The Northwest Arms Race… Who Really Won?

In 1998 the University of Oregon Ducks ushered in the first indoor practice facility in the Pac-10. Called the Moshofsky Center, the $12.5 million jewel helped set the tone and raise the bar for what constituted first class accommodations in the conference. Three years later the Huskies followed suit, with their own "Dempsey Indoor Center".

It was just one example of Washington attempting to "keep up with the Jones".

The Huskies had been the kings of the Northwest for untold decades. The Ducks were challenging that. It was a gridiron version of the Cold War. Now in 2003, the Ducks had done the Dawgs one better with their $3.5 million space-age locker room. Not to mention Oregon's sparkling weight room and luxury suites at Autzen Stadium, of which Mr. Neuheisel was a recent guest.

It could be one reason why the former coach won't return his former assistant coach's phone calls. Sad, really, but perhaps his legal advice comes before friendships. I don't really know, but, alas, I digress.

But Washington and Oregon, the Northwest football equivalents of the USA and the Soviet Union, have seen their heated arms race go horrible awry. The equivalents of Norway and Botswana have gone on a crusade, and have pillaged and plundered their way to the top. Yes, I am speaking of Oregon State and Washington State. You see, it is mid-October and they are the two top teams in the conference. They are the only teams boasting unbeaten records. Both the Beavers and Cougars had byes this week, and they spent their time counting their gold and captured virgins, while plotting their upcoming attacks for next weekend.

Meanwhile the Huskies suffered the most humiliating loss in their entire history, in being manhandled by Nevada. The erstwhile Oregon Ducks, featured subject of the cover of Sports Illustrated, were bludgeoned senseless to the tune of 59-14 by Arizona State.

There is perhaps a moral to this sick little sequence of events… Money cannot always buy happiness and success. It begins and ends with people.

As we hone in on the Washington Huskies in particular, Saturday's devastating loss to Nevada goes far beyond the label of a mere, huge upset. It is symbolic of a cancer within the core of the team. If Washington were a crop, it would be overrun by swarms of locusts. If there is dissension within the team, then there is certainly malaise. Many players are resistant to adapt to Gilbertson's tough new regime and philosophy. Attrition, perhaps in large numbers, will be occurring this off-season. Expect too some changes in the coaching staff. This proverbial field must be burned to the ground and planted anew. It is needed to reap an autumn bounty a couple of years from now.

Watching the players run off the field after the loss to Nevada, you would've expected them to be pissed off. They looked more like "ho hum". That is perhaps the most disturbing.

This takes us to the topic of Husky QB Cody Pickett. To blame him for the majority of the Washington woes would be brutally unjust. After all, on Saturday the pass protection was again porous and his receivers dropped some well-thrown passes. One time or another, a Husky offensive tackle has to block a pass rushing end. That said; there I no denying that Pickett's struggles are killing this team. He is the team's leader. And a leader is supposed to rally his troops and inspire them to fight. There was no fight evident against Nevada. A fifth-year senior (who has started for three seasons) needs to lead his team with the precise judgment honed from the experience garnered over his college career. Pickett's mistakes being perpetrated against Nevada were shockingly poor. Perhaps it is from pressing, perhaps from the injuries that he's playing with, but when things turn sour, Pickett's passes become errant and he holds on to the football for far too long given the protection breakdowns that have occurred.

All Husky fans would love to see Cody Pickett finish his career with a triumphant finish. But as coach Gilbertson has made clear with the suspensions of Reggie Williams and Derrick Johnson, or the denial of Nate Robinson, the team must come first. If he believes this, is it time to give redshirt-freshman Isaiah Stanback an opportunity to help the cause? His scrambling, athletic ability alone would add another dimension to the offense. Against Nevada, inserting Stanback and injecting the option attack would have perhaps altered the state of the game. As it was, Washington was running the ball effectively in the first half. In fact, Alexis alone had 98 yards at halftime. But those yards didn't translate into points, and this sport doesn't award style points.

Fielding post-game comments, coach Gilbertson said he wasn't going to succumb to the demands of knee-jerk reactions and bench Pickett. OK. But this season is in danger of vanishing beneath the frigid waters of the toughest portion of the schedule. Coach Gilbertson hates to lose, and is at a loss to explain what is wrong in its entirety. No one wants to see him fail (well, one person does but that's not for this article).

Now Keith owes it to the team and fans to try everything reasonable to right the ship. There are problems with every facet of this football team. It would be heartening to at least see some flawed but inspired performances of underclassmen. In that vein, isn't the platoon of Pickett and Stanback a viable option and worth a shot? Knee jerk or not, I believe it is.

Nothing else appears to be working once momentum gets rolling against this team.
Derek Johnson can be reached at uwsundodger@msn.com

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