Players and coaches react to Air Force loss

Close, yet so far away. The predominant theme of the players and coaches following Saturday's 20-17 loss to Air Force was that each saw good things from a team that went 1-10 last season, but that the outcome remained the same and this loss was hard to swallow.

"This was one of the toughest losses I've ever experienced," senior center Brad Vanneman said with an exhausted look on his face. "Even with the abysmal season last year, just because I know how much better we are as a team, it's frustrating to look at that and to play that hard and to feel like you're doing something right and to still not win it's frustrating.

"I struggled with that last year, but I know we're a better team now. We are going to win more games, I know that. It's just a matter of doing it now."

Offensively the Huskies had a better day than any they experienced last season. QB Isaiah Stanback's 70.3% (19 of 27) completion rate was the best of his short tenure as a quarterback, but in the junior signal-caller's eyes, it wasn't enough.

"I think I did ok," Stanback said. "I'm never really satisfied, especially with a loss. I think I can always do better.

"Air Force is a good team, no doubt. But we felt we had the game in the fourth quarter. We've got to learn how to finish out drives. There were a couple plays we could have had that would have put them away. Everybody knows that, nothing needs to be said, everybody knows what they have to do. Now that we have an idea of what we need to do we can learn from that and improve.

Offensive coordinator Tim Lappano seemed very happy with his quarterback's play. "I thought he played pretty well," Lappano said. "He did a lot of the things we asked him to do. I thought number one he had a lot of poise and composure out there, a lot of presence in the pocket out there. Not seeing the film, it looked like he made the right decisions with the football and for his first contest in a while I think he played pretty well."

Sophomore RB Louis Rankin also thought Stanback was a good field general during only his second start under center. "He did a lot of good things," Rankin said. "He led the offense today and found a lot of people open. He made some good reads. We just need to go out next week and get the win.

Lappano also saw a lot to be happy about, despite the loss.

"I think you've got to look at Isaiah's performance and I think you can win with that performance," Lappano said. "If he can continue to get better and play like that, I think you would grade him out as a winning performance from that. I think that Louis Rankin, somebody told me he had over 100 yards and he didn't lay the ball on the ground, had a solid day as well.

"There are some pluses guys. We didn't turn the ball over. We dropped two kickoffs, but our ball leverage was good. We didn't have a lot of stupid penalties. We didn't throw any interceptions, so from a standpoint in that area we had to clean that area up and that was one of our priorities going into the season. Playing with discipline and protecting the football. We did that."

One area that Lappano wasn't critical of, but said he expected improvement in was his running game. "I'm still not pleased with our run game," Lappano said. "I still see us being more physical and with Joe (Toledo) being out, I don't know how long he's going to be out, but I'm not satisfied that we knocked them off the ball, I don't think we did. I think we need to pick that up a little bit, but we just need to be more consistent with out play."

One area of weakness heading into fall camp was the lack of a tight end for this offense. With the play of redshirt freshman Johnie Kirton, the Huskies may have found the player they have been looking for.

"It's becoming easier and easier every day with the transition," Kirton acknowledged. "I talked to the coaches about it and told them I'm getting closer and closer to putting my full heart towards it and after today that's a big step I've taken towards it and I feel better about it now."

On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Scott White, who posted six tackles and a forced fumble, said physical exhaustion wasn't the problem, but something else was.

"Fatigue wasn't an issue," White said. "Physically (Air Force) aren't a team that will keep banging on you and banging on you and wear you down. They are just going to keep running their offense and executing and doing the things they normally do and that's just a methodical movement down the field. It was more mentally fatiguing than anything."

White also mentioned the defense's inability to get off the field as a source of frustration. "You get them in third-and-nine and they make it and it's like, ‘man'," White said shaking his head. "The third and fourth down conversions were really frustrating for our defense."

Defensive coordinator Kent Baer said that the defense spent too much time on the field, but that Air Force's ability to throw new things at the Huskies probably made the biggest difference.

"They threw a lot at us," Baer said. "We knew that coming into the game, that they were going to do a lot of things we hadn't seen, we'd hear all along they were going to have some surprises for us and they did. I thought we made some good adjustments.

"They actually threw even more at us in the second half, but that's to be expected. We expected them to throw the ball, but they threw it more in the second half than I thought they would."

Losing Chris Handy to academics before the season even started and then CB Roy Lewis and SS C.J. Wallace to injuries hurt the team a lot, but Baer said the team managed as best they could with the players they had available.

"I thought we did a great job against the pass except for one play," Baer said referencing the missed tackle by FS Dashon Goldson that led to an 84-yard touchdown by Falcon's WR Greg Kirkwood. "They through the ball a lot towards the end of the game and we're lacking some depth at some spots, but we did pretty well.

"We had a couple guys get in there that hadn't seen a lot of reps. We had to take a couple players who are corners and move them inside and that was different for them, but I thought they did alright."

To a man, this team and the coaches seemed to be frustrated, but ready to get back on the field and make amends. This team is close, but that only counts in horseshoes so they know they need to bring it even harder next week.

"We're all frustrated right now, but we know what we need to do next week," WR Sonny Shackelford said. "We need to come out determined to win and that is going to be tough after this week, but we're going to come with that mentality. The Pac 10 season starts this week and that is the most important thing to us right now, because we have to forget about this loss now and move on and win some games." Top Stories