For UW Football, nowhere to go but up?

This past Saturday, former Husky All-American and NFL linebacker Ink Aleaga was in front of his TV watching the Huskies getting dismembered by Notre Dame 38-3. Seeing Washington getting thrashed like this brought back his own bad memories from his playing days of traveling to Notre Dame in 1996.

The Huskies actually entered that game ranked, led by the likes of Corey Dillon, Brock Huard and Jason Chorak. But it didn't do anything to stave off a crushing 54-20 defeat. Aleaga reflected upon how that '96 massacre was similar to what occurred this past Saturday; with the Fighting Irish making big play after big play, and Washington making like a boxer against the ropes-- being battered senseless, yet not sustaining any sort of defense or counter-attack, and all in front of a yawning and unimpressed national TV audience.

Earlier today, Ink Aleaga and I spoke. I began by articulating my concerns that this Washington football team is so schizophrenic-- that in each game some random wheel falls off the proverbial wagon, a random facet of the team falls apart, and subsequently causes an overturning of the entire Husky cart. When the breakdown in fundamentals is coming from upperclassmen as well youngsters, it seems that would be the fault of the coaches. I asked Aleaga that from his experience if he's ever seen such an inconsistent team like this in either college or the NFL.

"Well, it's still early in the season," cautioned Aleaga. "But like you said, it does seem schizophrenic, and I must say that I've never seen anything like it. It's very weird. It could be a bit of both the coaching and the players."

I asked Aleaga what the problem with the Husky defense is. Was there anything that he saw schematically that stemmed from poor game planning? Or were these simply from a breakdown in fundamentals?

"Well it's hard to say for sure when you're watching on TV," he responded. "You can't see what the defensive backfield is up to, so you're only seeing part of what is happening." I mentioned to Aleaga that I had heard analyst Hugh Millen recently state that watching football on TV was like viewing a game through a toilet paper tube. Aleaga laughed and said, "I like that description, I think Hugh described that perfectly."

"But Notre Dame's passing game just destroyed us," continued Aleaga. "Coach Diedrick (ND's Off. Cord.), who coached at UW in my final season, he just made the perfect calls. There was that one play that stood out; they ran a fake screen and Derrick Johnson bit on the screen and they through over the top to their guy who was wide open. Coach Diedrick made the absolutely perfect call there. It was like that all day."

Aleaga continued: "But about the Huskies, it is tough trying to find out which team is going to show up on Saturday, although like I said, it's still early in the season. But I will say this—the talent is there. Coaches can only do so much. Players have to bring it, and they have to decide to bring it. They have to make up their minds. Speaking of the Husky teams I was on back in the day, truthfully, and despite our success, we weren't the most talented team in the league. Teams like USC and UCLA had far more talent than we did. But we had the edge, from the work ethic that we had. We wanted to get better from week to week. And if this Husky team really decides to get better, the power is completely within them to do it."

I asked Aleaga what positives he took from rubble of this past weekend's horrendous Notre Dame game. "I was most impressed with the fact that I thought a lot of the guys played hard," he replied quietly. "It's something to build on. Some of the guys were flying around, trying to make plays. I was very impressed with the young guys, Jordan White-Frisbee, CJ Wallace, Hemphill; I think that the future looks bright as those guys get more experience. These young guys, especially Wallace, they've got that swagger that you saw with some of the past Husky DBs like Lawyer Milloy, Tony Parrish and Reggie Reser. I'm excited to see how they will develop."

But what about the status of head coach Keith Gilbertson? The whispers are getting more audible and the fingers pointed at him are multiplying each week. Considering how poor the Huskies have looked through an 0-3 start, and that much of the responsibility rests with the head coach, does Gilbertson deserve time beyond this season to turn things around? Or if he is granted more time, is his tenure doomed to continued failure?

"I believe that Gilby can turn this around," said Aleaga. "He's in a really tough situation. Given time, if he gets more of the players that he wants in here, he'll get us back to playing good football. He's going back to the formula; bigger guys, guys with character, guys with heart. But you can't expect a total turn around with one recruiting class."

Concluded Aleaga: "But will the new athletic director Todd Turner stick with Gilby? Is he going to support him? That's the million-dollar question… I think things are going to get worse before they get better. But at some point, things will improve from the changes being made, and we'll see the results on the field."
Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories