Coach's Corner

The Huskies got manhandled Saturday by a team that was obviously better in every phase of the game. That is the reality of losing big, and the young Huskies showed they are still a work in progress. Make no mistake: Nebraska is a good football team and I will be shocked if they don't win their division and play in their conference title game in December.

Losing is one thing, but getting crushed is another. It was most obvious that the Cornhuskers were better on both lines and having watched the game from the Husky sidelines I could see that the visitors were getting great push on both sides of the ball. You could tell their linemen looked different from ours the minute they walked out of the tunnel. Their offensive line (except for their center) dwarfed our defensive front. Their defensive line was big, and they played big.

I thought their secondary was excellent, showing great breaks on the ball once it was thrown and they were also sure tacklers - something that plagued the Huskies' own defense the whole day. I always keep track of plus and minus plays during a game and realized that on all their big runs or catches for touchdowns there was one common ingredient - a missed tackle.

The Husky defense gave up way too many yards rushing and appeared helpless at times stopping the simple dive play off their read-zone look. After Washington had cut the lead to 21-14 with five minutes left in the first half, the Cornhuskers hunkered down and simply ran the ball right down the Huskies' throat. Washington's defensive line was game, but they were clearly overmatched and got knocked off the ball. Nebraska drove 48 yards in eight plays - all on the ground - to take the lead back to 28-14 at half.

Washington's kick cover teams also still need work, particularly on kickoffs, where the Cornhuskers had returns of 36 and 39 yards on two occasions, giving them the football at midfield. The punt team had decent protection but also got burned in coverage even though the Husky punter had a great day himself.

Kiel Rasp, in only his second college game, did everything he was supposed to do, averaging almost 49 yards on nine punts with two being downed inside the Huskers' 20. He was the player of the game from the Huskies' standpoint, and had at least three towering kicks that had both distance and hang time. His performance and his consistency were both solid. He did his part to win.

Jake Locker had probably his worst outing ever as a Husky passer, completing a dismal 4 of 20 on the night (he was only 2 of 10 in the first half, so at least he was consistent). He also threw two interceptions and it should've been three except that a Cornhusker penalty wiped out another. He was often too high or too low with his throws and his play on the whole generally ended the Heisman Trophy discussion.

To me, that's a blessing for him and the team.

At least we don't have to hear the media-created hype anymore about him becoming the Heisman winner. I felt it was a distraction from the start and now they are relieved of that burden. Jake Locker still has nine more games to play in a Husky uniform and he no doubt will get drafted by the NFL. He may not be the first pick, or even the first quarterback chosen, but you can bet after he blows them away at the combine he will still be drafted and developed into a fine professional quarterback. He deserves it.

The reality is that he has never had the surrounding cast in the first place and that really showed against Nebraska. The Huskies are good enough to win some games in their conference even if that didn't show against Nebraska. Jake Locker will respond and he will get better and he will lead this team to some wins.

I have maintained all along that this team is still at least another good recruiting class away from being able to beat teams like Nebraska. That's unfortunate for Jake, but getting thumped by a mature team like the Cornhuskers is one thing; getting thumped at home is another. It was one of the biggest losses ever in Husky Stadium and it happened on national television. That part is sad, but these coaches were already trying to fix the problems before they even left the stadium.

We visited with Nick Holt on our post-game radio show and he had already gone in immediately after the game and watched the tape of his defense. He saw the problems and was already formulating a practice plan to address them. Nobody was pointing fingers inside the team. That all happens by the media and disgruntled fans who are always quick to try and fix the blame for a loss, any loss.

Well, there was so much blame that it got spread around evenly, and in coaching you always blame yourself anyway. You don't even have to because coaches automatically get blamed for most losses. That is just the nature of the game.

Coach Holt told us that with two weeks to get ready for USC that the first week they would be going back to fundamentals like tackling, getting off blocks, and basic defensive techniques that will make the players better individually. Then the second week they will apply that to the game plan to beat the Trojans.

I got to visit with just about every coach, including coach Sarkisian, after the game and they were all crushed by the magnitude of the loss. But anyone who has been in the coaching profession knows and understands that these kinds of games come along periodically and it's how you respond that is so critical for your team's development. They are determined to fix their problems and become a better team. They believe in their team.

Teams can easily spin out of control when losses like this happen and we've already witnessed that at Washington, resulting in the firings of Keith Gilbertson and Tyrone Willingham. To lose big early is a blow to the team psyche, but having two weeks to prepare allows them the time to methodically address their problems from both the schematic and personnel standpoints.

Believe me, I'll take a win over USC because it's a conference game and it would take them back to an even slate in their quest for a winning season and a bowl game experience.

Each loss requires you to readjust your goals and objectives as a team. This loss doesn't count any more than the six-point loss to BYU, which the Huskies could easily have won. It only means that you need to win one more game than you lose in league to be bowl eligible. Right now that is a realistic and reasonable objective for this team and these coaches know they have to get their players believing that it is possible.

They also need to continue to recruit with a vengeance, because that is the ultimate answer to their personnel depth development. Those player deficiencies are a problem that this staff never mentions or complains about. They know and believe that recruiting is as important as anything there is in a developing program. To be honest, they didn't get left with the same caliber of players that Jim Lambright left for RickNeuheisel over 10 years ago. The Washington Huskies were out-manned on Saturday and that was noticeable at the field level.

The coaches will hit the road recruiting this week on Thursday and try to solidify the 18 commitments they already have and then add about 8-10 more by the first week of February. I know everyone was hoping for an immediate turnaround but this is a process that will simply take more time to get more quality players. Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes in college football, especially when you inherit a team that already was questionable for overall team speed and talent. There are lots of problems to be fixed but it can be done. Two weeks would be fine with me.

Washington stepped onto the national stage and laid an egg. It is as simple as that. That game is over, the team has to have process it, and they will want to be better in oh, say about two weeks. The way they have played on the road the past few years, they'd better be.

Here is just another great challenge in this rebuilding process. Sooner or later they will learn to finish out and win on the road. They will now be a decided underdog in the rest of their games, with the possible exception of their last one. They will not get ranked unless they win like five in a row, including at least two of them on the road. None of that matters right now, though. They simply need to win the next game.

The Huskies played a team that will likely contend for their division, their conference, and quite possibly the national championship. The Huskers' only real tests now appears to be Texas and Oklahoma State, and I believe they have the Longhorns in Lincoln. I will be really surprised if they don't win their division and should they win their conference playoff they should be in the title game. That's no solace to the magnitude of the loss, but then again it doesn't matter how much you lose because it still is just one loss.

Regardless, expectations can't waver. They will internalize and respond with renewed belief. They will move on to the next game and win it. That is the only way to think and with so much room on this team for improvement, it's a blessing they have two weeks before the next game.


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