SEATTLE — All of these losses are not lost on Steve Sarkisian.
The University of Washington football coach acknowledges that, yes, his Huskies have become unfortunately accustomed to the swoon, to these midseason losing streaks that, fairly or otherwise, have thus far defined Sarkisian’s 5-year tenure at UW.
They just finished another losing streak of three or more games — well, they’re likely finished; California, a 23-point underdog, waits this weekend — giving them now 10 consecutive seasons with such lulls.
It’s not just a problem. It might be the Huskies’ biggest problem, one that has forced them from the Pac-12 North division race before it’s even begun.
“Somewhere in here, this portion of the season — granted, we’ve played good teams — this portion of the season here has caused us issues for five consecutive years,” Sarkisian said. “And so when we hit the offseason, I keep a running log of notes and things so that when January comes around, as a staff there are things we need to address of things that came up throughout the season, and this is definitely going to be one of them.”
Perhaps compounding the angst created by these streaks is the manner in which UW tends to lose when it loses consecutively. That is: by a lot of points.
Since Sarkisian took over, the Huskies have absorbed four 3-game losing streaks — including their current one — and another that lasted four games. Those streaks account for 16 of UW’s 28 losses during that time.
And in those 16 games, the Huskies allowed 40 or more points 10 times, and lost by an average margin of just more than 23 points per game. And they haven’t scored more than 28 points in any of them.
Of course, this isn’t high brain-cell stuff. Teams don’t play as well when they lose as they do when they win. And to Sarkisian and the Huskies’ credit, they’ve generally bounced back well enough. They followed a miserable 3-game losing streak in 2010 — during which they were famously outscored 138-30 — by winning four consecutive games, including the Holiday Bowl. And they won four consecutive games last year after losing three straight, though season-ending, back-to-back losses to WSU and Boise State took some shine off.
“We’ve got a better attitude we’ve got a better mindset,” said junior linebacker John Timu, who was limited Tuesday by a right ankle sprain. He repeated Sarkisian’s proclamation that “it’s fortunate but it’s unfortunate that we’ve been through this before. And we’ve responded pretty well. We’ve just got to finish.”
As Sarkisian noted, some of the struggles have to do with strength of schedule. Oregon, for example, has been a part of each losing streak during Sarkisian’s tenure. Stanford has accounted for two of those losses, and a very good USC team was in the middle of things in 2011.
But the coach accurately notes: “This isn’t going to go away. We’re going to play Stanford and Oregon every year. If we have to play them back to back every year, so be it. It’s that next game after those hard-fought, emotional battles, how we deal with it. Obviously, we haven’t dealt with them well enough yet up to this point, so back to the drawing board. Those talks have to take place in January, and have to get worked through in January. We can’t wait until the week of the ballgame.”
The issues seem to start, at least, on the defensive side of the ball. At least, they have the past two weeks, when Oregon and Arizona State combined for 1,216 yards in two routs.
UW missed 20 tackles against ASU, and, by Sarkisian’s count, allowed 190 yards after contact.
That meant more live tackling during Tuesday’s practice.
“Obviously, when you play good teams, the margin for error is very small,” said second-year defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. “You’ve got to finish better. We have to be able to tackle better, and we’ve got to be able to cover down the field better.
“We’re fighting like hell and we’re going to continue to do that, because that’s what we’re about and nobody in our program feels good or is OK with what happened, and we’ll continue to work and we’ll continue to fight until we play better and better.”
And, they hope, stop streaking.