Coach's Corner

So far, compared to last year, the same teams are on the top and the same ones are on the bottom. The lone exception happens to be the Huskies next opponent - The UCLA Bruins.

The Washington Huskies are definitely a better team than last year although their record is exactly the same. The Bruins are undefeated at 3-0 and playing like they are one of the best teams in the league. Meanwhile, the USC Trojans are playing at a much higher level than any team in the conference and have a game at ASU this weekend that could really decide the league title before the half way mark.

Washington's football team is making obvious strides toward becoming a better football team. They are actually much better in a number of areas but still not good enough to win. That is the bottom line. Statistics are deceiving because the only one that counts is the number of marks in the left hand column of the win-loss record.

Right now they are still the worse team in the league in the standings.

Sure it can be argued that they have played a much harder pre-season schedule than most of the teams in the league and that they actually had chances to be in and win two of their losses. Still, the standings don't lie and the Dawgs are in last place.

The UCLA Bruins, however, have really improved and it appears that Karl Dorrell, an ex-Husky assistant coach, has taken great steps with his program and has his team ready to compete for the championship in this, his third year as the head coach. It couldn't have come at a better time for Dorrell who played his collegiate ball for this very same school and had been rumored to be on the hot seat going into this season.

Dorrell played on UCLA teams that won five consecutive bowl games, including three Rose, one Fiesta, and one Freedom Bowl. His teams actually beat the USC Trojans four of those five years and won three Pac-10 Championships. Still, expectations have been exceedingly high for him since he became their head coach three seasons ago. It appears that their administration is about to be rewarded for their patience and his team has responded by opening up this season going 3-0 including a huge win over Oklahoma. The Sooners may be down this year, but a win over that program will always be a big deal and will give his kids confidence.

The Bruins head into their annual meeting with the Huskies coming off a bye and poised for their league opener at home against a Washington.

On offense, the Huskies have greatly improved their passing game. This was critical because they were the worst ranked passing team in the nation last year. Isaiah Stanback is a much better quarterback than he was last year, and the receivers have taken great strides to improve as a group.

Unfortunately, their rushing attack has not kept pace and although Louis Rankin is getting more playing time, he has yet to have a break out game running the football. He is better and so is the blocking by his fullbacks but they still can't run the ball when they want to. Rankin still hesitates when he gets to the hole between the tackles, and tries to go outside first.

The return of a healthy Kenny James will help and overall their protection of the football has been much improved.

The Husky offensive line has done a decent job in protecting the quarterback but has not been able to consistently get the push to establish a go-to running attack. Still, the offense is much better than last year and is slowly improving. They appear to have found a tight end

Johnie Kirton looks to be a great receiving threat, but his blocking is still at the developmental stage. That will come.

Defensively, the Huskies are struggling with consistency. The front has had flashes of greatness mixed with periods of no pressure. An area of apparent depth, the defensive line, has produced few sacks with the exception of the Idaho game. The linebackers, although recording lots of tackles, would be the first to admit they haven't played up to their own level of expectations. The Corners are thin in numbers due to a failed attempt to improve via the JC route. The back end of the defense has been highlighted by the play of strong safety, CJ Wallace, who is clearly one of the best players on the team.

As units, both the offense and the defense are making many steps towards getting better but periodic breakdowns and lapses in concentration and confidence appear on way too regular of a basis.

Both units need to improve their efficiency on third down if the Huskies are going to continue to get better. Right now both rank last in the conference in that category.

Evan Knudson, with the exception of one knuckle ball, has been solid in both kicking field goals and kicking off. He appears to have really worked hard on his leg strength in the off-season and has a dependable holder in Casey Paus. Long snapping duties have fallen to Andy Heater and he is improving with each week.

The only real breakdowns in the kicking game have been on two punt protections, although their return game is still terribly lacking. Sean Douglas is one of the best punters in the league and he too obviously has improved.

Although Washington has greatly improved their turnover ratio, the Bruins enter this contest with the best margin in the conference at +7. The Bruins likewise are one of the best in the conference in scoring at 49.3 per game.

Whereas, the Bruins appear to be greatly improved, the Trojans appear so good that they should be playing in the AFC West instead of the Pac-10. In an earlier column, I opined that they would greatly miss the 4 assistant coaches they lost, but they are so loaded with talent and are playing with such great confidence that it appears unlikely that anyone in the conference or, in the nation for that matter, has a chance to dethrone them.

Whereas, I had thought they would struggle with Oregon, this weekend at ASU seems to be their biggest test of the year. Arizona State has an offense that should (I repeat, should) test the Trojans, and playing in the desert gives them a better chance to stop the LA steamroller.

If they can't then it's hard to figure who can. It may be the UCLA Bruins, who just happen to be the next challenge to the Washington Huskies.

I think the Bruins are the best they have been in years and if Washington can win this game it will be a tremendous upset. It usually takes one really big win for a down program to get over the hump and to start winning on a more consistent basis.

Obviously it's a huge order to fill, but a win in the Rose Bowl on Saturday would be as big of a deal as it was for Cal to beat Washington in Jeff Tedford's first year. That game catapulted Cal out of the cellar and into respectability.

Washington needs a similar type of win. Top Stories