Dawgman.com Diary – 10/25/05

Sustained focus. Consistency. Intensity. All three are traits of good football teams and all three are something the Washington Huskies have lacked at one or more points during what has so far been a lost season. But with four winnable games remaining on their schedule, the Dawgs see an opportunity to get back what once was lost and to move this program in the right direction.

"We'll do some good things and then we'll have a mental error, an offsides, a holding penalty or a missed blocking assignment," senior offensive lineman Tusi Sa'au said Monday following the Huskies' 51-24 loss to USC. "Those kinds of things just kill you. They are drive killers.

"We can't keep going forward one step and take two steps back. It's just consistency and trying to be a lot smarter."

Playing a lot smarter is something that head coach Tyrone Willingham expects out of his players and for the most part the Huskies have obliged. They rank second in the conference in penalties with just 41 in seven games and while they rank near the bottom of the conference with a minus-1 turnover margin that is a vast improvement from last season's horrendous minus-19.

According to junior QB Isaiah Stanback it's about focus and attributes one turnover against the Trojans to his lack of concentration.

"That was just a lack of focus," Stanback said referring to his second quarter backwards pass that was dropped by WR Cody Ellis and recovered by the Trojans. "It's a throw I make all the time and I took it for granted and I can't do that. I've got to stay focused.

"You have to learn from your mistakes. If it's not in the back of your mind then you're not learning. Believe me. Every time we have that pass called again I will be focusing on it."

Another area that has been a focus for the Huskies all season and requires intensity on a play-by-play basis is the running game. Recently, the team has fallen on hard times in this area and with injuries to starter Louis Rankin (turf toe) and Kenny James (shoulder) they will be working with their third-team running back, former safety and former fullback James Sims.

"It really shouldn't affect the offensive line that much," Sa'au said regarding the revolving running back door. "I think all our running backs are good. They all can step up to carry the flag. As long as we do our job we'll be good at running.

"I just try to carry out my assignment and hopefully do a good job at it so that his job's a lot easier. That's what our job is to make the running back's job easier."

Rankin is more of a slasher who dances and waits for a hole. James is a player with a little more vision, but less speed. He makes the most of what's there when he has the chance. Sims on the other hand, doesn't have much in the way of moves, but he runs hard and even though he has struggled with fumbles as a ball-carrier, he says he isn't thinking about the past.

"Honestly, I never thought about fumbling the ball once I got out there," Sims said. "I just knew to hold on tight. I wasn't too preoccupied with hold on to the ball, because that's when you start being unsure of yourself.

"You have to realize that the team needs you. Everyone makes mistakes. You can't get down on yourself about that, because if you do you're doing a disservice to the team. I think if you keep that in mind it's kind of selfish and to just sit there and remain on that one thing over again is selfish."

The opponent the Huskies face this weekend, the Arizona State Sun Devils, is a team reeling in their own right. After starting the season 3-1 the Sun Devils have dropped their past three games including last week's 45-35 defeat to Stanford, but the Huskies are giving them as much respect as they would anyone.

"You don't want to look at them differently because they're still a good team," Sa'au said. "They're a division one team and you've always got to come into the game with the same intensity whether it's a 0-10 team or a 10-0 team."

Also strange for the Huskies is the prospect of facing a team they haven't played since 2002.

"You have to go out and try and finish and it's going to be new for me because I've never played against them," Stanback said. "The only time I was down there was for my recruiting visit, so it's going to be interesting going down there and seeing those coaches, but you've got to have fun.

"Regardless of your record you've got to have fun. I figure if you're having fun you'll get good results."

The results coaches, players and fans are looking for are more wins and a return to prominence in the conference, rather than the Pac 10 also-ran status the Dawgs have occupied for the better part of two seasons.

"It would be one of the highest things we could accomplish in my career here," Sims said. "Coming out, knowing we had a down time and we were there at the end of it when it's starting to come back up. That'd be great.

"As a team we're playing a lot better then we had been. We're moving the ball against defenses that are really good. We've had the most top 20 teams in a row and we've played well against them at times and we have to just finish a game completely straight through. Until we do that we're not sure what we're capable of."

The last four weeks against Arizona State, Oregon State, Arizona and Washington State will be the measuring stick for where this program is headed for the foreseeable future.

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