65 scholarship players nearly beat on the road a team with 85 scholarship players.
But that is ever more the case with college football, where the distribution of quality talent has spread across the states, divisions and conferences, thanks largely to the power and reach of TV money, to the point where a once-obscure team from Idaho can knock silly an SEC power (Boise State 35, Georgia 21) on its home turf. With adrenal glands fully engaged, Easterns ability to entertain the upset was hardly a fluke.
Because the Huskies won, the damage was merely psychic, not bowl-fatal. And as far as physical injuries, Price and Kearse are expected to play, as is senior cornerback Quinton Richardson, who sat out Saturday and is desperately needed to patch a leaky secondary.
The shaky win gives Sarkisian the inevitable teaching moment, he said, for the next opponent. Hawaii has already dispatched one Pac-12 foe (34-17 over Colorado Saturday) and has at quarterback Bryant Moniz, who was in 2010 the nations passing yardage leader in the Rainbows run-and-shoot offense.
What will Sarkisian teach? The road back from 0-12 is not a straight diagonal line heading up.
If doubts remain, perhaps Washington will agree to bring Texas and Oklahoma into a new, Pac-16 Conference, by next season, helping make the point more bluntly that the distance between tepid and terrific is even greater than the distance between terrible and tepid.