Coach's Corner

What a disappointment that was. Washington's performance in the desert against Arizona can only be explained as a scoreboard reality check. We're just not a very good football team, yet. This Husky team is obviously still developing but there is no way they can keep hurting themselves with so many crucial penalties and still expect to win games.

Over half of the season is gone and they still haven't won two in a row. They didn't play well enough when they had to, and simply got beat by a better team.

Dropping to 2-2 in conference play, they are now in the middle of the pack, but at 3-4, they are certainly at another crossroads toward earning a bowl game. They need to regroup and put together their best game of the season and try to win at home against Stanford. The Cardinal, at 6-1 on the season and 3-1 in league, have everything to gain and have physically beaten up the Huskies the past few times they've played them.

They need to keep contact into the fourth quarter in order to have any chance of beating a team of this quality. That's exactly what they didn't do against Arizona, giving up 20 points in the second quarter.

After a good opening defensive series that featured a caused fumble by a first time starter and true freshman, Princeton Fuimaono, the Husky offense took the ball and drove right down the field for a touchdown. It only took four plays and a minute and 42 seconds for the Huskies to take the lead.

It looked too good to be true. It was.

From then on it was all Arizona, and as the game progressed it became obvious that even though they had their back-up quarterback playing they were still a better team than the Huskies. Four quarters later it was confirmed by the 44-14 score, but the game had already been decided in the first half.

The Huskies were right in it through the first quarter, trailing only 10-7, but by halftime the score had climbed to 30-14. The 78-yard run by the Wildcats' Keola Antolin in the second quarter was the back-breaker. Washington had just cut the lead to three points when Antolin shot right up the middle and popped the Huskies' balloon. The Husky offense responded with a disappointing three-and-out and then Arizona drove right down the field to score again. It was game over.

Along the way there were signs of hope, but every time the Huskies had a chance to cut into the lead and get themselves back in the game, they shot themselves in the foot. It was sad because the thrilling win against Oregon State had fooled us into believing they were better than they were. They are not good enough yet to beat an older and more mature team like Arizona.

Coach Mike Stoops went through this exact same thing his first few years at Arizona, but now he is in his seventh season. After finishing second in the conference last year, his team is now 6-1 and right in the thick of the Pac-10 championship race.

It took him time to build his team and even his second-string quarterback, Matt Scott, was no first game rookie. He was an ex-starter and he ran through the Huskies for a net 65 yards rushing and completed 18 of 22 passes for 233 yards. He repeatedly found their best receiver, Juron Criner, who ended up with eight catches for 108 yards, mostly because Scott had all day to find him.

That represents one of the most glaring weaknesses on this Husky team: They are literally getting no pressure on the quarterback and therefore can't hold up on the corner long enough against the pass. It might be a chicken-and-egg thing, but the secondary can't cover long enough because the front can't get to the passer without adding linebackers to the rush. The Huskies only got two sacks on the night and they both came from linebackers, again.

This weakness makes it real difficult for the Huskies to get off the field on third down, and the Wildcats converted 7 of their 12 third down opportunities. It's tough to win games when you can't make your opponent punt the ball, obviously. The Wildcats didn't have to punt the until the third quarter was almost over. Following their fumble on their first series, Arizona scored on six straight possessions and by the end of the third quarter the score was 37-14. They cruised from there.

Stoops took a knee to end the first half and brought in his backups for most of the fourth quarter, otherwise this game could have been much worse. Regardless, the Wildcats showed that they were clearly a contender and the Huskies are still trying to become one. What is also obvious is that by keeping Stoops, who was on the hot seat just a couple years ago, they are now reaping the benefits of staying the course. Their system has developed the depth and maturity that Steve Sarkisian's team still doesn't have. Yet.

There is nothing wrong with thinking your team could or should win, but the reality is this Husky team is still in a developmental stage and they are another great recruiting class from being good enough to be a contender. This doesn't mean they still can't win three of their remaining five and get into a bowl game, but Arizona has had 12 players drafted in the last four years and the Huskies haven't even had half that many. Enough said. They were a bigger team and they controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

When the Huskies got behind and they had to pass, the Arizona defense just dialed up their pass rush and it won the game.

The Huskies showed some promising things, but not nearly enough on third down. At times they played hard and at times they played stupid. Next time around they will be better and maybe they will beat Arizona.

This all means the Huskies have to continue to recruit well because that is the ultimate answer. For right now they need to regroup and prepare to meet a Stanford team, who like Arizona, is 6-1 and 3-1 in league and right in the middle of the conference title race.

We all knew going into this season that the strength of this team was probably on the offensive side of the ball, but what we didn't know going into the Arizona game was just how banged up Jake Locker was. Talk about a courageous player; all he did was answer the call. It was pretty obvious by his negative yards rushing that he wasn't his usual self, and if the Huskies don't have his running ability they have little chance of winning.

It showed in the second half when Washington was shut out because they couldn't even score a field goal, much less a touchdown. They protected the football by only turning it over once in the entire game, but continued their trend of being penalized with nine infractions for 94 yards, with at least three or four of their nine penalties coming in pass interference calls on the corners. That resulted in four extra first downs and helped Arizona move the chains. Six of the penalties happened in the second half, often times being key drive stoppers.

That means the Huskies have now committed 19 penalties for 174 yards in their last two games. They will need to clean that up if they expect to win any of their remaining conference games.

Now Stanford comes to Husky Stadium this week with the second highest scoring offense in the conference and the best percentage of any team in the league on third down. Yikes! They are also the best on fourth-down conversions and lead the conference in time of possession. They don't have Toby Gerhart, but they do have an excellent quarterback in Andrew Luck, who leads the conference in total offense. They also have a tough mindset. They have become one of the most physical teams in the league under coach Jim Harbaugh.

Coach Harbaugh is now in his fourth season, and this year added an old Husky coach, Randy Hart, to his staff in keeping with his tough mentality. Randy will be pacing and spitting and driving his kids to attack the quarterback. He will no doubt draw the embraces of many of the Husky defensive linemen, who first learned college football from coach Hart, who learned it himself from the great Woody Hayes.

The Huskies will be in tough against the Cardinal but if they can somehow hang in there until the fourth quarter and just give themselves a chance then maybe they can win another close one. That means not hurting themselves with penalties and not turning the ball over. When you consider that in the last game the Huskies only rushed the ball for 98 total yards, it means they gave up as many yards to penalties as yards they gained running. They can't win any game playing like that.

They will need to find a pass rush and that means that they will probably still have to use more blitzes to do so. That in turn means they have to hold up in the secondary so we're right back to where we started - the chicken or the egg. Somehow, some way they have to put pressure on Luck, otherwise we're in for a repeat performance of we saw against Arizona.

They will be an underdog at home against Stanford, but it should really help them to be playing in front of their own fans. Having a healthy Jake Locker would help them even more.

I think the Husky offense could make this all possible by keeping the defense on the sidelines. Try giving the ball to Chris Polk 30 to 35 times and play smash mouth football with Stanford. Use ball control and try to ride Polk to a victory. He's a warrior who gets better as a game goes on. Last week he only carried the ball seven times in each half. Double that load at least and they could win this game.

That's exactly how the Huskies beat Stanford the last time they did in 2007. On that day the Huskies won by rushing the football 63 times for 388 yards. Coach Harbaugh was coaching there then and the Huskies physically kicked their ass. That's the way to do it: Keep Andrew Luck on the sidelines and win the game by ball control and an opportunistic defense that comes up with three or four turnovers.

Did you watch the Seahawks' win against Arizona? Do it like they did it; win it ugly but just win it.


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