Coach's Corner

I'm stating the obvious: At 3-6, this Washington team is still developing and certainly not at the level of their past three opponents. All of those programs looked bigger and faster and older than the Huskies. Even though you are always trying to win, you don't always have the same bullets in your gun as the other team.

That usually starts up front and if the past three games showed anything it was the difference in the maturity and depth in the lines.

It simply takes time to develop linemen from the strength, depth and experience standpoint. Of course the answer to any personnel improvement and your overall squad development is still rooted in solid recruiting, but for right now this team could also really use those 15 extra days of practice that come with going to a bowl. That is the equivalent to a full set of spring practices and that would certainly help in expanding these players' knowledge and understanding of their own system besides the development of their fundamental skill sets.

It has been the stated goal of this Husky team to make it back to a bowl game and now it is obvious that in order to do so they will have to finish the season with three straight wins. Considering they haven't won two in a row yet, three would appear to be more than just a tall task. Their last win was over a month ago and since then they have simply been throttled by Arizona, Stanford and Oregon on consecutive weekends by a combined score of 148-30. Wow!

That losing streak will end this coming weekend because there is no way they are losing to BYE. UW and their next opponent, UCLA, both have byes in preparation for their nationally televised contest to be played on a Thursday night. That gives them a ten day window to plan, prepare, and regroup for the first of what appears to be three winnable games.

If they play like the they did against the Oregon Ducks in the first half then there is a good chance they could make it happen. They will still have to make some definite improvements as a team in order to get it done, but for the first time in a month a win feels possible.

The three teams - UCLA, Cal, and WSU - are all bunched with the Huskies in the bottom half of the conference, but there isn't one of them, including the Cougars, that is a given. Washington just isn't a good enough team to take any of them for granted and will be pressed to put together this three game streak.

So, what do they need to do in order to accomplish this task? Again, I think some of the solutions are both critical and obvious: First and foremost, they need to get a healthy Jake Locker back and improve their overall offensive performance. They need to increase their scoring average to 30 or more points to win each of these remaining games.

Jake appears to be on the mend and fully rested so hopefully he has three great games still left in his UW career. He will be the main ingredient to attaining their goal. Keith Price showed some great things in his first career start last weekend, but if this team is to win three straight it needs Locker at the top of his game.

There is no doubt the Huskies showed an improved effort against the No. 1 team in the country but it is just as obvious that they still have a long way to go. Some fundamental changes could probably help. No more dropped passes will be critical and no more stupid penalties will help. There is no excuse for either, and after suffering a bad case of the drops earlier in the year it looked as though the Husky receivers had found a cure for that disease. Then out of nowhere, their veteran receivers had some critical drops against the Ducks.

Receivers do many things, but simply catching the football is the most important. Many of the drops essentially killed drives but it is the continued trouble with penalties that is simply unacceptable. Personal fouls cannot happen, period. There is no excuse for hurting your team.

Now granted helmet-to-helmet call against Nate Williams was ridiculous. You can't be a head ducker and be a good tackler. What do they expect a defender to do? Why is there tackling in football? This whole thing about hitting is making the game look soft from the top down. That penalty hurt, but there were too many others that bordered on stupidity. After cleaning up their act vs. Stanford they fell right back into hurting themselves against a Duck team that was trying just as hard to give it back. The Ducks committed 12 penalties for 107 yards themselves, so had the Huskies simply played cleaner football they might have stood a better chance of taking advantage of their opportunities.

Third on the list is to improve their kick coverage. Duh! They were horrendous on covering both kickoffs and punts, and gave away a 79 yard punt return and a 80 yard kickoff return. That's 159 yards of field position in two plays and considering they only gained a net 136 rushing, that too, is unacceptable. Time and again they would lose backside contain by over-pursuing to the ball, only to have the returner pop out the backside and off to the races. They can't expect Mason Foster to make every tackle, even though he showed great hustle by running down one of those big returns.

Fourth is to understand and commit to the principle of containment within their defensive structure. You can't let quarterbacks out of the pocket and you can't let runners bounce the ball to the outside on runs if you're a contain player. Contain men are responsible to turn everything back in by squeezing from the outside in. That concept alone will improve the integrity of the defense and allow them to complete their run stop package.

Overall, I thought they did a tremendous job at stopping the run against Oregon. They held LaMichael James to 50 yards below his game average and never let him break one the whole game. They did that by aggressively filling their gaps and getting off blocks. They will need to continue to stop the run in order to win their next game.

UCLA, in particular, is essentially a run-first team, and if Washington's defense can improve their contain principles and continue to have the backside players check for cutback, counter, reverse and bootleg plays, they will eliminate those threats before pursuing to the football.

The in-space players have made a noticeable improvement in open-field tackling and they must maintain that skill to win these games.

Unfortunately at times, in order to get a pass rush they have resorted to some zone blitzes that have put their defensive ends in space and none of them seem comfortable in their pass drops or coverage. Substitution schemes may help, and by bringing in another safety or corner they would be taking those defensive ends out of coverage where they look like fish out of water.

Next on the list is to consider running the ball more. In all three losses the Huskies' opponents have out-rushed them in terms of number of attempts. Even though the Huskies gave up 279 yards in rushing to the Ducks, 87 of that total came in the fourth quarter when the score dictated the run/pass ratio. The Dawgs actually held the Ducks to only 33 yards rushing in the first quarter and 113 in the first half. That was a really good performance. Oregon ended up rushing the ball 55 times, the Huskies only 37.

Chris Polk and Jesse Callier present an interesting mix for the rushing attack and if they can add a healthy Locker to the mix then they could control the clock and move the chains better. It would be really interesting to see what would happen if Polk was to get 25-30 carries and Callier could add some fly sweeps and misdirections or screens. Although Washington doesn't really have a good big blocking tight end, they do have a fullback in Austin Sylvester who is not afraid to stick his nose in there as a blocker.

Considering that Washington's pass protection has been crumbling under the pressure of the last three opponents, maybe a heavier run emphasis would slow down the heat on the quarterback. The Ducks sacked Price five times and he must have saved himself at least five other times. Improved pass protection is another critical area of improvement for this team, and just another area where a veteran line, working together and communicating with each other, really helps.

Washington's line did close down their splits versus the Ducks, and they did rush the football 18 times in the first half to 23 rushes for the Ducks. They didn't have any fumbles for the game. No turnovers was a noticeable area of improvement, but they got away from the run as soon as the score opened up.

Overall, this Husky team of players and coaches need to continue to believe in what they are doing and how they intend to get it done. Prior to the Oregon game they practiced with great intent and it showed in the first half. In order to win these next three games they will need to respond to both adversity and prosperity, because the players have not been used to good things happening. They need to put all their marbles on this next game against the Bruins and win the ground battle. Next to Oregon, the Bruins run the ball more than anyone in the conference. Beat them at their own game and UW will win this first one. Then they will have an extra two days of practice to get ready to go to Berkeley and try for number two.

We are in the stretch run and last year the Huskies seemed to get stronger at the end of the season. These extra days of preparation will obviously help the walking wounded, but they will also help them to shore up those problems in kick coverage, pass protection, leverage and contain. No missed tackles and no dropped passes helps. They do have a chance to finish strong and get themselves into a bowl. They still control their fate and the schedule appears favorable.

Work hard, improve and give it their best shot and who knows? Top Stories