Dawgman.com Diary - 10/26

Here's the scenario: if you knew that one football team had won the previous two matchups over the other by a total of 84 points to 24 and saw that this year's betting line started at 20 points, it would make sense. Right? And you'd also think that the winning team would also be the one favored, but this is where your universe would be turned upside-down. In Washington's football world circa 2004, this is S.O.P.

In talking to some Husky players on Monday, you'd expect there to be some frustration, some second-guessing, some doubts as to whether or not they will put one up in the win column during Pac-10 play. It's been a while since Washington has put up a conference goosegg - 31 years, to be exact - and after amassing zilch offensively against the number-one team in the country, their job doesn't get a heck of a lot easier this week.

But the mood was one of excitement, of a team on a mission to correct mistakes made. Sure, the frustration on their faces was evident. How could it not be? They had played their butts off against the Trojans, only to see it slip away with offensive play that couldn't generate enough firepower to run a Briggs and Stratton, let alone an offense that needed desperately to compete with USC.

But the spark is still there. And it doesn't look like it's going to go away. "We came out to play and Coach Gilbertson had a great gameplan going in that everyone was believing in," punter Sean Douglas said. "We played well the first half, and then things changed really quick. It just started falling apart bit by bit and there wasn't much that we could do about it."

In a moment where the Dawgs were looking for something to fill up their tank, they acted like the game was being played in a town where the proverbial 'last gas for 100 miles' sign had been passed up twenty miles ago. They were in no-man's land now, and the Keith Gilbertson-designed jalopy that had proven to be dependable transportation a generation ago was beyond running on fumes.

"They were a very good team," admitted receiver Bobby Whithorne. "I haven't watched the film yet, but I got the feeling that the total offense broke down completely. It was a really frustrating day, and personally I know I can improve from the game. I just need to watch the film and go from there."

Enthusiasm was running high for the incoming receiving corps a couple of years back. Seven receivers had been recruited, highlighted by keeping stud Craig Chambers home. Chambers, Whithorne, Quintin Daniels, Charles Smith, Corey Williams, Sonny Shackelford and Anthony Russo were expected to fulfill a promise started by names like Gaines, Skansi, Bailey, Pathon and Williams.

Someone forgot to tell the Magnificent Seven to bring their hands along with them while packing for their move to Montlake. Whithorne spoke for all of them when he said that the time for excuse-making is no more. "I just need to start stepping up and make big plays, that's what it comes down to," he said. "That's why I'm here - to make big plays, to make the big catches."

Case in point - UW linebacker Evan Benjamin forces Trojan tailback LenDale White to fumble in USC territory late in the first half. Whithorne comes up with a big 11-yard reception from QB Isaiah Stanback, putting the ball at the USC 30. The Dawgs decide to go for the home-run ball, a streak down the sideline by Whithorne. The redshirt frosh from Santa Margarita, California gets a mitt on it, but can't secure the ball in the endzone. The ensuing field goal attempt by Mike Braunstein goes wide right.

As Whithorne shakes his head, he understands. "Those are plays that I have to start making," he said.

"We just have to learn from our mistakes and continue to do good at what we're good at," added senior cornerback Sam Cunningham. "Oregon is going to come out and be intense this week. We need to match that intensity and keep it going. We can't stop playing."

Fixing mistakes is Grand Theme #1 this week for these desperate dawgs. They are desperate for success, desperate for a 'w', desperate for some validation that the hard work they are putting in comes with a payoff.

One of those players that can see a little light at the end of the tunnel is Douglas. The sophomore from Bellevue, Nebraska came to Washington expecting to punt. "At the beginning of the season I struggled a lot because when I went into the game I thought it would be a lot different than in practice," he said. "I thought guys were going to come a lot harder and faster, so I tried to rush myself. It's all muscle-memory for me, so when I get out of that, my punts end up being bad. I just had to settle down when I got back there and keep telling myself that I had time. Eventually I just got used to it. It had been two years since I had been back there, so it took some time to get reacquainted.

"You just get used to being back there and used to everything going on, so when guys are rushing you aren't bothered by it. Everything just comes naturally, like it should be."

Douglas will have his work cut out for him at Autzen Stadium Saturday, a place he's never kicked before. It's also a place that all of the young receivers have never been to, adding an enigmatic quality to the riddle of a mystery that is the UW receiving corps.

"I've heard it's crazy down there. I haven't been down to Oregon yet, but I've heard that it's out of control," said Whithorne. "I can't wait to play. I know the guys can't wait to play. We're going to get prepared this week, watch film, watch these guys and get ready for a big northwest rivalry game."

Cunningham has been to Autzen before, and has good feelings from his last visit to Eugene. But when the team hunkers down at the Valley River Inn, he's not expecting a mint on his pillow. "This is going to be a big game," he said. "It's going to be a heavyweight fight. We have to show them what we can do.

"We're going to see a variety of things from them, from their offense. It should be a good matchup. It's going to be a lot of fun, I'm really looking for it."

The real question is, once the jalopy known as the Husky offense gets towed from Los Angeles to Eugene, is there a mechanic talented enough get the thing running again? With some of their best tools still in the shop and too many 'severe tire damage' warnings ahead to mention, MacGyver couldn't pull off this job, even with all the dental floss in Montana.

But then again, there's always a chance the old lady has a few miles left in her.

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