Dawgman.com Diary - 9/13

It appears as if the message is getting through. Tyrone Willingham talked about it a lot on Monday during his weekly press conference, how inconsistent play in practice can lead to a roller-coaster of results on Saturdays. In talking to the players available Monday, two things were abundantly clear; Washington is not taking their next opponent - Idaho - lightly and they need to step up their work in practice.

"Everything they showed us we saw during the week in practice," safety Dashon Goldson told Dawgman.com when asked about the gameplan against Cal, a gameplan littered with UW miscues that led to easy Bear scores. Cal defeated Washington this past Saturday 56-17, the most points ever given up by a Washington team in Husky Stadium.

"They ran some of the same plays over and over, and we had some mental errors. They blew a couple of assignments. I did too and that cost us bigtime. They just wanted it more, and it showed on Saturday."

"If you're making mental mistakes, you've got to get rid of those," said quarterback Isaiah Stanback. "Coach (Willingham) says there's no excuse for those."

James Sims, one of the leaders on Washington's team, echoed one of the main themes Willingham has hammered home to the press after his first two games coaching at Montlake - the ability for good teams to finish off their opponent. The Huskies have some major work to do in this phase of the game.

"Both games we started fast, but we have to make sure we finish through," said Sims. "We have to finish. We have to play a complete game."

"We're not doing bad. We're not doing bad at all," said Stanback, who has accounted for 543 yards passing and three touchdowns against Air Force and California. "We're a couple of plays away from winning some games. We've just got to buckle down and finish. We just have to keep going. We're going to get some W's this year."

Goldson was even more adamant. "We're going to keep fighting," he said. "We're not coming out here just to give guys a look, we're not on the scout team. We're out here to win. Guys say that we have nothing to lose because of the ups and downs of last season, but we do have something to lose. We have the ball game to lose, and that's how I feel about it. We just have to go out there and keep playing."

And for Willingham, it all starts on the practice field. "When you don't know what you're doing, you don't play fast," said receiver Sonny Shackelford, one of the players Willingham has pointed to as one who is getting the job done during the week and weekends. "When you know what you're doing, you can play fast and just run around. We have to get it where everybody knows what they are doing and everybody is running around, playing as hard as they can and playing fast."

Shackelford, with eleven catches in two games, is already more than half-way toward reaching his 2004 receiving totals. "I was just trying to work as hard as I could to get my body in shape and get bigger and stronger," he said of his summer regimen, one that transformed his physique. "I have a long, lean frame and I needed to gain some weight. So I ate all I could and lifted all I could and ran all summer to get myself in top physical shape."

Goldson looks at Shackelford and sees someone who is committed to practicing like he plays. "We have to come out and practice and play like it," he said. "Like coach (Willingham) said, we don't practice as hard but that's what we've got to do. And it shows on Saturdays, who practices hard and who fights hard. Like Sonny Shackelford, he practices hard and it shows up on Saturdays. We need to get more players like that."

For the secondary's part, Goldson feels that they really need to tighten up the lines of communication as they work toward their Saturday game against the Vandals. But what about the rest of the team? What is it going to take for others to get over that hump and start believing that the Huskies can win again?

"It's just up to the individual," he said. "They have to have confidence in themselves. They have to know on Saturday that they can do the same things that they do in practice."

Offensively, Sims wants to show his team that the running backs are ready to shoulder the responsibility of moving the chains. They did that against Air Force, but were stifled against the Golden Bears. "We try to build on the idea that we're the workhorses of the team," he said of the running back corpse. "If we want this team to be successful, we have to run the ball. And that's both on the running backs and the offensive line and we take that to heart.

"I think we've been timid about making mistakes. We have to go out there and play and use our God-given talent and not to think too much."

"I'm learning every game," said Stanback when asked about his play. "There's always something I can work on. And that's something I'm just starting to understand, the quarterback thing. I'm getting better at it. If I get my feet in the right place, everything else fall into place."

"Isaiah's matured a lot," Sims said when asked about his quarterback's progress in becoming a student of the game. "He shows a cool head there nowadays. That's one thing we lacked last year. I think he's stepped up and tried to become a leader on and off the field and I think he's done a great job in that aspect."

A loss to a top-20 team like California - even at home - doesn't come as a surprise to supporters of the program. But a loss to an Idaho team that has never beaten UW in Seattle would symbolize a death blow to a program that can't fall much further.

"A lot of people will look at Idaho and think that we're supposed to win," said Stanback of the Vandals. "You're not supposed to win anything. You want to win and everyone you play is legit. They are going to come out and play hard just like every team we'll play this year. We have to go out and play. I'm not going to take them as any less of an opponent. They are a good team. They gave Wazzu a run for their money too. We have to go out there and take them on just like everyone else."

In talking to the other players, there's no way the Huskies are taking the Vandals lightly, especially when a precious win is in the balance. "That's when you get upsets," Sims said when asked about underestimating Idaho. "Any team that comes in here, they are going to take a shot. A lot of people think we're down because of what's happened. But we have to remember that they still have to come in and do it."

"They play hard," Goldson said of the Vandals. "I watched the Wazzu game and the UNLV game. They kept playing. They fight. They are not going to give up. They are talented in some areas and not in others. But they work hard and play hard and that's something that we need to match."

While it appears that Washington fans are falling off the bandwagon in record numbers and there may only be 50,000 in attendance this Saturday at Husky Stadium, the players understand they can't control other peoples' opinions.

"It's good," Stanback said when asked about team morale, especially coming off a demoralizing loss. "If anything, we're pissed off and mad, but we're mad at ourselves. We know what we did wrong and what plays we should have made."

Sims isn't ready to throw in the towel by any means. "It can be hard, but it's the determination and the idea of the return of the Dawgs that is the driving force. "We still have a shot to do something really well here. As long as we keep that in our minds, we'll stay focused."

"There's no reason to panic," added Shackelford. "Our offensive system is great. We have a nice run game and pass game. All we need is to do our assignments and play hard."

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