A century of history to be undone?

When driving to Husky Stadium Monday, there were some parking signs leading to the same lot where the media normal parks. The signs read 'Leadership Initiative Meeting'. After having witnessed the first two Washington football games this season, the irony of those signs was not lost on me, and probably not on UW Head Coach Tyrone Willingham if he had seen them too. On the other hand, maybe he was the one that put them there.

When asked to name the leaders on his team, Willingham mentioned James Sims, Jr., Kenny James, Ty Eriks, Joe Toledo, Isaiah Stanback, Casey Paus, Sonny Shackelford, Anthony Russo, Dashon Goldson, Joe Lobendahn, Evan Benjamin and Scott White. But almost to a man, for all the things those players have done in terms of leadership, they've also been there when plays needed to be made at crucial times and have come up dry. And the Huskies head coach acknowledged that it's the deed that will ultimately earn his team respect, not just talking about it.

"Life is always about action. Words are wonderful, but you have to produce. We have to re-intensify everything we're doing, stay with our plan, but execute it and get it done," he said Monday. Actions truly spoke louder than words two days earlier, as Cal ran and passed their way to a 56-17 slaughter of the Huskies at Husky Stadium. Those 56 points given up by the Dawgs was a stadium high, a mark that wouldn't have been set if the defense hadn't done their best imitation of a sieve and let Cal running back Justin Forsett run 35 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the game.

"Our job is to prevent them from scoring. We didn't do our job," Willingham said matter-of-factly. "We're not doing the little things, the detail things you have to do to put yourself in that situation. We've been close. The Air Force game was close. If we make a couple of plays there, we probably win the football game. We've got to make those moves to put us in that position."

Of course, he couldn't make the same fourth-quarter comparison that he could against Air Force, but there was no question the Huskies were in the Cal game in the first half. In fact they were absolutely right in the middle of the game until early in the second quarter. In two successive third-down situations, Washington gave up 54 yards against plays that should have easily been shut down, forcing the Golden Bears to punt. Instead the Huskies couldn't close the deal, Cal went onto score and the rout was on.

"It wasn't discouraging, just disappointing," Willingham said after watching the game. "We're not being consistent. There were stretches where we played good football in our initial two starts, but we have not been able to be consistent. We have had a lot of mental mistakes, but it's not just the result of one thing.

"It's all part of that mental understanding of, 'This is a key moment'. Good football teams love those key moments. We just have to stay within our system and believe."

One team that has to be believing in themselves a lot more than a year ago is the Idaho Vandals, Washington's upcoming foe. Former USC linebackers coach Nick Holt - in his second year rebuilding the UI program - is also searching for a win. But in the two games the Vandals have played (Washington State and UNLV), they look like a team that could come into Husky Stadium and surprise some people.

"They will look at their schedule and what they've done to date and feel like they can come into Husky Stadium and get a win," Willingham said of the Huskies' next opponent, newly situated in the WAC conference. "They are good and talented at their receiver spot. They've brought in some JC players that have made a huge difference. They have running backs that are solid, have good size and offer a nice changeup. Their defense plays hard and their kicking game has been manageable. So it's a football team coming in believing they can win."

But Idaho definitely doesn't have history on their side. In fact it's been nearly an entire century (1907) since the Vandals have come to Seattle and even tied a game. They've never won in the Emerald City (0-31-2). Is it even conceivable the Huskies, as poorly as they have started this season, lose this game?

"Anything is conceivable," he said. "It (the win) is extremely important, but it was also extremely important against Air Force and extremely important against Cal. We only get to play eleven games. Tell me which one you'd like to lose?"

Idaho will be bringing in a junior college quarterback in Steve Wichman who has put up some nice numbers against Washington State and UNLV. But he's not the most mobile guy in the world, having been sacked six times already. There's no question the Huskies would like to put the heat on Wichman in the hopes it can take some of the pressure off an ailing UW secondary.

"It's an area where we have to improve," Willingham said of the lack of a pass rush by his front four. "We probably have more sacks from our linebackers than our front four. We also need to do a better job of getting a rush against the passer. All of those areas need to improve. If you can generate some pass rush with having to involve your linebackers, then you can hopefully do better with your coverage responsibilities."

And offensively, holding penalties cost the Huskies dearly on a few drives, something that didn't happen against Air Force. "That's a glaring problem that I don't like to have," said Willingham in regards to the number of penalties. "And anytime you get a holding penalty, it's ten yards from the spot. So it's like having to make another first down in itself. When you are inconsistent as we've been so far, it just puts you in a deficit and it's very hard for us to dig out.

"Anytime you do things like that, you're defeating yourself."

Willingham's solution? It all boils down to perfect practice. To his way of thinking, the results of the games have mirrored how the Huskies' practices have been. "They've been up and down," he said when asked about Washington's practice sessions. "That inconsistency in practice usually leads to inconsistency in games. We've got to find a way to do all the little things, the mentally tough job of coming out every day and preparing the way you have to to be good. It's the practice of making perfect practice that gives you a good performance, and not just practice.

"The system has worked and will work."

Injury report: The two players reported in with injuries Saturday - Kenny James and Erick Lobos - are day-to-day, but Willingham seemed to indicate both should be ready for action against the Vandals. A player not reported on Saturday - Roy Lewis - has a bruised knee, and is also day-to-day. He is also expected to be available. Willingham said he does not anticipate those injured during the Air Force game - Joe Toledo and Brandon Ala - to be available against Idaho. Carl Bonnell continues to be slowed with a quad contusion.

Singled out: Clay Walker and Craig Chambers were singled out as players in the depth that would probably have their roles expanded for Idaho. Chambers had three catches for 65 yards and a touchdown against Cal. Willingham also talked about the emergence of Sonny Shackelford as a leader in the receiving corps. "I've been very pleased with what Sonny has done," said Willingham. "It shows up in practice as well as in games. Every great player would tell you that you don't get good without working at it." Shackelford is the Huskies' leading receiver through the first two games, catching 11 passes for 161 yards, including a 56-yard strike from Isaiah Stanback on Washington's first play from scrimmage against Cal.

Switcharoo: Walker and Tusi Sa'au are expected to be the starting guards against Idaho, just one week after Stanley Daniels and Tui Alailefaleula were pencilled in against Cal. "This week you probably saw less of it than in the past," Willingham said about the movement on the offensive line. "The depth chart isn't the best indicator, the game was the real indicator."

A good cause: At Saturday's game, Washington teamed with KING-TV and KJR-AM 950 to raise money for Hurricane Katrina relief. Approximately $30,000 was donated by Husky fans attending the contest.

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