Season taking a toll on Dawgs as losses mount

Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham made an interesting admission Saturday night after his Huskies were brushed back with authority by Arizona State. The admission? Football isn't a game of easy. That might come as a surprise to Sun Devil quarterback Rudy Carpenter, who set an ASU record for completion percentage against Willingham's team. But as Willingham would be quick to point out, it's as much a matter of timing than anything else.

"We have to be very honest," said Willingham. "It's not an easy game to play. And that's for everyone. We've got to be better at eliminating our mistakes so that we can be the team on top."

The Huskies' four turnovers - compared to none by ASU - were momentum-killers. The first miscue, an Isaiah Stanback fumble, happened in the first quarter with the Huskies down 4 but within ASU territory and driving. The second? A James Sims fumble near the end of the third quarter with the Huskies again down by 4 but moving the ball and pushing momentum. In Sims' defense, he had to go in for x-rays on his arm after that hit because of numbness, but he would be the first to tell you it was a blunder all the same.

"He stepped in and did a nice job for us," Willingham said of Sims replacing an injured Louis Rankin, who stayed home with turf toe. The senior from Las Vegas finished the day with 140 yards on 24 carries and one touchdown. "And that might be an understatement."

Even the one lone bright spot on defense - the play of Joe Lobendahn, Greyson Gunheim and Chris Stevens in the third quarter to pressure Carpenter - was something that Willingham qualified after the game. Washington's seven sacks matched a team high for the year, but didn't do much to slow down Arizona State's potent air attack when it mattered most.

"We felt like we had some momentum going," Willingham said of the move to get Stevens and Lobendahn some play off the edge. "We had some pass rush. I think Gunheim got the first one. Then Stevens all day was trying to get pressure. It was a real gutsy effort on his part. He came in to add some spark, some juice, some energy to our pass rush."

"But it's also about doing it at the right time. And we didn't do enough of that to be in a position to defend their pass game and we made too many other mistakes in other areas to keep their offense on the field to score more points."

Willingham couldn't say enough good things about the play of his true frosh linebacker, who played almost the whole game with his hand down on the line. "We saw a young man that loved to play the game of football," he said of Stevens. "Regardless of what you asked him to do, he would do it, and he would give you everything he had. He's a bright young man, he's a tough young man, and he's a worker. And we're just trying to find an opportunity for him to help out on our football team."

A key coaching moment came early in the 4th quarter, with the Huskies down 24-20 and driving. Kenny James had come in for Sims, who was injured at the time. The junior from Dos Palos, California was given a hand-off on a third-and-one and he was unable to turn the corner against a pesky ASU defense. It was no-gain, and a decision to make for Willingham.

Instead of going for it from his own 43, Willingham elected to punt the ball and play position. The play immediately backfired, as ASU return-man Terry Richardson returned the ball to the Devil 36, a net play of 20 yards.

"I thought at that time that we would still have an opportunity to get the ball back, based on where it was on the field," said Willingham of the decision to play position.

Ten plays and 64 yards later, Arizona State had reached Washington's end zone and the Huskies had relinquished any opportunity of stealing a win in the desert. It was there for the taking and the team folded when they needed to make a play the most.

"It was our turnovers, those mistakes in general," said Willingham. "It put us behind the 8-ball and made it very difficult against a team that's very explosive. The critical mistakes came in the first quarter as well as the fourth quarter. And if we eliminate some of those in the first quarter, it's a different ball game.

Was he able to talk about any positives? Not really.

"The taste of losing kind of clouds everything," he said, matter-of-factly. "We didn't do what we came to do, which is win the football game. That's the bottom line. And the other stuff is unacceptable."


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