UW hoping to bring normalcy back to series

Here's a question; between Washington and California, which team played last week in front of 65,938 people and which team played in their own home town in front of 26, 482 fans - the lowest in-city total since the 1960's? If the question had been asked five years ago, there would be little doubt as to what the answer would be. How times have changed.

The California Golden Bears, currently riding a three-game winning streak against Washington, would need to win sixteen more times in order to equal the 19-game win streak the Huskies claimed from 1977 to 2001. But Berkeley and Montlake have pulled a switcheroo of late, and it's now the Golden Bears' turn to reign supreme over the series.

"Probably the first year was the key. For that team, it was a big hurdle," Cal Head Coach Jeff Tedford said Monday when asked about the Golden Bears' recent dominance in the series over Washington, one that started with a 34-27 win in 2002 over then number-12 ranked UW. "Our guys got a lot of belief and confidence out of that first game. That one really made a big difference. Any time you have an opportunity to beat the Huskies, you have to think it's a good day because they are so competitive and have such great tradition."

The Washington tradition has sunk to never-before-seen depths. After coming off a 1-10 season in 2004, the first 49 minutes of the Tyrone Willingham era came off like gangbusters. Up 17-6 against Air Force at Qwest Field and the Falcons' pinned up against their own goal line, it appeard that the 800-pound gorilla of expectations would slide off the Huskies' collective back in a big way. Instead, the gorilla has settled in and started to shop for china patterns.

And by the way, the answer to the question at the top was California and then Washington. How far the mighty have fallen.

So now Tedford and the Golden Bears come in to Husky Stadium with expectations of their own, expectations fueled by a ten-win season in 2004. "I think our depth is better and our team speed is better," said Tedford. "With the last two recruiting classes we've had we've been able to recruit some good young talent. Physically they have great potential. Again, they are young, and there's a learning curve that's there. Last year we had expectation with experience, this year we have expectation with youth. And it's key to make sure that the young players understand how to handle that."

Willingham knows all about the California Golden Bears. For seven seasons, he was the focus of Cal's significant ire as head coach of their sworn enemy - the Stanford Cardinal. But even with their barbs and slings aimed squarely at him, Willingham has nothing but praise for the team he went undefeated against while at 'The Farm'.

"I've always thought they had talent," said Willingham. "I thought they were one of those teams where you would see two or three guys making it into the league. What they've done a great job of right now is playing together as a team. And that makes all the difference in the world."

Both teams will now have to adjust to playing an early conference game. "With a young team, you'd like to play your non-conference games first and then get into conference play," said Tedford. "But it is what it is, and it's the same for Washington. It was nice to have last week to be able to work out the kinks."

"It's an eye-opener," added Willingham. "It's something to get focused on very quickly. This game will do that."

Willingham said that while he was pleased with the physical preparations his team made for their season-opener, it was the mental side of the game that affected the outcome more than anything else. He said he relayed a story from his youth to the team to bring the point home.

"I went hunting with my father when I was in junior high," said Willingham. "I was thirteen and I was in the best condition of my life. I was running around all day. I knew I was in shape, but I went hunting and after ten minutes I was tired. It wasn't physical, it was all mental. I didn't want to be there."

It was the mental breakdowns that ultimately cost the Huskies a much-needed victory.

"I thought they hustled very well," said Tedford of the Huskies. "They were more efficient on offense. Throwing the ball they were more efficient. They are a very well-rounded team and for them it's unfortunate that they let it slip away in the end because they really probably deserved to win that game."

"The good things sometimes go missing when you don't win," Willingham said Monday during his weekly press conference. "To be up 17-6 means some good things happened, but we need to close things out. We didn't make the five or six plays we needed to down the stretch and that's what good teams do."

So how long will Willingham allow his team to bring their mental game up to their physical game? "I hope one week. We don't give ourselves much more time than that," he said, matter-of-factly.

QB Experience: In a bit of a twist, quarterback guru Tedford will be putting all his coaching ability to the test this week in getting his two healthy quarterbacks - Joseph Ayoob and Steve Levy - prepared and ready to play on the road. Ayoob was named the starter by Tedford Monday after going 0-10 in a support effort after starter Nate Longshore broke his ankle.

"He got thrown into a tough situation coming into a two-minute drill," Tedford said of Ayoob, who also added that he was planning to put Ayoob in the game in the third quarter before Longshore's injury. "The situation may not have been great, but he knew he was going to play.

