Dawgbytes - 9/21

Some questions were answered and new questions emerged Saturday night after Washington lost a heartbreaker to UCLA, 37-31 at Husky Stadium. After their season-opener against Fresno State, the defense showed improvement from 2003, but backslid into a form reminiscent of the Huskies' effort at California last November.

As it is with a lot of teams that rely on youth and has inexperience at leadership positions, the results can often be considered schizophrenic. Washington went from 5 turnovers against the Bulldogs to zero against the Bruins. They went from giving up 137 yards on the ground in game 1 to 424 in game 2. So in two games, the Dawgs have had one solid offensive effort and one solid defensive effort. Can they put it togethe on both sides of the ball this weekend at Notre Dame?

To be able to do that, UW will have to shore up a defensive line that was riddled by UCLA tailback Maurice Drew. Drew set opponent single-game records with 322 yards rushing and five touchdowns. To add injury to insult, Mike Mapuolesega partially tore the posterior cruciate ligament(PCL) in his left knee against the Bruins, keeping him out for up to a month.

"We're going to give Dan Milsten and Jordan White-Frisbee time in there," Washington Head Coach Keith Gilbertson said Tuesday when asked about his defensive line concerns. "We had to move Manase (Hopoi) outside. Erick Lobos and (Wilson) Afoa might get some snaps this weekend. We don't really have a two-deeps there until we practice a day or two. I don't want to say a person will start and then not, so lots of guys are going to get looks. Manase will probably start where Mapu was, and he and Brandon (Ala) and Greyson Gunheim and (Ty) Eriks will be the ends. We will figure out a tackle rotation on the inside."

The inclusion of Lobos to the mix has to be a bit of a disappointment for Gilbertson, as a redshirt year was definitely in the offing for the true frosh DT from Venice, California. "He's a high-energy guy," Gilbertson said of Lobos. "He's big - 280 or 290 - and very quick. We just have to see if he's ready for this, if he's come far enough."

The other new player mentioned - Wilson Afoa - should be ready but has been hampered a bit of late. "He's had a bad back and he's just coming back from it," Gilbertson said. "He appears to be getting better." If Afoa played, Gilbertson estimated he would be at around 95 percent.

Gilbertson is also concerned about putting his true frosh into situations detrimental to their development. "I'm not sure that I want those guys playing 60 plays," he said. "I'd like to control the number and make it as positive as I can for them. I don't want to overwhelm them."

Don't expect true frosh DE Greyson Gunheim to be switching ends to help with the depth issue. "They are distinctly different positions," Gilbertson said when asked about Gunheim being able to play the true DE and also the rush end spot. "I think it's a lot for a guy that's in his first year in the system. I'd prefer that guys like him and Jordan (White-Frisbee) stay in one spot and learn the position, grow with it."

One of the biggest jobs the Husky DL will face Saturday is trying to contain a Notre Dame running corps that is steadily gaining momentum. True frosh Darius Walker went from no carries against BYU to 115 yards against Michigan and 98 yards against Michigan State. He's been a big boost for the Irish, who were looking for big things from their experienced back, Ryan Grant.

"All backs are different," Gilbertson said when asked about trying to defend both Walker and Grant. "They have their uniqueness about them - cutter, slasher, power back. But most of the time we are trying to defend a system and types of plays than an individual. That would come more into play when we're talking about a quarterback and his style of play. But Darius Walker has a lot of talent. He's fast and quick, can make people miss and can run through tackles. He's a very, very good young running back. He's a lot like (Maurice) Drew - powerful and quick."

Compared to the defensive line, Gilbertson isn't as concerned with his safeties playing either spot. "We will probably stay as is and up the number of opportunities for C.J. Wallace," he said. "Those guys are more interchangable, and Jimmy (Newell) can play both spots."

Whatever plans Gilbertson and the Husky coaches comin up with, it will be done with some familiarity toward the coaches on the other side of the field. Bill Diedrick and Kent Baer were Gilbertson's first offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively, when Gilbertson was head coach at Idaho. Diedrick was also a graduate assistant at Hawaii when Gilbertson was there and coached at Washington from 1994-1997 as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

The team will leave Thursday night and will have a walk-through Friday. "We will take our time and relax," said Gilbertson. "Since we're going through two time zones, it gives us as close to a normal Friday with our meetings and walk-throughs. We won't spend the whole day traveling."

Because it is a non-conference game, Washington can travel as many players as they want to, but the team will dress around 70 strong, according to Gilbertson. The Pac-10 has also changed their away total for conference games to 64, up four players from last year.

When asked if he's expecting any special teams issues because of the switch from field turf to natural grass, Gilbertson is counting on the Notre Dame field crew to turn it into a non-issue. "I'm assuming that it's because it's Notre Dame that it will be a beautiful suface, as good a field as you could possibly play on," he said.

The last game the Huskies won on natural grass was a 33-31 squeaker at Arizona State in 2001.

Tragic Ties: Eric McMillan, 19, a redshirt freshman defensive back from Murrieta, Calif who played for the University of Idaho, was shot and killed Sunday night in Moscow, just one day removed from starting against Washington State. McMillan was a former high school teammate of current UW tight end Ben Bandel.

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