Keith Gilbertson Press Conference - 09/22

Washington is set to begin their conference schedule this week against the Stanford Cardinal. Stanford is 2-0 on the season after an impressive win over BYU last week and will be looking to get their first win in Husky Stadium since 1975. To discuss the upcoming week, head coach Keith Gilbertson met with the media on Monday to recap Idaho and address the current team concerns and situations.

In what was perhaps the story of the game against the Vandals, Justin Robbins made a triumphant return. His presence was felt right away. The junior wide receiver out of Olympia had four catches for 40 yards, lined up mostly in the slot. It was a little different look for Justin, who normally would have been split out wide.

"(Robbins) has such great quickness and really good hands," said Gilberston of Justin's spot in the slot. "It's just a really natural place for him with the speed for him with the speed of Reggie (Williams) and Charles (Frederick) on the outside."

His return to action in itself may have shocked a lot of people, and his immediate effect may have shocked them even more. None of that came as any surprise to Gilbertson.

"No I was not surprised," said Gilbertson. "I sensed that when he felt good enough about his rehabilitation, he would come in and contribute. He's always been a fearless competitor so it was very pleasing to have him contribute like he did and it's great to have him back."

With his performance against the Vandals, Robbins showed just how much he can solidify the depth at a position with relatively no experience. Until his return, the Huskies were relying on true frosh Quintin Daniels and Bobby Whithorne. Justin's return gives quarterback Cody Pickett another pair of veteran hands to throw to.

Added Gilbertson, "In a lot of ways now, I think for Cody's sake, we can kind of settle down our receiving group. We played a lot of young guys and a lot of different rotations, but it was non-conference and you needed to do some of that, particularly when you have only two returning receivers in your program."

Gilbertson also mentioned that Robbins is now listed amongst Williams and Frederick as the first three receivers in the rotation with the freshmen backing them up. Robbins and Isaiah Stanback will be the primary receivers working the inside receiver spot. It is his hope that with a set rotation that includes Robbins, the passing game will pick up the rest of the season.

"I don't think we're throwing the ball as well as we're capable of throwing," said Gilbertson. "But we've also had a lot of different rotations and a lot of different people to throw to and it just takes time to get a sense of where a guy or how a guy will break or read a route. The timing I think will improve, and we'll be a little bit more efficient in the passing game I'm hoping and we will get steady with this group."

Gilbertson then took time to continue praising the running game that has picked up in recent weeks. Asked what he believed led to the resurgence of the ground attack, Gilbertson said it was a "combination of the front blocking better, and a healthy group of running backs." Gilbertson also took time to praise Rich Alexis for his recent development.

"I think Rich is running hard and seeing lanes," said Gilbertson. "I just think Rich is a much improved football player and a much improved back from a year ago. He's healthy, trim. Knock on wood that he stays that way. His tempo is really good and I think he's having fun."

Gilbertson added that he will continue to use the "3-1-1" series rotation with Alexis, Kenny James, and Shelton Sampson. It just so happened that Alexis had the hot hand against Idaho and Gilbertson wanted to see what Alexis could do when his confidence level was that high.

On the injury front, Joe Toledo's back injury still lingers and it is still not know just how long that he will be out of action. According to Gilbertson, Toledo will not be doing any physical activity until Wednesday at the earliest when he will be re-examined by physicians.

At this time, the severity or the length of rest required is still unknown.

Toledo's sudden injury gave redshirt freshmen Ben Bandel his opportunity to start for the first time in his career and held his own.

"I think Ben Bandel did some good things in that football game," Gilbertson said of his young tight end. Gilbertson then went on to describe a play on the opening kickoff that many people may have missed. "On the opening kickoff, (Bandel) went face-to-face with a guy who had just run a 40-yard sprint and it was an unbelievable hit that he put on this kid. He got up and his eyes were watering and it should. It was terrific."

Gilbertson believes that, as the team heads into conference play, his team has shown a lot of improvement. Seeing how the team sort of fell apart last season once they got into conference play, there are still questions as to how the Huskies will fare against the teams that matter the most during the season.

"In some areas, we've improved," said Gilberston. "I was really pleased with how we tackled, how we ran the ball, and our hitting and striking overall. I think there were a number of big hits in the Idaho game. I thought our corners covered better than we had."

However, there are some areas that the Huskies' head coach believes more work needs to be done on and the Huskies are still behind in.

Said Gilberston, "I don't think we made the progress on the return teams. We just haven't gotten off of first base with those things so that is still going to be a point of emphasis because I believe we have pretty good athletes. The other area is that our net punting is down. I think our punter is doing a nice job and our kids are covering but if you look at USC, they're averaging 48 yards per net punt (Washington: 40.1yard per punt) which is insane."

Looking ahead to Stanford, this will be the first time that the Huskies face the Cardinal since 2001. Two years ago, former Stanford head coach Tyrone Willingham led his 10th-ranked Cardinal into Husky Stadium against No.11 Washington. The Huskies won a hard-fought game by a score of 42-28. Gilbertson has a career record of 2-2 against Stanford as a head coach.

"I think they are more athletic defensively than they were when they were here two years ago," said Gilbertson. "Offensively, their young quarterback (freshmen Trent Edwards) is going to be a terrific player. They have a fine tailback (Kenneth Tolon) and Luke Powell can just change the game not only as a receiver but also as a kick returner. They've got some talented people and obviously they play well on the road to go to BYU and win."


Notes:
Stanford Huskies: Stanford has three assistant coaches on the staff that has coached at Washington. Cardinal offensive line coach Steve Morton held the same position under Don James and Jim Lambright from 1992-1998. Stanford's co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Tom Williams coached the Washington linebackers from 1999-2001 and Stanford running backs coach Wayne Moses, a former Washington DB from 1973-1977, held the same role with the Huskies from 1997-2000.

More Injury Update: Manase Hopoi will be sitting out of Monday's practice. Matt Fountaine will have an MRI on Monday afternoon on his knee. Derrick Johnson and Kenny James, who both tweaked their ankles on Saturday, are good to go.


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