Washington’s season is far from lost, but winning the Pac-12 North and reaching the conference championship — a preseason aspiration — is nearly impossible following consecutive defeats to Stanford and Oregon. The latest setback, a 45-24 loss Saturday to the Ducks, dropped the No. 20 Huskies to 4-2 overall (1-2 in the division) at the season’s halfway mark, two games behind No. 2 Oregon (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12) and Oregon State (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12).
Steve Sarkisian has to be worried about about a letdown for the game Saturday (3 p.m., Pac-12 Networks TV) at Arizona State (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12), even though the Sun Devils have won seven in a row over the Huskies and are playing at home, where UW has not won in 12 years.
“I don’t know if worried is the right word, but I’m aware of the potential,” he said Monday. “My assessment to the team today was, We’re at halftime (of the season). We’re in the locker room and we’re a 4-2 football team; I think we’re (ranked by AP) 20th in the country, and we’ve played a good first half of football against some really good teams.
“But, just as we’ve been all season long, we’re an excellent second-half football team. And we’re going to go out in the second half and play a great half of the season, starting Saturday. We’re going to prepare really well. We’re going to come out of the blocks playing fast, physical football the way we’re capable of playing, and I think the guys understand that. I think the sky’s the limit for this football team.”
The words sound good, but after the hype leading into the Stanford and Oregon games, followed by disappointing outcomes, it will be harder to find the same emotional edge against ASU. The teams haven’t met since 2010.
In a convincing 54-13 win last week against Colorado, ASU didn’t have to play its starters the entire game, as it quietly rose to second in the Pac-12 South.
“I think the quarterback (Taylor Kelly) has got just a lot of game to him. I’m probably giving myself too much credit. He kind of reminds me of me,” Sarkisian said, joking of his own playing career at BYU. “He’s just a scrappy guy who makes all the plays when he has to make them. He runs when he has to run. He throws the back-shoulder fade to Jaelen Strong extremely well.”
Kelly won’t provide UW’s secondary a sizable fall-off a week removed from facing Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota, a potential Heisman Trophy winner and the Pac-12’s offensive player of the week. Kelly is sixth in FBS in passing yards, with 1,965, and has 16 touchdown passes to six interceptions.
ASU running back Marion Grice is tied for an FBS-best 10 rushing touchdowns and has 395 yards from 90 carries (4.4 yards per carry).
“Their running back is probably the best running back that nobody’s heard of,” Sarkisian said.
Talk of a UW return to a BCS bowl has died down, too, especially after the Ducks pulled away in the fourth quarter behind the play of Mariota.
Two days later, Sarkisian lamented a few of his play calls, specifically, the pass play early in the third quarter when the Huskies, trailing 28-14, saw quarterback Keith Price sacked on first-and-goal from the Oregon 5-yard line. After the nine-yard loss, the Huskies settled for a short field goal.
“We liked the call,” Sarkisian said. “I didn’t think the play would ever turn out the way it did with the sack, but that’s what happened. So I have to live with that call.”
Sankey sailing, Price practicing
UW running back Bishop Sankey is leading the country with 899 rushing yards through six games. He fumbled in the first half Saturday against the Ducks, but responded with 28 rushes for 167 yards and two touchdowns, including a 60-yard TD rumble on fourth-and-one on UW’s first drive of the second half.
“What I see is people playing defense and trying to defend a complete offensive football team. I think that’s what we have,” Sarkisian said.
Quarterback Keith Price was unlimited in practice Monday despite a lingering thumb injury that bothered him in the loss to Oregon. Price went 19 of 32 for 182 yards, a touchdown and an interception against the Ducks. He added 11 carries, though they totaled only 18 yards against an aggressive, disciplined Oregon defense.
Sarkisian wasn’t thrilled with productivity in the air.
“We weren’t great throwing the football Saturday, unfortunately,” he said. “It could have helped on both sides — running it and throwing it. But we weren’t great throwing the ball and I think that affected it some.
What’s wrong with ASJ?
Asked twice Monday whether he was happy with the role tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins has in the UW’s uptempo, no-huddle offense — it is 36th in the country with 35.2 points per-game — Sarkisian deflected attention from his embattled senior by explaining that he wished everyone received more touches. Seferian-Jenkins has 16 catches for 185 yards and three touchdowns in 2013. He caught two passes for 36 yards and a score against Oregon.
“I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I think we’re a top 10 offense in America,” Sarkisian said, referring to the 526.8 yards UW averages a game, good for eighth. “I feel good about where we’re at as an offensive football team.”
Conference has host of top playmakers
If the Pac-12 received a midterm report card, some offensive players around the conference would grade out well. Among the standouts: OSU quarterback Sean Mannion, leading FBS with 2,511 passing yards, Sankey, leading with 899 rushing yards and Grice, leading in scoring with 15 touchdowns (10 rushing, five passing).
That list doesn’t include Mariota, two days after going 24 of 31 for 366 yards and three passing touchdowns. He added 13 carries for 88 yards and a score inside a hostile Husky Stadium.
“If you don’t come to play week in and week out, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you can get beat,” Sarkisian said of the Pac-12.