Q&A: UW Style

TigerSportsDigest.com Publisher Sonny Shipp and Chris Fetters, Managing Editor of Dawgman.com – the Washington site on the Scout.com Network, participated in a question and answer session where each responded to some burning questions that the opposing fans have heading into the big matchup on Saturday.

Here are the answers that TSD subscribers were looking for with kickoff to the 2009 season less than six days away.

 

LSU Fans: A lot has been made about Jake Locker’s reported 4.4-speed in the 40-yard dash? Is that accurate and how would you describe what makes Jake a dangerous threat under center? 

UW Publisher: I believe the 4.4 speed to be accurate, but that really isn't what makes Locker dangerous. He's a natural runner, much in the same as Marques Tuiasosopo was for the Huskies a decade ago when he helped lead UW to their last Rose Bowl win. He's an instinctual runner and at 6-3, 225 pounds, he doesn't shy away from contact. That's been one of his downfalls, in a sense, because he missed the final eight-and-a-half games of 2008 to a hand injury he sustained while trying to complete a block.

 

LSU Fans: What is the one area that the Huskies have improved on the most since Steve Sarkisian (head coach) arrived? 

UW Publisher: That's a great question, and probably the one question that can't truly be answered. Until this team starts playing games, there's no barometer for gauging just how much he's been able to change. I will say this, however: In candid moments I do believe the players are happier, enjoy practicing and working out a lot more than before, and overall their attitude seems to be 180 degrees from where it was a year ago. How that translates on the field is the $64,000 question?

 

LSU Fans: What is the biggest strength on Washington’s defense and what is the biggest weakness?

UW Publisher: Their biggest strength right now on paper is their starting linebackers. Donald Butler, E.J. Savannah and Mason Foster are very talented, very experienced 'backers.  Savannah is going to be the most intriguing one to watch, because he was the Huskies' No. 1 tackler in 2007, but got in Tyrone Willingham's doghouse soon after and never played in 2008.  He just became a father, and that has definitely changed his perspective on life on and off the football field. Butler, recently named a captain, has played in 30 games the past three years, and Foster has played in 25 games.  Neither player redshirted coming out of high school. 

 

Their biggest weakness on defense, as you'll come to find, is the same weakness Washington has all over the field - lack of depth.  UW's first team looks to be very competitive; after that you'll see a lot of inexperience and a lot of youth at almost every position. Sarkisian is addressing that right now with recruiting, but that won't help them right now. The only thing the Huskies can hope for is that they stay relatively healthy, and by the end of fall camp they only had two players (and a possible third) ruled out for the LSU game, and all were back-ups. 

 

LSU Fans: Is UW’s O-line considered to be the biggest concern for UW fans? 

UW Publisher: Without question. And again, the first five will be good. They aren't going to blow the doors off of anybody, but they will compete and have gobs of potential. And it's a relatively young group.

 

I remember Ivan Maisel saying that if a line had at least 75 starts between them, they would stand a good chance at being a strong OL. This group has a combined 63 starts, and half of those come from Ben Ossai, who will be playing left guard this year instead of left tackle, where he started the last three seasons. Cody Habben, who will start at left tackle, has only one of his 12 starts there. Ryan Tolar, who was a freshman All-American while playing left guard, has been moved to center. 

 

And the right side of the line - Senio Kelemete at guard and Drew Schaefer at tackle, are completely untested.  Kelemete moved from defensive tackle, where he started four games last year as a true freshman. Schaefer, as a redshirt freshman, is young but oozes potential.  Sarkisian and his staff completely revamped the OL to get more athletic, so we'll see if that happens. After those five, there's only two other linemen that have seen any time on the field - Morgan Rosborough and Skyler Fancher - and Fancher has already been ruled out of the game. If Washington has to bring in reserves to play significant minutes against LSU, it could get ugly in a hurry.

 

LSU Fans: How good is Washington’s secondary heading into the 2009 campaign? 

UW Publisher: They are getting better. But that's not saying much, considering how porous they were in 2008.  They gave up passes at a completion rate of 67 percent, surrendering 24 touchdowns in the process. But from what we've seen in spring and fall, there's no more 'bail' technique, and both Nick Holt and Demetrice Martin are trying their hardest to get the DB's to play a lot more physical. That won't be a problem with one of the corners, Quinton Richardson, who is 6-1, 200 pounds and very physical. 

 

At the other corner, there's going to be some questions.  Justin Glenn is on the inside track to start, and at 195 pounds he's built his body up considerably from when he came to UW a couple of years ago. He's probably the smoothest cover guy they have and also the most instinctual. Vonzell McDowell and Adam Long will probably be the others, and McDowell saw a lot of action two years ago as a true freshman.

 

Nate Williams is the main safety LSU needs to be worried about. He's been a stalwart back there, playing in all 25 games so far in his career. Greg Walker should be listed as the other safety, but expect to also see David Batts, a JC transfer, as well as Victor Aiyewa - who has a reputation as a bit of a head hunter. He's only made his name so far on special teams, but is looking for this season as his breakout campaign. 

 

LSU Fans: How big of an overall improvement to the program - how the players act, how they practice, their dedication and drive to succeed - has Steve Sarkisian accomplished thus far at Washington?"

UW Publisher: Again, great question, and it really hits at the crux of all the changes happening at UW - on and off the field. They are opening up the east field to Husky Stadium on game day, calling it 'The Zone'. They are sounding a siren 20 minutes before game time, something UW fans have sorely needed as they usually take their sweet time finding their seats. A lot of this has come at the request of Sarkisian, who knows that while the game is huge, it is still part of the whole game day experience. And he's trying to change a proud culture, one that was basically eviscerated by Tyrone Willingham and his utter indifference toward UW's football heritage.  Sarkisian has embraced it wholeheartedly, and hasn't made a misstep since showing up in December. 

 

By opening practices and bringing in NFL players like Tuiasosopo and Kenechi Udeze, he's giving the players a glimpse into what their world can be if they do things his way. And at least from my perspective, they've bought into it hook, line and sinker. But as far as 'overall improvement' - that will only come when the team sees a 'W' on the scoreboard. So until that point, he hasn't accomplished anything, and he'd probably be the first to tell you that.? ?

 

LSU Fans: Has there been any talk about whether this game against LSU could really up Washington's game early in the season - thereby perhaps resulting in greater success this season for the Huskies?  

UW Publisher:  Without a doubt. If they can't get up for this game, they shouldn't play it - pure and simple. And Don James has talked to the team, and I don't know if he's ever brought up the '83 game at LSU (40-14 win by the Tigers), but that game really frustrated him. And since this will be only the second meeting between these two programs, there's not a ton of history. But for UW fans, this game really does signal a turning of the page from the most horrific stretch of football Washington has ever experienced - so emotion is at an all-time high and folks are really hoping Sarkisian can do as well on the field as he has off of it.

 

LSU Fans: How would you assess the talent level of your team comparative to the Pac-10, SEC and LSU? 

UW Publisher:  I don't think its 0-12 talent, that's for sure, but does Washington have enough talent to get to a bowl this year? With so many bad years in a row, the jury is out until this staff can prove otherwise. When Locker went down against Stanford, the hopes of the team went with him. And in many ways, you could also say that about this year's team - he means that much to their potential success. 

 

I know recruiting in the SEC and LSU takes a much sharper focus for fans there than it does in the Northwest, for example - but UW has always been able to attract some of the top players from Southern California.  And that means all the way back to players like Hugh McElhenny to Napoleon Kaufman to Chris Polk. And that's the key. But for right now, there is big talent in spots, but nowhere near the depth comparative to the places you mention. And that's the result of lazy recruiting and poor talent development - and that falls on the coaches.

