Washington 101: An indepth look at the Huskies

THE HUSKIES are knocking on the door of infamy. An Apple Cup loss would leave them with a 1-10 record and rank them No. 1 on the school's "most inept" list. But its no secret Washington has Washington State's number where the Cup is concerned, as evidenced by their six-year win streak. Will the struggling Cougars finally dispatch the hapless Huskies or will it be another Dawg day afternoon?

When: Saturday, November 20, 4:00 p.m.
Where: Martin Stadium (38,000 capacity)
TV: Live on ABC
Last Meeting: 2003, WSU lost 27-19
Line: WSU by 13
Forecast: Partly cloudy, high of 37F, 20% chance of snow, game time temperatures in high 20's

THE HUSKIES ON OFFENSE

Players to Know:
Casey Paus, QB: The UW quarterbacks collectively have the worst QB rating in the nation by a sizable margin. Paus leads the train wreck with a 42% completion rate and four touchdowns, against 14 interceptions. He looked marginally better last week against Cal, throwing for 328 yards and one touchdown (his first in over a month). Unfortunately he threw three costly interceptions and lost momentum as the game wore on.

Kenny James, RD: James is a solid runningback, leading the huskies with 694 yards and five touchdowns. He averages 4.1 yards per carry, which isn't bad considering the holes he has had to work with. He has the speed to break big runs if he isn't bottled up at the line.

Sonny Shackelford, WR: Shackelford was handed a starting spot after starters Corey Williams and Charles Frederick were lost with injuries early in the year. Shackelford has 19 receptions for 288 yards and one touchdown. Although his numbers are less than gaudy, he leads the team in every receiving statistic.

Craig Chambers, WR: Amidst the avalanche of injuries the freshman Chambers has stepped up his game and is now one of the primary targets on offense. He had 189 receiving yards against Cal in a breakout performance last week.

Carl Bonnell, QB: The former Cougar backup has seen quite a bit of action early in the season, but hasn't played much lately. It is unclear whether coach Gilbertson intends to let the freshman see any playing time in his first return to Martin Stadium.

Overview: The Husky offense ranks dead last nationally in many statistical categories. They have surrendered the most turnovers and generated the fewest points of any division 1 school. Is if that wasn't bad enough, they are in the midst of a major quarterback controversy and have lost three of their four best players for the season with injuries. When Paus is the starter, the team uses a pretty traditional pro-set offense. When they switch to backup QB Isaiah Stanback, they tend to run a lot more option and keep things closer to the chest. Third-stringer Bonnell is a wild card. The trio has combined to complete 39% of their passes for six touchdowns and 21 interceptions. As bad as the 21 interceptions are, the huskies have managed to fumble the ball even more frequently, coughing it up 27 times this season, losing 17. As a result they haven't abandoned their inept passing game the way you might expect.

Strategy: Put pressure on this offense. Contain their running game and force them to pass. None of the UW QB's is a threatening passer, particularly under duress. Cougars should blitz plenty and look to strip the ball from the husky runningbacks, particularly Shelton Sampson. This offense has not functioned effectively all year, so the Cougs shouldn't be afraid to let their defense have a go at them.

THE HUSKIES ON DEFENSE

Players to Know:
Derek Johnson, CB: Oddly, while UW ranks dead last in the Pac-10 in most defensive categories, they rank No. 1 in pass defense. A big reason is their senior corners Johnson and Sam Cunningham. Johnson hasn't been the lockdown corner the huskies had hoped he would be, but he's a solid defender nonetheless. He and his counterpart Cunningham are both veteran leaders on a defense comprised of mostly freshman and sophomores.

Dashon Goldson, FS: The JC Transfer has proven to be a decent ball-hawk and a heavy hitter, registering 56 tackles, two interceptions, and five passes broken up. He suffered a shoulder injury last week and is one of many husky defenders questionable for this game.

Manase Hopoi, DT: Hopoi is UW's best defensive lineman. He has managed 22 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. He a player to be feared, but the lack of experience and depth at the other line positions has allowed offenses to run the ball away from him.

