Washington's Battle With Consistency

"They are eerily similar to who we were a couple years ago. I think they have talent on their football team, I think they are well-coached, I think they play hard and they are trying to find a way to get over the hump and to win some of these tight ball games." These were Steve Sarkisian's opening thoughts when asked the Colorado Buffaloes this week. What does this say about the Buffs?

They're erratic; exactly what the Dawgs have been the last couple of years. They're capable of beating anyone, but also capable of losing the gimmes.

In retrospect, the Huskies the last two seasons have been as inconsistent as any team in the country. Going back to 2009, UW beat the No. 3-ranked USC Trojans, beginning the year 2-1. A win of that magnitude would seem to bring a great deal of momentum with it but the Huskies went 2-6 in their next eight games, ending all hopes of a bowl appearance. They finished the year on a positive note against Cal and WSU, beating those teams by a combined score of 72-10.

In 2010, Washington again found a statement win again against the ranked Trojans, this time in the LA Coliseum, only to go 1-4 in their next five games. The Dawgs bounced back though, and rallied to win their last three games to earn a bid to the Holiday Bowl.

One knock on the Sarkisian regime has been the lack of consistency from week to week. Why is it that they can go on the road and knock off USC, then come back the next week and trail Arizona State by three touchdowns for the better part of the game at home?

The difference thus far in 2011 is that the Huskies seem to be improving every week, building on their efforts. Sarkisian touched on this in his press conference Monday. "We've had moments where we really play the way we want to be playing and the style with which we want to play," he said. "And there are moments when we don't, which we touched on from earlier in this year. That's the battle from week to week. But I think we've found much more consistency in our style of play, of who we are. And I think that's one of the tough things when you are getting started -- is consistently doing things the way you want them done, week to week, game to game, play to play, series to series, to where you become a consistent football team."

Take the beginning of this year, for example. In 2009 and 2010, there was nothing special about their special teams play. The coaching staff made a concentrated effort to put forth extra time in practice to correct issues in both the return and cover games. The results speak for themselves: The Dawgs lead the Pac-12 in kick return average at 26.8 yards per return. This year they averaged 7.6 yards per punt return, up from 4.9 yards per return in 2010.

And doesn't it just seem like Kasen Williams is about ready to bust one? I think so.

Against Eastern Washington and Hawaii, the Huskies were widely criticized for their inability to get off the field. For proof, the Eagles and Warriors converted a combined 22 of 30 on third down. Nick Holt and the Washington defense have corrected this deficiency, as opponents in the last three games have converted only 14 out of 39 chances to extend drives.

While the Huskies pulled out an important victory against Cal, the defense - and in particular the pass defense - again fell under criticism for giving up 457 total yards, including 349 through the air. Against Utah the defense tightened up on the road, surrendering 322 total yards. Seventy of those yards came from the Utes' final drive when the game was already out of hand. UW's rush defense was superb, allowing only 17 yards on 23 carries.

Not only are the Huskies improving in areas all over the field, they are maintaining their steady climb up the mountain of progress. This is in large part due to depth the Huskies have acquired through recruiting. Sarkisian commented on this Monday stating, "I've said this for years now, in this conference you have to have depth if you want to be successful over an extended period of time. We're seeing the value of the depth that we have. Doing the depth chart this morning for you guys, I think on the defensive side of the ball we have five 'or's.' That's a really good problem to have."

When Nate Fellner went down with a hamstring injury, Justin Glenn stepped up. When John Timu went down with a neck injury, Jamaal Kearse filled in nicely in his first start at Utah, scoring a touchdown on the opening kickoff. Josh Shirley already has two sacks in the absence of Hau'oli Jamora. If Williams is to miss any games due to his ankle injury, the Huskies have a stable of good wide receivers that are more than capable of picking up the slack. Whereas in past years some of these injuries would cripple a team low in numbers and experience, this year it seems as though the Huskies are doing what good teams do - call on the next guy to get the job done. No excuses.

With the bye week coming at an opportune time for some banged-up Dawgs, they should be set to go into the second half of the schedule with the thought of maintaining their success. They do have a few tough games and they shouldn't be expected to win out, but anything short of eight wins at this point would be a disappointment. If the Huskies are to accomplish this goal they will have to continue to rely on their depth and build on their newfound consistency.


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