Only winning six games can save Gilby now

At best, Washington's 21-6 victory over San Jose State can be described as "workmanlike". At worst, it begs the question, that if Rice can run for 570 yards against the Spartans, as they did a week ago, should then the Huskies get overly excited at rushing for 270? After Washington rolled up their sleeves and went to work in the trenches, they moved the ball on the ground and did what they needed to do to win.

But following the game, with Husky players spread out across the media room, it didn't seem like the majority of them were happy and satisfied with what they accomplished. There were some exceptions, like Evan Benjamin and Scott White. But there were a lot of subdued faces talking into microphones. This was coming after a victory.

Conversely, San Jose State's players and coaches felt like this was a game that they should have won. This is San Jose State talking and that speaks volumes. Their head coach, Dr. Fitz Hill, said that it was one that "got away from us". The Spartans were absolutely robbed when Husky running back Kenny James was ruled down when he fumbled at the Washington 10-yard line. If that had been officiated correctly, San Jose State takes the lead right there on the fumble return.

At that point, God only knows what might have been the final score (although I suspect that God currently has more pressing concerns in this world than the outcome of the Washington-San Jose State game.)

The Husky defense played so well, that if we only focus on that, we can feel good about this team. But we've also seen that defense against Notre Dame and UCLA. It is a schizophrenic inconsistency.

As the final minutes ticked off the clock this past Saturday, the scene at Husky Stadium was an ugly tableau. There were approximately 30,000 people in the stands. The sky was dreary and letting loose its rain showers. The Husky marching band was playing its standard fare, but as usual in recent years, it showed no innovation geared toward inspiring the student section and charging up the crowd.

The fans didn't have much to cheer for all day, as it was a boring game. Against inferior competition, the Huskies couldn't throw the ball to save their lives. Aside from punt coverage, the special teams were ragged to mediocre. The players sustained a level of effort throughout the game, however it was not inspired and confident. They were not having fun and it showed. Long gone are the days when the players and crowd fed off each other's energy. Husky Stadium is but a shell of its former self.

The whispers are starting to increase in volume. A blue-collar coach like Keith Gilbertson doesn't possess the flair or panache needed to pacify the increasingly agitated boosters and fan base, while the team is rebuilding. With the exception of Charles Frederick, these Huskies lack a big playmaker on offense. There is really nothing to keep fans anticipating that something big might occur. There is no other Husky player to cause concern to opposing defensive coordinators when they prepare a game plan. And when something goes wrong for this team, (as happens every week), Gilbertson has demonstrated that he can keep the players motivated to give continued effort. But the Huskies have also shown that when they face adversity and lose momentum, they can't get it back.

The key question is: Is this due to the fact that the players are lacking talent, too young and inexperienced? Or does this mean that Gilbertson has an inability to inspire confidence within his players and provide them leadership when they need it most?

I don't know the answer. But the sad thing is that reality is going to intervene and reality doesn't much care what is fair or not.

As has been discussed ad nauseam, these are mostly Neuheisel's players, and Gilbertson can't control that. But as former Seahawk coach Chuck Knox used to say, you have to play the hand you're dealt. Last year I believed strongly that Gilbertson shouldn't have been held fully accountable for what occurred given the situation he was thrust into on such short notice. But this year, there is a standard of expectation.

In analyzing the components of this team, it is so difficult to determine what is an asset and what is a liability. The two consistent factors that show Gilbertson is having a positive impact are that (a) his freshman recruits look so promising, and (b) the Huskies are putting forth effort throughout every game. If they weren't giving effort, but quitting like last year, it would be easy to see that Gilbertson is not the right person for this job. On the other hand, with the maddening inconsistent manner that the Huskies have played, they may not win a conference game!

With interest in the program waning severely, it is evidenced by empty seats that there are lots of other things to do in Seattle on a Saturday. The only thing that will bring back them back obviously is for Washington to win. The Mariners have the luxury of Safeco Field's ambiance; despite the platitudes offered up by CEO Howard Lincoln, the Mariners can make half-efforts to field a competitive team and still draw big crowds. But Washington doesn't have that option. People won't come out anymore just to experience being in Husky Stadium. They won't come out just to witness Husky football. They need to see a winner before they'll commit their dollars.

For this season, beating the Northwest schools won't be enough to save Gilbertson's job. What is needed is a six to seven-win season along with a victory so profound that it alters the program's atmosphere. In the same manner that the UW basketball team beat #1 Stanford and Arizona last year (which invigorated the fan base), so too, the only football contest that offers this magical elixir would be to triumph over USC in Los Angeles. This would send shockwaves throughout the Pac-10 and give recruits a new view of Washington football. It would also provide job security for Gilbertson and his coaches. Anything short of this won't save their jobs.

It is deeply unfortunate that it has come to this. It is nearly tragic that Keith Gilbertson gets his dream job, but can't be afforded a standard 3-4 year window to see if he is capable of getting it back on track. But Todd Turner, the new Athletic Director at Washington, can't be impressed with the depressed state of Husky football that he has inherited. The prospect of going through another couple of years similar to this season must be unbearable for him to consider. The urge for Turner to start with a clean slate and make his own mark will prove to be an itch that must be scratched. That is why, unless Gilbertson's Huskies stun USC and win six games this season, Gilby's two-year tenure at Washington will end next month. And that is a shame.


Derek Johnson can be reached at uwsundodger@msn.com

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