On Monday, the Huskies' head coach announced starting tailback Jesse Callier and defensive end Hau'oli Jamora are both lost for the season with anterior cruciate ligament tears in their respective knees.
Sarkisian also confirmed that starting right tackle Ben Riva is also out indefinitely with a fractured forearm. Riva will meet with an arm specialist.
It's not exactly what a team wants as they prepare to play the No. 3 team in the country — LSU — in Baton Rouge.
“Throughout the year we're going to get faced with adversity,” Sarkisian said. “Guys are going to go down with injuries like what happened to us the other night — whether it's Jesse or Ben Riva — those things can't affect us. We have to continue to execute. We have to do the things we do and practice with numerous guys doing what they do and not just one guy at one spot.”
Callier suffered the injury to his right knee early in the game. He took a swing pass and was running alone when suddenly he was face first on the turf. He wasn't hit on the play.
“Jesse is running and he thinks about making a cut, and his knee moves maybe this much,” Sarkisian said holding his hands a few inches apart. “And that happens.”
The absence of Callier means that Bishop Sankey will take over the tailback duties full time. The plan had been for the two to split carries this season. Now it's all on Sankey.
“We're going to find out more about Bishop Sankey in a hurry,” Sarkisian said. “He got quite a few carries the other night and he responded well. I wish we would have blocked a little better for him. I think in turn I wish he would have shown a little more patience running the ball, but I think that will come in time getting the experience there.”
Sankey seemed subdued and didn't seem overwhelmed by the challenge.
“It's unfortunate that Jesse went down,” Sankey said. “I just want to step up and do what it takes to help the team for the rest of the year.”
With Callier sidelined, Sankey carried 22 times for 77 yards and scored a touchdown. He also had a critical fumble going into the end zone that cost the Huskies a sure score.
“Physically he was fine, Sarkisian said. “I think it was a really good learning experience for him putting the ball on the ground there inside the five. He'll respond better to that next time. I thought he ran a little bit conservative after the fumble.”
Sankey isn't the type of running back that can run conservatively and be successful.
“He has to run with his style and he has to continually emphasize keeping the ball high and tight,” Sarkisian said. “I don't want to take Bishop's stinger from him because he has big-play potential but his big-play potential won't be there if he doesn't run with the initiative to run with that stuff.”
Washington isn't exactly deep at running back. Besides Callier, Deontae Cooper was lost for the season with his third ACL tear. It leaves true freshman Erich Wilson II listed as the backup to Sankey, while sophomore walk-on Willis Wilson and redshirt freshman Dezden Petty also will have increased reps in practice and possibly games.
Erich Wilson had two carries — one for no gain and another for 22 yards — on Saturday.
“Erich Wilson had a couple of nice runs,” Sarkisian said. “I thought it was good to get him in there. He had a couple nice of runs and got in the secondary and showed the natural running skills he showed in camp.”
The loss of Riva is also equally concerning. It means more shuffling for the offensive line as it prepares to go up against one of the best defensive lines in the country, led by defensive ends Barkevios Mingo and Sam Montgomery.
“They are good,” Sarkisian said of the LSU players. “There's no secret about that. From a game-planning standpoint, if I go empty backs and go seven-step drops all night long, we'll have a tough night. That goes without saying. So we are going to have to do things continually to mix things up in the style of offense that we run. So we are going to have to continually mix things up.”
As expected, Sarkisian said that starting right guard Erik Kohler will slide out to play right tackle — a position he started at all 13 games last season — while sophomore James Atoe will be inserted at starting right guard.
The loss of Jamora hurts the Huskies' depth. But the pass-rushing defensive end had basically missed all of fall camp. He sustained a torn ACL of the same knee last season in a win over California. He had surgery last season and was expected to return to being a pass rushing presence. However, he sprained the knee a week into fall practice. The initial prognosis was some damage to the meniscus requiring minor arthroscopic surgery. However, once they got inside the knee the damage was more severe showing a tear of the ACL again.
While Callier will get a redshirt for this season, Jamora cannot because he redshirted last season. He can apply for a hardship year in his senior season.
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