Willingham looking to find a way to win

It wasn't the 560 yards of total offense Washington gave up against Notre Dame on Saturday. It wasn't the 37-to-23 minute time differential in terms of possession. You could throw any number of statistics at UW Head Coach Tyrone Willingham and he would have thrown them right back at you - like two people playing catch. Because in Willingham's business, there is no column for moral victories.

"This was a football game that was obviously made to contain a lot of emotions, but a football game that came down to what football games always comes down to - the ability of one team to make plays or the inability of one team to make plays," said Willingham after the Huskies lost to Willingham's former team - Notre Dame, 36-17 in front of 71,473 fans at Husky Stadium. "And they did a great job of making plays when they had to have them, and conversely we did not do the same. Therefore we put ourselves in a hole that we could not dig out of.

"It's not our coaching style to take moral victories. We've got to win, that's what it's all about."

Whether the hole was self-dug (three turnovers) or whether the Huskies were helped along by the Fighting Irish's balanced offensive assault, there's no question UW had the plan to make this football game a lot closer than most expected. Coming out of the gate, Washington Offensive Coordinator Tim Lappano literally threw a steady diet of footballs at the exposed ND secondary

All they needed was some players to execute that plan. "We thought we would have a lot of success with our passing game," said Willingham. "We relied on it and tried to go to a lot of things we thought would work."

Isaiah Stanback moved the Huskies to the Irish 12 on UW's opening drive, but the drive stalled on the goal-line after it was ruled that Craig Chambers fumbled the ball. It was one of two key first-half drives that ended with a miscue either at the goal-line or in the end zone. Overall, Washington had three drives in the first 30 minutes and came up with only three points on the scoreboard to show for their efforts.

"I think our offense is still improving, still growing, still getting better," said Willingham. "But what's important for us is winning and I think our kids would say the same thing. It's about winning. I don't think they will take to heart about throwing for a bunch of yardage. We didn't win the football game. We recognize that there are some things that we didn't do well enough to win - and one of those things is we have to run the ball better."

And what did he think of Chambers' play on the opening drive - one that was ultimately reviewed and not overturned in Washington's favor? "I laughed," he said matter-of-factly. "I saw it differently. I thought he was down."

It wasn't the first time Willingham would see his offense end up on the short end of the 'five or six plays' he feels help determine the course of a game. "They (Notre Dame) made some big plays at some points and we just couldn't get ourselves there," he said. "For a huge portion, they kept us right in there where we could play a heck of a ball game. We just didn't give our defense enough help at the right time."

"I think the offense did a pretty good job, running it today and Brady (Quinn) got better protection," said Notre Dame Head Coach Charlie Weis. "I think we did a much better job of picking up the blitz zones today than we did in the last few weeks. You give this quarterback enough time to throw it, he's going to complete a whole bunch of passes."

For his part, Quinn was 25-37 for 327 yards and one touchdown.

Willingham was impressed, however, with the demeanor of his team when a big play - like the Chambers fumble - happened. In the past they may have shown body english that relayed a sense of fate, a sense that they weren't in control of the game. That may have changed on Saturday.

"I thought we were much improved, because in the past that would have been one of those things that we didn't quite master," said Willingham. "I thought we kept ourselves in position most of that time to win the football game."

Willingham also liked the fact that Chambers didn't let the fumble affect his play. The sophomore from Mill Creek ended up being Stanback's favorite receiver Saturday, coming up with 5 catches for 127 yards and a touchdown.

"We can't do anything about the mistake that takes place, but we can do something about the next one," said Willingham. "That's our style - to get our players to make the next play."

The Irish controlled tempo from the get-go, averaging five yards a carry en route to a 233-yard rush effort. It was the running game, and not Quinn's passing effort, that ultimately wore down a game Husky defense.

"We didn't get off the blocks," said Willingham when asked about the Irish rush attack. "That was probably the biggest part, and we also faced a pretty good runner (Darius Walker)."

But at the end of the day, a loss is a loss and it will take Willingham just that much longer to getting this Washington team in a position to be a consistent winner. "You have to get accustomed to making plays. That's all in the process of taking those steps in getting this team where we want them to be."

And a lot of that starts right at the top with the quarterback. "He played some good football, but it's usually the one or two plays that make the difference," Willingham said in regards to grading Stanback's play. I usually say there's about five or six plays that make the difference. You get 'em, you win. You don't, you come up short."

There seemed to be many opportunities on Saturday where Stanback could have made the easy play with his feet, but instead gambled on pass plays that appeared to be lower-percentage plays.

"Understanding the balance of the two will come with time," said Willingham when asked about Stanback's decision-making. "He'll get better and better and better with that in time, in my opinion. In doing it, sometimes when you're trying to make a play you believe a player is going to be open. His job as a quarterback is to involve a lot of people in the offensive scheme. That's what the scheme calls for."

On the other side, clearly being on the field too long killed Washington's defense, but they scrapped and clawed and did their level best to keep their team within shouting distance well past when the floodgates could have come crashing down. The defensive line didn't get any sacks and seemingly less pressure on Quinn.

"That reared it's head up, but if you watched the same game I watched, there were a lot of three-step drops or short five-yard step drops," said Willingham on the performance of his defensive line. "I think there was some concern we could get to the passer."

Now the question that remains for Washington fans is can this team re-focus and re-double their efforts for the rest of conference play? Needless to say, the media circus surrounding ND's trip to Seattle is over, and now it's back to the business of just playing football.

"I think psychologically for the players, this will be a good thing to have that behind them and move on to the next game," said Weis, referring to Notre Dame.

Will that be the case for the Huskies?

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