Evan Benjamin, LB: Benjamin ranks second on the team in tackles with 95, but the loss of top linebacker Joe Lobendahn last week has made Benjamin captain by default. It will now be up to him to organize the Husky defense in addition to his regular duties.

Overview: UW still runs the same 3-4 Eagle system they have operated for many years. They don't blitz much and have little depth and experience on the interior line due to injury. The Huskies give up a conference worst 34 points per game, but the inept UW offense setup a good portion of those. While some of WSU's past offensive problems against the Huskies may have been the result of bad luck or injuries at quarterback, the majority of the issues are systematic. The 3-4 creates fundamental problems for the spread offense (as evidenced by UW's 14-5 record against spread offenses over the past five years). The presence four linebackers tends to clog the field against slant routes and other hot routes heavily relied upon in the spread offense. It also offers extra zone blitz combinations for quarterbacks to read, which can be difficult because this defense is so rarely faced. The great weakness in the 3-4 defense is that it tends to surrender the line of scrimmage. To compensate, the 3-4 requires major studs at the defensive tackle positions who can dominate the A and B gaps; keeping the center of the line of scrimmage clogged. UW has had several players like that in Larry Tripplet and Terry Johnson in recent years. Hopoi has shown flashes of dominance at times, but injuries have left two true freshman starting along side him who are exploitable. As a result, teams have run wild on the Huskies for nearly 190 rushing yards per game and 20 rushing touchdowns on the year.

Strategy: UW's defense will succumb to a power running game. WSU added a two-back set to their bag of tricks and this is the game to use it. The extra blocker will make a huge difference, as there are weak points in terms of size and speed at several positions on this defensive front. The 3-4 is also susceptible to stunts and traps from the offensive guards as they usually have no down lineman assigned to them. The Cougars should look to put as little pressure on Alex Brink to produce as possible; as this is a challenging defense for a young quarterback to decipher. Almost no WSU quarterbacks have beaten UW on their first try so let the defense and the running game get the job done as much as possible.

THE HUSKIES ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The Husky special teams have done little to turn the tide on their losing season. Kickers Evan Knudsen and Michael Braunstein have converted just 9 of 16 attempts and have very limited range. They have not converted a kick beyond 42 yards, and have only converted 41% of their kicks beyond 30 yards. Punter Sean Douglass has a decent 42-yard average, but only a 35-yard net. He also has a slow release and has had four punts blocked this year. UW kick return and kick coverage units are well below average and only further hamper their field position problems.

INJURY REPORT
WSU: QB Josh Swogger (out for the year, broken foot), DE Matt Mullennix (out for the year, knee), Aaron Johnson (out, knee sprain), DT Odell Howard (questionable, back), RB Jerome Harrison (probable, turf toe and sprained thumb), OT Sam Lightbody (probable, torn thumb ligament and knee bruise), WR Jevon Miller (out, wrist)
UW: LB Joe Lobendahn (out, broken wrist), OT Khalif Barnes (out, broken hand), TE Jon Lyon (out, broken hand), FB Zack Tuiasosopo (out, broken leg), TE Ben Brandel (out, shoulder), WR Corey Williams (out, dislocated wrist), DT Dan Milsten (doubtful, ankle), WR Quinton Daniels (questionable, ankle), TE Joe Toledo (questionable, back), DT Donny Mateaki (questionable, foot), FS Dashon Goldson (questionable, shoulder), WR Charles Frederick (questionable, hamstring)

FINAL THOUGHTS
It's time. The Cougar's senior class is all that remains of a legendary group that worked harder and generated more success than any in school history. Their senior campaign has been a bittersweet send off with no bowl game, and the only win in their home stadium coming against lowly Idaho. With the end of their college careers at hand and a final chance at glory before them, expect a monumental effort out of the Cougars. A historic Apple Cup victory and a home field stormed with Crimson fans is the only way their story should end.

Cougfan Top Stories