Willingham, Koetter, hoping to finish strong

After his team's play this past weekend, the head coach couldn't help but field questions about his two quarterbacks. He also handled the inevitable queries about poor execution in special teams. Some questions about making the most out of the rest of their regular season were thrown out there for good measure. And when Arizona State's Dirk Koetter was done, Tyrone Willingham stepped up to the microphone to answer the same questions.

It's not as if the Sun Devils have cashed in their chips and left the table that is the Pac-10 conference race. At 3-4, they still have a very good chance of finishing their regular season with a strong showing, thereby securing bowl eligibility. It just might be the one thing ASU can hold over Washington's head when the Huskies come calling this Saturday. The Huskies are playing for pride, self-respect, and perhaps a few hard-earned 'Whose House, Dawgs House!' chants afterward.

"You've got two teams that are hungry to get back in the win column, so it should be a heck of a game," said Koetter. If ASU is hungry for wins, consider Washington anorexic. The Huskies have only won two games in two years, and haven't won a conference game since 2003.

If there is one silver lining Washington fans can chew on, the Huskies are meeting up with the Sun Devils at a time when Koetter's kids are reeling. A 45-35 loss to Stanford Saturday - where they gave up 17 points to poor special teams play and an interception for seven more. The Devils did a heck of a job to rally back to turn a first-half rout into a respectable showing.

The problems on special teams were especially confounding, considering Koetter went out and picked up Tom Osbourne from Oregon specially because of his prowess in coaching the de facto third rail of football.

"It was a combination of things," said Koetter. "Due to injury, we went through three long snappers in the course of the game. In the eight years that I've been a head coach, we've never used anyone but our main long snapper. Stanford have a couple of guys that are excellent punt blockers. They put pressure on us and we didn't respond very well. And our punter, who has a very strong leg, hit the ball on a couple of occasions with a very flat trajectory, more of a line drive, and Stanford was there to take advantage of that.

"We haven't played like we feel we should be playing," added Koetter, matter-of-factly. We've hit a lull the last two games. Momentum and confidence are things that come and go with the wind, it seems like. I would imagine Washington feels the same way."

They do, Dirk.

"Our team is still fighting," said Willingham, happy with his team's effort in losing a 51-24 game to number-one USC, a game no one expected the Huskies to even show up for. They did show up, and they held the Trojans - averaging 613 yards of offense per game - to a season-low 390. "That is something to be positive about in our program, but we still didn't accomplish the goal we set out accomplish," added Willingham. "Those things are nice, but we want to win the football game. And that won't change."

Both teams now have played two common opponents - USC and Oregon. The Huskies appear to have come away from playing number-one with some semblence of confidence. They were able to move the ball. "You take five or six plays away, you've got a near-perfect day, in some regards," said Willingham when asked about the play of UW quarterback Isaiah Stanback. "He's playing pretty well."

The Sun Devils, you could argue, handled their tussle with the Trojans on the field a lot better than Washington did (they were up 21-3 at half), but came away from it with a loss and some psychological scars, scars that have manifested themselves in the form of two sub-standard performances.

Does Koetter buy into that theory? "There's something to that," he said. "There was some heartbreak that was harder to get over than one would expect. But any excuse is somewhat of a hollow excuse right now. The bottom line in competitive sports is that you've got to get back to business and we've not done a very good job of that.

And the 'job' for the Sun Devils is to finish the regular-season with four-straight wins and a bowl bid. "It's what we make of it," said Koetter, simply. "We can't let outside forces determine what happens with our season. That's on us. We have to have enough fortitude from our own players and coaches that we determine what's going to happen. We had very high expectations. With the help of our seniors and the help of our leaders, we're going to play these last four games like we would any other game."

Willingham isn't expecting a letdown.

"I think they'll get healthy - physically and mentally - and be ready to play their best football," he said of this weekend's opponent. "They recognize that there are still four great opportunities. They all will be very difficult.

But we've got a chance."

