What is different this year that would give us any chance in a venue where except for the Grand Daddy himself, the Dogs have not fared very well?
In fact, the UCLA Bruins have won 5 of the last 6 games against the Huskies and have played some of their best games when hosting the Dawgs. What gives Washington the edge considering this recent history?
Heading into the annual UW-UCLA battle, the Huskies are being stabilized by a defense that leads the league in total defense as well as pass defense. They are also doing it with the Bruins' ex-defensive coordinator, Phil Snow. There is no question that Coach Snow has had a dramatic impact on the Husky defense. He has tightened up the coverage and no longer do the Dawgs look soft and cautious in defending the pass. They are getting progressively better and it will certainly help when they can crank up the pass rush and attack quarterbacks more. Even that has improved, although the one sack against Stanford would say otherwise. The bottom line was that the Husky defensive front hit the young Stanford quarterback at least a dozen times planting him hard to the turf on each occasion. Stanford QB Trent Edwards showed why he was capable of beating out a senior and a junior and I think will be a top draft pick by his senior year.
Those hits do take their toll, and the speed of Tyler Krambrink off the edge was an obvious addition to the pressure package. The answer may be to add some linebackers and safeties to the rush just like the Cougars did to the Ducks.
The ability of a defense to pressure a quarterback is directly related to the coverage ability of the corners. If the Huskies ever get to play their two starters for a whole game then you will see coaches Hundley and Snow step up the heat. I personally believe Roc Alexander and Derrick Johnson are the keys to great Husky season. They are really good in coverage and if they can stay out of the training room as well as the dog house, then we will see a lot more tight, or bump coverage. This could be critical in the up coming game vs. UCLA.
The Bruins are a talented but struggling team right now. This often happens when there is a complete staff turnover such as they experienced in this past off season. Regardless, this is a critical game for Washington because they are in the hunt and have not fared well in road games for the past two years or so. (4-9 when playing outside Husky stadium since the 2001 Rose Bowl game.)
But you have to keep in mind that there is a new sheriff in town, as evidenced by the benching of starters three games in a row. I thought the best quote from the Stanford game was Gilbs saying, "They'd better change because I'm not going to." The rules are the rules and this is starting to reflect in the discipline of how the Huskies are playing.
More conservative? Sure. More disciplined? Obviously. More road wins? Let's hope so. The more conservative, more disciplined, more special teams attention is showing in how this team is playing defense.
Washington has yet to give up a point in the fourth quarter the whole season. I see that as a great sign that the times they are a changin. The team has continued their second-half dominating ways from the Coach Neuheisel era. But notice the half-time adjustments, by the defense, in particular. They have been impressive. Against Stanford, it was great to win the game on a defensive play, coupled with a supportive and boisterous crowd. Those are indications that things could be swinging back to the defensive traditions that have always been known with Husky football.
It's time to take this show on the road and see if the lessons can help the kids remain focused enough to win in a venue where they haven't had much success.
Make no mistake though, this Bruin team is still one of the most talented groups of any team in the west. They always get their share of the top recruits, and this year's version still reflects that. Washington might not have the best players but historically they have had one of the best defenses. It appears like they are building back to this, and was really fun to see the crowd respond in key situations again. It definitely helped them turn back the Stanford Cardinal on a tremendous goal line stand.
Another obvious factor in all four games has been the Huskies superior physical conditioning. I told you Dawgman.com readers months ago that Kaligis and Emtman were going to change this team. The Huskies flat outworked their opponents this summer and it was showing up in the fourth quarter when Stanford players were tapping their helmets to be taken out and bending over to catch their breaths.
Defensive tackle Terry Johnson has emerged as the force everyone thought he would be. His side kick, Jerome Stevens, has begun to play steady and stout. The run defense held Stanford to a long gain of only 9 yards. Losing Joseph Lobendahn was an obvious blow to the linebacker corps, and another injury there could be devastating. However, with Marquis Cooper playing as he did vs. the Cardinal, the Huskies have one legitimate linebacker star. Tim Galloway and Scott White are playing hard although not near what they are capable of. They will only get better with continued playing time. The outside two seniors give a great one-two at that position with Krambrink's speed really adding a lot to the equation.
That leaves the secondary to hold opponent's receivers in check and to this point they are playing pretty solid. Evan Benjamin has emerged in the mold to the hard hitting safeties of Husky past and Jimmy Newell is the brains of the outfit. Much maligned corner Chris Massey has also really improved and is playing the best football of his career. He has great understanding of the concepts that Coach Snow is teaching and has always been in good position. He is now starting to play the ball better and provides a needed 5th DB. Owen Biddle continues to be the special guy of the special teams and James Sims is slowly picking up all the reads and calls. Two freshmen, CJ Wallace and Drey Simpson still loom as potential stars but you don't win with true freshmen on a consistent basis.
The dilemma is still at defensive end and there are a cast of characters showing great hustle and effort. It would be nice to see someone emerge from the pack and become a great pass rusher. But for now, it would just be nice to see them as a whole defense continue to be solid and sound. More turnovers would be in order because those fumbles and interceptions sure have a way of turning things around. Kind of like Phil Snow has done with the secondary.
It's time the Dawgs go into LA and change the road woes to Rose Bowls, starting Saturday.
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