Coach's Corner

After watching the Huskies last scrimmage on Friday night, I have to admit coming away and scratching my head. Not that I expected it to be anything more than it was, but the kicking situation is still so much up in the air that you'd have to expect that Ohio State will be coming hard to block every kick.

It made me wonder if a fake out of either punt formation or field goal might be a good idea?

I think the Huskies had a great fall camp but the kickers looked tired and sore, which I'm positive was the reason for what I felt was an off scrimmage.

With the closing of practice this coming week for the rest of the season, the scrimmage was scripted to not include anything of interest to the Buckeyes. This made a lot of sense, and the concept of closed practices is nothing new. Ohio State has had closed practices for the whole Tressel era and most schools are going to it, believe it or not, due to gambling.

That's right! Big time, organized gambling that wants to know every team's injury status and how it will affect the odds. Obviously, you also want to stop any information leakage that might play well into someone's office pool. It is the educated eye that they are interested in excluding from practice.

It is also an understood fact that there is a lot of "skunking" going on in college football. We regularly caught "skunks" at practice and even spotted a USC ex-player who was with the Seahwks spying on our practice as we were preparing to play the Trojans one year.

Practice tells you a lot about how a team is preparing and I believe the Huskies have been preparing well in spite of their "off" evening last Friday. When they get everyone back and healthy, they should be a strong team in the conference play. Remember that the most important games of the season are the league opener against Stanford and the following first league road game vs. UCLA. Regardless of what happens at Columbus, win those two games and you're in the driver's seat for the Pac-10 race. The goal is to be ready by the time conference play begins and then to just stay in the hunt one week at a time.

Friday's scrimmage revealed that this team was tired from a hard and demanding camp, and that it is still in a precarious position if injuries hit over the next month. It gave lots of kids a chance to show they belong and can make the 70-man travel squad. When it gets to the UCLA game then they will only be allowed to take 60, so this is the only opportunity the Dawgs have to show the new kids who have never traveled on the road how things are done at away games.

Speaking of road games, that was probably one of the most glaring weaknesses of the whole Neuheisel era. His teams were terrible on the road. For whatever reason, the past two years the Huskies have struggled winning away from Seattle. The last two years the Huskies have won four and lost eight outside of Husky Stadium. Probably the most noticeable thing was how flat they would start on almost every road game and had to dig their way out of a hole.

Against Purdue last year the Dawgs jumped them early, but that was an anomaly. Rick's teams were normally flat as a pancake by the time kickoff came around.

I really believe there will be less grab-ass going on when they board the planes. Now the players will set there jaws and stay serious until the game is over. I will not be surprised if the headphones and walkmans don't come out until after they win the games.

Gilbs told me a story once about when he was with the Seahawks and they opened the season with the Jets coached by Bill Parcels. The Hawks got off their bus at the Kingdome and were loose and goosey as were all Dennis Erickson teams. The players were all wearing sweats, jeans, and listening to their rap music and cool breezing it. The next buses arrived carrying the Jets and they all stepped off in suits and ties and nobody was smiling. Everyone had their jaws set and there was fire in their eyes with no talk, no music, no laptops, and no laughter.

The Jets killed the Seahawks to start the season, something like 41-7.

Now the Huskies are about to embark on the biggest on the road opening season game in maybe the modern history of the program. The Michigan game was huge last year and the Huskies played hard but still they walked away with a loss. This year the opponent is better, higher ranked, and the game will be watched by the whole nation. Based upon the scrimmage Friday, it would be hard to be optimistic about their chances.

However, there are still four important days of practice and I know for sure the screws will be tightened down because I know Gilbs. There will be no room for error in practice and I promise you the substitution situation will be reviewed over and over. That is why I think closing practices is a good thing. I believe it will give them the best chance to build a game plan that won't get back to Columbus. This explains why the scrimmage lacked a little luster as well, besides the fact that the kid's legs were dead.

Casey Paus did not help his case as the backup quarterback but his experience and understanding of the reads will probably give him the nod to retain the back up role. After watching most of fall camp, I have to believe that come next fall, Carl Bonnell will be giving both of them a solid run for their money. I really have been impressed with his development and really believe that after redshirting this season, he will be right in the hunt to start next year. For now however, I hope that Cody plays every down except when the Dawgs get way ahead which I think could happen a couple of times this year. Wouldn't that be nice to finally blow someone out? THEY ARE DUE!

The offensive line will have as many as eight guys rotating in and out, and a guy to watch now and in the future is Tusi Sa'au. He is a low-level road grater who comes off the ball for run blocking as well as any of the upper classmen. Cozzetto has flip-flopped the offensive line quite a bit so the Buckeyes won't really know what to prepare for, or what they might see come Saturday. I think that Ryan Brooks has really improved all through camp and someday (as he gets stronger) could be one of the best offensive linemen.

The lines both look better because of the work that they did this summer with Kaligis and Emtman. The defensive front still lacks that speed pass rusher off the edge but on the whole has been progressing well. Despite the losses of two front guys it appear Coach Hart has good depth but I promise you Gilbs will go get nine to 10 linemen in the next recruiting class.

The Huskies biggest needs are for a quality Safety and a speed rusher. Knowing that they don't have the ability to sign someone now, you have to believe that the young kids like Donny Mateaki and Dan Milsten will be given every opportunity to help on the outside and Evan Benjamin and James Sims (who I thought made some nice plays in the scrimmage) will see considerable time until they can teach C.J. Wallace all there is to know about playing center field.

The linebackers look two deep and when Scott White (who had a great camp until he tweaked his hamstring) returns, then the linebackers will be active and lead the team in tackles, as they rightfully should.

Rich Alexis came out of the scrimmage as the top back and you have to give him credit for keeping his mouth shut and just getting it done. He changed his attitude for the sake of the team to a very humble, serious, nature, and is committed to having a great season. I, for one, think he will have one. I thought Kenny James looked the next best and have always believed he could be a Greg Lewis type back if given enough carries. He is the kind of runner who starts to hit his rhythm as the game goes on. Kenny might not get to show it this year but he is still young and has the best inside vision of the backs.

Bobby Whithorne jumped to the head of the class of wide receivers and looks like he earned himself a spot not only on the travel squad but also in the rotation. I really wouldn't worry too much about the young receivers because with those two big tight ends, there might not be the need to have three, four, or five receivers on the field.

Game week is here Dawg fans. Time to strap it on. Gilby has, the team has, and hopefully all of you that are making the trip with us will, starting now.

Dawgman.com columnist and KJR 950 Sports Radio personality, Dick Baird.
Dick Baird was an Assistant Coach (Linebackers) and Recruiting Coordinator at the UW from 1985-1998. He has joined the Dawgman.com staff as a featured columnist for both the web site and Sports Washington magazine. In addition to his regular editorial columns, Coach Baird will try to provide some of his unique perspective by answering a few of your selected questions online. If you would like to send in your questions, please CLICK HERE.

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