Sarkisian expects to see improvement

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SEATTLE — During his weekly Monday news conference, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian several times alluded to the rough road the Huskies traveled in the first half of the season.

And while he didn’t say that it will necessarily get easier in the second, the schedule Washington faces in the final six games should provide more opportunities for wins.

The five FBS teams UW faced in the first half — San Diego State, Louisiana State, Stanford, Oregon and USC — all have winning records and are a combined 24-7. All but San Diego State are currently ranked, and have been in the top 10 at some point this season.

The last six teams on UW’s schedule are a combined 16-21, with surprising Oregon State, which is 5-0 and rated No. 8, the only one with a winning record.

UW’s other second-half opponents are Arizona (3-3), whom the Huskies play Saturday at 7 p.m. in Tucson, California (3-4), Utah (2-4), Colorado (1-5) and Washington State (2-5).

Quarterback Keith Price’s numbers last year and this year against Stanford, Oregon and USC are very comparable.

“So I’m not nearly as concerned that the sky is falling on No. 17 — I think he is going to be OK the second half of the season,” Sarkisian said.

He sounded a little more optimistic during his radio show Monday night, saying “from what I’ve seen, I like where we are going to be in the second half of the season. ... I just think there is something good for Keith and this offense right around the corner.”

It was against the likes of Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Utah and Washington State that Price played some of his best football in 2011. In fact, those five teams accounted for UW’s five conference wins in 2011 (UW lost to Oregon State in a game Price played in sparingly after not starting for injury reasons).

And how UW does in that slate of games will ultimately determine how this season will be perceived.

Sarkisian talked before the year about UW “Taking the Next Step” in 2012. The losses to LSU, USC and Oregon appear to show the Huskies are still a step below the elite teams in the conference and the country.

But wins in five of the last six would give UW its best regular-season record since 2001 (when the third of Rick Neuheisel’s teams went 8-4), and with a young roster (just four seniors in the listed starting lineup for the Arizona game) set the stage for a bigger run in 2013.

The second half of the season, though, will still feature challenges.

Arizona, in the first year for coach Rich Rodriguez, is a 7-point favorite Saturday. Oregon State will also likely be favored against UW, as could Cal.

If the Huskies lose those three, they would be forced to duplicate the feat of 2010, when they won their last three games to get to 6-6 and clinch a bowl.

Sarkisian, of course, is taking it one game at a time, and said Monday that his most immediate goal is solving recent slow starts when UW fell behind Oregon (21-0) and USC (10-0).

“Maybe we’re a bit too emotional,” he said of the slow starts. “Maybe we’re concerned about some things outside of us and not really focused on the task at hand, and that’s that play. We addressed it (Sunday) night and I’m going to continually address it this week about really being focused on what’s right in front of us and not worried about what’s down the road, not worried about maybe the crowd or other issues or the scoreboard, and just playing that snap to the best of our ability — all 11 guys that are on the field — and see if we can start that engine, that motor, sooner in the game.”

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