It’s easy to forget that Steve Sarkisian is only in his fourth year as a head coach, at any level. While it shouldn’t excuse any major blunders, Sarkisian is still learning on the job and making mistakes as he goes.
His legacy as a head coach will be determined by his ability to learn from those mistakes and to turn those lessons learned into advantages gained. On Saturday, against San Diego State, he and the Huskies have a chance to prove that one mistake won’t be repeated, one that almost sunk the UW’s season from the get-go in 2011.
A year ago, the Huskies decided to play it safe against Eastern Washington in their season opener. And they almost lost.
It’s hard to blame Sarkisian for going vanilla against the Eagles. After all, the Huskies were playing their first game after losing a legend (Jake Locker), were breaking in a pair of superstar freshmen on offense (Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams) and had a true freshman starting in the middle of the defense (John Timu).
But will this year be any different? Maybe not. The Huskies have lost a legend (Chris Polk), are starting two freshmen at wide receiver (Jaydon Mickens and Kendyl Taylor), and have true freshman Shaq Thompson starting at nickel while Tre Watson, a transfer from Central Washington, starts at cornerback.
At his weekly press conference Monday, Sarkisian first said the UW planned to be more aggressive offensively and take more shots downfield, before demurring when pressed and denying he planned to increase the vertical passing game.
Regardless, it was apparent that — publicly, at least — the Huskies think the natural evolution of the program will prevent another near-collapse.
“We’re going to run what we run, and I don’t think that’s a real secret,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve got an offense in place that we believe in, that’s withstood the test of time. There’ll always be some wrinkles here and there that we’re going to implement, to hopefully keep the defense guessing a bit, but we’re going to run what we run.”
Sarkisian hinted that he had been careful with quarterback Keith Price in last year’s opener, unsure how the then-sophomore would play in just his second-career start. Price proved to be an able steward of the offense, putting together arguably the best statistical season ever by a UW quarterback.
“Last year, there was a bit of the unknown,” Sarkisian said. “I know for myself calling the plays. I know who he is, what he does well; when he’s struggling, I know the type of things I need to do to get him right.”
But from a preparation standpoint it seems the Huskies are doing little, if anything, different in preparation for the start of the season.
“It’s a different team, obviously, so you’re preparing for a different scheme, different players,” senior cornerback Desmond Trufant said. “The intensity and how coach Sark has orchestrated everything has been pretty much the same. So we’ve just got to be dedicated to what we’re doing.”
The Huskies better hope that a similar approach yields different results against the Aztecs, a better team than Eastern Washington.
Or else Sarkisian just might learn his lesson this year, the hard way.
Reach columnist Jacob Thorpe at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @Jacob_B_Thorpe
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