 

LSU Fans: I don't believe Washington had a 0-12 talent level last year. Does Washington's season rest 100 percent on Jake Locker's health? 

UW Publisher: Like I stated above, I think you could definitely make a case for that exact argument based on what happened last year. And I do believe the backup - Ronnie Fouch - is a much better QB than he was as a true frosh last year, and I also believe the offensive system being implemented by Sarkisian is a lot more conducive to his best traits (pocket passer). But Locker is more than an offensive threat; he really is the heart and soul of that offense. He basically willed UW to within an extra point of tying BYU, and I think it's safe to say that the Huskies would have won at least 1-2 games if he had been healthy for the whole year. That's not saying much, but when you're at the point UW is right now, baby steps look gargantuan in comparison. So while I don't want to believe UW's season rests solely on Locker's health, they may be as reliant on one person as any team in the country.

 

LSU Fans: What are the keys of the game for Washington to win? 

UW Publisher: Probably the same keys that propelled UW to a win over Miami in Seattle in 2000.  That team was as loaded with talent as any in football: Clinton Portis, Santana Moss, Willis McGahee, Andre Johnson, Najeh Davenport, Al Blades, Mike Rumph, Ed Reed, Phillip Buchanon, Dan Morgan, Jonathan Vilma, Vernon Carey, Vince Wilfork, Carlos Joseph, Bryant McKinnie, Reggie Wayne, etc..., yet Washington was able to win that game. How? They jumped out to an early lead, forced the Miami QB - Ken Dorsey - into erratic throws, and got the crowd into it. 

 

Husky Stadium, believe it or not, has been known to be an intimidating place to play. I'd argue it's almost been since that game when an away team has truly experienced the full brunt of a rockin' Husky Stadium crowd. But if UW can get an early score, and most importantly a couple of early stops - then it could be interesting. So I think jumping on the emotion of the game and riding that wave, buoyed by the crowd, is about the only way they can do it, because then they have a chance to rattle LSU's offense. If they can force some false starts, things like that - then who knows?

 

LSU Fans: Is Chris Polk expected to get the bulk of the work at RB? Or will it be a ‘by committee’ type of thing? 

UW Publisher:  I'd expect Chris to start, but it will most definitely be 'by committee'. He hasn't been 100 percent healthy all of fall camp, so his durability is certainly in question. Willie Griffin is the most reliable and experienced back UW has, but that's not saying much.  Curtis Shaw is the home run threat; Johri Fogerson is the converted safety who was a star running back for one of the top local schools in the Seattle area. He's had a strong fall, but it's been two years since he's carried the rock live. Demitrius Bronson is their fifth back, but based on the last couple of practices, I think the coaches are going to do what they can to redshirt him.? ?

 

LSU Fans: In practice, does the offense look more like a traditional USC offense with Locker under center, running play-action, etc? Or is Locker in the shotgun with WRs spread with several designed QB runs? 

UW Publisher:  Are you asking me to give you their playbook?  LOL…

 

Honestly, I think the way to answer this question is to say that you'll see a lot of the Norm Chow-influenced USC offense that Sarkisian operated in Los Angeles, with some twists.  Locker is a unique athlete at QB, the kind of QB even USC has not had before - so I think Sarkisian is going to try some things to make sure Locker's run game is utilized as well. The problem with last year and all the zone read and option stuff UW did last year is that Locker got hit every play, regardless of if he had the ball or not. That takes its toll, even on a kid as tough as Jake.  So in my opinion, I think you'll see some USC, I think you'll see some of what UW did last year, and maybe even some new wrinkles thrown in for good measure.

 

LSU Fans: Regarding tailgating, how strict do campus police enforce open container laws? 

UW Publisher:  Just put your beverage of choice in a koozy or in a cup, and I doubt you'll run into any problems. If you decide to run around with cans of beer, you might run into some issues. Just be smart about it and you won't get hassled.


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