October 18, 2011 in Sports

UW steps it up

A creative Sarkisian has the Huskies’ offense in a groove
 
Associated Press photo

Wide receiver Kevin Smith is one of a stable of offensive weapons the Washington Huskies can go to.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

SEATTLE – Steve Sarkisian is in a groove. So are the Washington Huskies.

The UW football coach hopes neither misses a beat when his newly 22nd-ranked Huskies visit No. 7 Stanford and its Heisman Trophy frontrunner quarterback Andrew Luck on Saturday.

Sarkisian, who calls the plays for the Huskies, said he’s not apt to resort to a ball-control offense in an effort to keep the Cardinal and Luck off the field.

“I want to score,” Sarkisian said with a chuckle. “We didn’t score against them last year. So I think that’s the first task. … I also don’t want to lose the rhythm of this offense right now.”

That is due in large part to Sarkisian’s evolution as a play-caller. It’s entirely within reason that the Huskies might actually be able to go toe-to-toe offensively with a Stanford team that has piled up 75 points and 894 yards in two previous meetings.

After scoring 30 points in each of their first six games this season, the Huskies (5-1 overall, 3-0 in the Pac-12) roll into Saturday’s game with the kind of offensive rhythm needed to keep pace with Luck and the Cardinal.

It all starts with Sarkisian, who has really found his stride as a play-caller this season. His offense ranks 46th in the nation in yards per game (419.7) and 22nd in points per game (37.0). Over the past six quarters, UW has been able to move the ball at will.

“I think we’re in a pretty good rhythm,” Sarkisian said Monday. “And I think we’ve been in a pretty good rhythm for a few weeks.”

Experience, raw athleticism and diversity at all of the Huskies’ skill positions have been big reasons for UW’s offensive success this season, but it’s been Sarkisian who has been able to bring it all together.

“He’s so smart, it’s crazy,” quarterback Keith Price said of Sarkisian’s offensive mind. “I think he just dreams in plays or something. He comes up with some crazy stuff, but it works.”

Sarkisian made a name for himself as a keen offensive mind during his days as a USC assistant. This year he has the Huskies’ offense playing as well as ever.

The only reason UW hasn’t  put up record-threatening numbers in total offense is that the Huskies have generally been playing from ahead, thereby leading them to take their foot off the proverbial gas.

Sarkisian said part of this year’s success has been about the confidence the coaches have in an offense that is filled with experienced players at nearly every position but tight end and quarterback. It’s allowed him to call games without having to think twice, and to be more creative.

 “I think that’s one of our strengths,” Sarkisian said of the multitude of formations UW has used this season. “That’s something that’s unique to our brand of football. We believe in personnel groupings and shifts and motions and a lot of multiplicity. … Each week, we try to come up with a couple new wrinkles.

“You don’t want to get out of rhythm, just to get out of it, so you can try new things,” he said. “But you have to try to continually evolve. That’s what we are trying to do (on game days).”

The Huskies’ offense has been dead-on in recent weeks, and they hope it keeps humming through Saturday at Stanford.

In a sense, the matchup couldn’t come at a better time.

“I don’t know if Stanford ever comes at a great time. They’re pretty good,” Sarkisian said. “Sooner or later, you’ve got to play them all, and I feel like we’re performing at a pretty high level” right now.

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