Keller expected to play: Sam Keller injured his thumb in a loss to Oregon, but the ASU quarterback laid low during a subsequent bye week and practiced sparingly during the prep week for Stanford. "We anticipate Sam will be good to go," said Koetter today about Keller. It was the type of injury that wasn't allowing him to grip the ball as hard as he wants to grip it. He threw the ball fine in practice yesterday." If Keller can't go, the Sun Devils appear to be in good shape with backup Rudy Carpenter, who went 19 for 25 for 304 yards against the Cardinal in just a quarter-and-a-half of action. "Just look at their numbers," Willingham said . This is probably as good a passing team as there is in the country. They do it very well."

Strengh versus weakness: Arizona State is the conference leader in passing and third nationally, averaging nearly 373 yards per game. Conversely, Washington's pass defense is currently ninth in the Pac-10, giving up 283 yards per game through the air. "It's been our area of weakness, so we have to do some excellent coaching to help out our weakness so that we can be strong against their strength," said Willingham on Monday. A lot of that coaching will be pointed toward stopping the play of ASU receiver Derek Hagan. "He's one of the better receivers that's come through the Pac-10," Willingham said of the senior from Palmdale, California. "When you have a receiver like that, if you just put it in his area he has the ability to make plays. And I think they will find a way to get it in his area."

"He faces a lot of double coverage these days," added Koetter. "A lot of people roll their coverage over to him, where they'll have a corner on him and a safety over the top. When you've had back-to-back thousand-yard years like Derek has had, people take notice. It's opened things up for some other players." Hagan currently ranks third in the Pac-10 for catches with 46, tied with USC's Dwayne Jarrett and Oregon's Demetrius Williams.

Moss rolls: Converted fullback Durrell Moss had his first career start last week against USC and ended the game as the Huskies' leading tackler with ten stops. Because of his effort, Willingham has listed the sophomore from Orange, California as the other number-one corner opposite Roy Lewis. "We'll see how it works out. He did an admirable job for us on Saturday," Willingham said of Moss. The addition of Matt Fountaine back into the secondary will not hurt the Huskies. Fountaine served a one-game suspension for what Willingham termed a 'disciplinary thing, based on team policies'.

Taking away the run: Both Louis Rankin and Kenny James sustained injuries against the Trojans, bumping James Sims, Jr. into a leading role. He was announced by Willingham Monday as the starting running back against ASU, the first start for Sims since the 2004 Apple Cup. In that game he ran 23 times for 85 yards. "We'll see what the condition of both Louis Rankin and Kenny James will be," said Willingham when asked about their status. "I don't rule them out (of the game) yet, but we don't get an official feel for it until tomorrow."

Joe is back: It was expected that converted tight end Joe Toledo would be back on the offensive line against USC after nursing back a high ankle sprain, and he was. What wasn't expected was Toldeo's move to right tackle. In his only start of the season (against Air Force), Toledo played left tackle. "It was a smart move on our coaches' part to put Joe in the best position based on his injury," said Willingham. "Robin (Meadow) has given us all year that flexibility to be able to switch from one side to the other, play well, and keep us very consistent."

Paus for punts?: Despite having a punt blocked against USC, Willingham likes the flexibility having backup QB Casey Paus act as the 'up' man when Washington is in punt formation. "He was in that position for all of our punts and he'll probably be in that position again this week," said Willingham when asked about the use of Paus on punts. "There are some things we think he can add to the system. We'll see how we can impliment those in the future."

TV for Oregon State: Washington and Oregon State have agreed to move the time of their Nov. 5 game at Husky Stadium to 3:30 p.m. to allow for a live telecast on FSN Northwest. The game was originally scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m. The opportunity to televise the game in the local market became available today when it was not selected by ABC for is 12:30 window that day or by TBS for its 7 p.m. broadcast that evening. ABC will show California at Oregon on that date and TBS will carry Stanford's game at USC.

The Huskies' Nov. 5 matchup with Oregon State is Washington¹s homecoming.

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