UW hopes O-line struggles are history

SEATTLE — Mike Criste said he didn’t hear the public challenge his offensive line coach, Dan Cozzetto, made a few days after Washington’s ugly loss to Arizona State.

He didn’t need to. They hear similar criticism all the time in practice. And given the way they played in that Oct. 19 debacle at ASU — seven sacks allowed, minus-5 yards rushing on 25 attempts in a 53-24 loss — it was a lashing well-earned.

“It’s nothing new,” said Criste, UW’s starting center, with a bit of good humor. “It always sucks when he’s yelling at you. It’s nothing personal. It’s just him coaching. He’s trying to get the best out of us that he can, and sometimes he’s got to do what he’s got to do. It all helps us in the end.”

Whether Cozzetto’s verbal fire served as a motivator or not, the Huskies offensive front did improve the next time they played. They beat California, 41-17, two weeks ago, behind a 241-yard rushing performance from Bishop Sankey, and a 20-for-32 passing effort by quarterback Keith Price, who stayed mostly upright and avoided further damage to an injured thumb that was still healing at the time.

That was after Cozzetto called UW’s line play against ASU “an abomination,” among other things.

Involved parties insist it’s now trending in the opposite direction. They’ll benefit, too, from the return of starting left guard Dexter Charles, a redshirt sophomore and Stanwood High School alum, who was injured in UW’s Oct. 12 loss to Oregon and hasn’t played since.

Charles practiced this week without limitation, coach Steve Sarkisian said.

“We’ll watch him throughout the ballgame and monitor him, but he looked really good this week,” Sarkisian said.

The Huskies missed his strength and skills, first and foremost, but he’s also one of the offense’s more vocal leaders, a trait praised more than once recently by Price.

“That’s my guy. Dexter’s my guy,” said Price, who previously noted that Charles gets after him on occasion for holding onto the ball too long. “So having him back, he’s one of our better offensive linemen, one of our more mature offensive linemen, so having him will definitely give me a little bit more confidence.”

Price won’t allow the offensive line to accept all the blame for any poor performance. The senior quarterback is quick to point out his own shortcomings, and said there are still times he needs to hang in the pocket longer and have more trust in the guys blocking in front of him.

They’re a group learning from their mistakes, hopeful to prove that ASU game was merely an aberration.

Criste said they’ve been “looking at our fundamentals, looking at the film and analyzing it more and more and more, making sure we’re looking at every tiny, little detail and making sure we get everything right, focusing on the small things. The smallest things are what makes the biggest difference.”

And it starts with the biggest players.

Kikaha named academic all-district

UW fourth-year junior defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha was named to the Capital One Academic All-District 8 football team on Wednesday.

Kikaha, an American Ethnic Studies major, maintains a 3.49 grade-point average. He is UW’s first Academic All-District honoree since Kyle Benn in 2001.

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