TACOMA — Bishop Sankey said he believed the University of Washington’s offense was going to turn some heads this season.
He just didn’t foresee it would be ranked third in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision after three games.
“Not that high,” Sankey said.
He and others saw the explosive plays in spring and fall camps. They saw weapons in addition to Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who combined for 55 percent of the Huskies’ receptions last season.
The switch to an up-tempo offense allows it to take advantage of receivers such as Jaydon Mickens, Kevin Smith and freshman John Ross. Williams and Seferian-Jenkins have accounted for 26 percent of this year’s catches.
“I think we had a different team last year than we do this year,” quarterback Keith Price said. “There are a lot of different things we can point to, but I think we didn’t execute. When it comes down to it, we just didn’t execute.”
Washington’s execution hasn’t been lacking this season. Heading into Pacific-12 Conference play, the Huskies are 3-0 for the first time since 2001 and are No. 16 in The Associated Press rankings -- the highest they have been during Steve Sarkisian’s three-plus years as coach.
But it’s not just that the Huskies went unbeaten in pre-conference play, it’s how they did it. They averaged 629 yards of offense while holding their opponents to 279 yards per game. They rank at the top of the Pac-12 in passing efficiency and defensive passing efficiency.
“Even throughout spring and fall camp, we had a lot of explosive plays,” Price said. “We averaged about 22 or 23 explosive plays in practice, and we would have about 100 plays total. I knew we had an explosive team. It’s just fun to play against other teams and see how explosive we really are.”
So even though the Huskies ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency in 2012, UW making big plays in the passing game through three games this season has been a plus.
“We couldn’t really move the ball at times last year,” Sankey said. “We just weren’t as polished as an offense and being able to connect on some of our big plays. But this year, we are so much more polished. Guys are stepping in and making big plays.”
Defensive lineman Hauoli Kikaha said the Huskies were too wrapped up in expectations at times last season. It prevented them from staying focused week to week because they didn’t grasp the daily grind of a football season— maybe getting too caught up in their emotions.
“There is a calm area that the coaches teach us about,” Kikaha said. “They call it ‘the zone.’ There is a period when you are riding high and doing well, and there’s the really low when you don’t have much energy. We just want to stay right in the middle of the zone and stay focused and have that throughout the season.”
UW hasn’t been perfect. The Huskies’ 36 penalties are tied with Southern Methodist and Texas Tech for most in the FBS.
Considering they’ve had that many penalties yet are 3-0 heading into Saturday’s Pac-12 opener against visiting Arizona, the Huskies’ future might be bright.
“We would be so much better if we could get rid of those penalties, or at least cut them in half,” Price said. “We aren’t going to get away with those against tougher opponents. So we have to clean up a lot of things, but I like where we are.”
Sarkisian isn’t the only Seattle coach trying to get his team to cut down on penalties.
His mentor, Pete Carroll, faces similar issues with the Seattle Seahawks. They are tied for ninth in the NFL with 23 penalties through three games.
“I actually touched on it with Pete last night because they are dealing with a little bit of it, and we dealt with it at (USC),” said Sarkisian, who was an assistant for the Trojans under Carroll from 2005-08. “I think we are going to have a little bit of this because our guys play really hard. But the pre- and post-snap penalties are unacceptable, and we’ll get it fixed.”
The Seahawks’ problem doesn’t excuse the Huskies’ penalties, he said.
“Just because Pete’s teams get penalties, (that) doesn’t mean it’s OK for us to,” Sarkisian said.
Sarkisian said Sankey is fine after injuring his shoulder in Saturday’s game against Idaho State. Sankey rushed four times for 77 yards in the 56-0 win. ... Sarkisian said linebacker John Timu, who sat out the game against ISU because of a shoulder injury, also is OK. ... Running back Kendyl Taylor was one of the few Huskies not to get playing time against Idaho State, and he hasn’t played this season. Sarkisian said he’s hoping to redshirt Taylor and save him for next season.