"He well in spring and I was happy with his retention from spring through summer and into camp with the mental part of the game. The other day was a tough start for him. I think he put some pressure on himself. Being named the starter will be better for him because he won't have to wait his turn. He can go in and get his jitters out early. It's a learning experience, but he has the ability to be a great player."

Tedford also made note of a game against Oregon State years ago where Aaron Rodgers went 9-for-34. Rodgers went on to have a stellar career at Berkeley and ended up an NFL first-round draft choice. "The great ones bounce back, and that's what we expect Joe to do," said Tedford.

"I don't anticipate him going 0-10," added Willingham. "Knowing him (Tedford) and what he does, he believes in his system."

Conversely, Willingham was pleased with Isaiah Stanback's progress. The junior from Seattle went 19-for-27 for 242 yards and one touchdown against Air Force. "He wants to be a quarterback that leads his team to victories, and that's the most important criteria for him," Willingham said of Stanback. "But his command of the system was good and his command of himself was good. I thought he had a good start. This game plan will have more demands on him. Air Force, with their 3-5-3 and the way they played in the back end didn't demand as much. This one willl demand just a little more. I think he'll be able to make that next step and expand on the game plan."

Willingham also commented on the play-calling of new offensive coordinator Tim Lappano. "I've been very pleased, but his standard is my standard and it's also the standard of our team. It's about winning," said Willingham.

Running to daylight: With a 24 carry, 147-yard effort against Sacramento State in their opener, Marshawn Lynch will be asked by Tedford and the Golden Bears to be a stabilizing force in their offense. Despite some handoff issues against the Hornets, Willingham had some monster praise for the sophomore from Oakland.

"I have a great deal of respect for what he did last year," Willingham said of Lynch. "He could be the best back in the conference, and that's saying a lot when you have a Reggie Bush in the conference."

"He's an exciting player, no question about it," added Tedford. "Being an every-down back, that's his biggest challenge now. A couple of times he's trying to hit the hole without having the ball first. He'll learn from that. He was amped up and ready to play, so he needs to settle down a little bit."

Willingham was pleased with the effort of Louis Rankin in his first start in the purple and gold. The sophomore from Stockton, California had 112 yards on 23 carries. "It's a plus if you can keep guys fresh, but at the same time good runners need to carry the ball a certain number of times and be involved in the game to get a feel for it," Willingham said when asked if Rankin would be counted on to be an 'every-down' back for the Huskies. "So you have to balance that."

Felder's return: Anthony Felder will be returning to Seattle for the first time since verbally committing to the Golden Bears and enrolling at Cal. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound true freshman inside linebacker from O'Dea High School is currently listed in the Cal two-deeps behind Greg Van Hoesen. Both Felder and another frosh linebacker - Zack Follett - both played against Sacramento State.

It was great to get some young guys in and get them some experience, like Zack Follett and Anthony Felder," Tedford said. "He (Felder) has had a great camp. He's very talented. Last week was a great time for him to get in there and get a feel for things. He can run and he's a very, very good tackler. He's smart. He'll play in our rotation, as well as on special teams."

Injury Report: While Longshore's injury might be the most visible one, the loss of Washington OT Joe Toledo for the Cal game is also a big blow. Because the converted tight end will be out for a couple of weeks with an ankle injury, Willingham will pull a 'two-fold' switch. Right tackle Rob Meadow will move to left tackle and Chad Macklin will take Meadow's place on the right side of the line. Brandon Ala is the only other player that was hurt against the Falcons that will definitely miss the Cal game.

For Washington, both C.J. Wallace (concussion) and Roy Lewis (arm) were banged up against Air Force, but Willingham expects both to be able to play. Running back Kenny James may be back for action against the Golden Bears, but he'll be facing an uphill battle. "Hopefully he'll be back, but his injury and his ability to perform will determine that," Willingham said. He was not able to give an estimate on when DT Jordan White-Frisbee might return.

Quickly...: So why did Craig Chambers only get involved in one play Saturday? "Craig has done some good things, but others are playing better at his position," said Willingham... Will Johnie Kirton's role at tight end expand? The 6-foot-3, 280-pound bruising frosh from Mill Creek had two catches for 33 yards against Air Force. "I'm excited about what he's done in a short period of time. Hopefully we can begin to work him into a great role at that position," said Willingham... Andy Heater started at deep snapper against Air Force because Joe Lobendahn wore a brace on his right arm and also because of the quick transition needed from snapping to defense.

Dawgman.com Top Stories