Willingham hopes tricks turn into treats

Clearly the old way of doing things just isn't working. Washington's pass rush this year has been so woefully ineffective, the Huskies turned to a 200-pound linebacker to provide a lift. Chris Stevens did his best Harry Hyde imitation simply by putting his hand on the ground and attacking the quarterback. During Tyrone Willingham's Halloween press conference the Husky head coach talked about using more 'creativity'. And he wasn't talking about costumes and haunted houses.

Although he'd love Husky Stadium to become a house of horrors for Oregon State, as the Beavers come calling Saturday at 3:30 for an afternoon clash that might have more people sleeping by halftime than cheering. But Willingham wants to change all that. But don't look for Isaiah Stanback to start playing both ways, or the UW offense to run all triple-option. The tricks Willingham might employ Saturday should be subtler, but hopefully no less effective than the pass-rushing schemes defensive coordinator Kent Baer uses to help force seven sacks against an out-manned ASU front line.

"The first thing we have to do is take care of ourselves, eliminate some of our mistakes," Willingham said, outlining his plan for attack against the Beavers, who lost at home to Arizona this past Saturday. "We have to be productive running the football and balance in our passing attack, have it be more productive than it was a week ago. Defensively, Oregon State is throwing the ball well and their running back (Yvenson Bernard) reminds me a lot of Maurice Drew, so we've got to find a way to stop the running game and really do a much better job of defending against the pass and have our special teams be a positive for us."

It's the wrinkles, the disguises, the Halloween-esque 'tricks', that Willingham and staff will burn the midnight oil developing in an effort to stop an OSU offense that is throwing the ball at a rate of 337 yards a game, but is ninth in the conference when it comes to pass efficiency. Case in point: Beaver quarterback Matt Moore created an incredible 38 of 43 passes for 436 yards in Oregon State's loss to Arizona. But six of those completions were to the other team.

"I'll be praying for a similar day," Willingham said.

"We're going to be as creative as possible to help our guys in the back end and creative as possible to help out our guys up front. That's the only approach you can take - knowing what your weaknesses are and help those weaknesses. So it may mean you do more coverage things. You might rush two and drop nine. You might rush nine and drop two."

Offensively, Isaiah Stanback has been named the starter for Saturday's game, but Willingham made it quite obvious the real starter may not be announced until gametime. "I'm going to look at it during the week and then make a decision," he said. "Right now Isaiah Stanback is the starter, but I'm going to look at the situation. I think that's the fair way to look at it. I don't think that was Isaiah's best ball game, and I think he'll say that also. We may consider a lot of things. And being ambivalent is the right approach, because we're going to look at it and see before we make any decision. It would be incorrect for me to make a decision based on all of that right now."

Stanback went 8-for-20 for 171 yards and one interception in a 44-20 loss at ASU. Second-string quarterback Johnny DuRocher came in late and went 2-for-6 for 14 yards and one pick. "He's come in during what I would call 'mop-up duty', and it's not really a fair evaluation," Willingham said when asked about DuRocher and the chance he could start. "But given the opportunities during practice, he's done a good job."

But it's still the overall lack of execution and finishing the job at hand that kicks Willingham in the gut like the proverbial mule he likes to talk about. In fact, in a rare show of hubris, Willingham admitted that he felt that they should be 'five or six games' better than where they are right now. "I think our team did an excellent job of handling adversity and putting themselves in the right position," he said of his team's play in Tempe. "We had been down all day and fighting back. But we didn't close the door.

"The good news is, I'm still very much excited about what can happen and the young men we've got in the program. I think there are some very good things to come."

And Willingham was quick to point the finger at himself for a couple of judgment calls that went differently than originally intended - specifically the decision to punt in the fourth quarter and calling a late timeout with the game well out of reach. "You always think about going for it, but with the time on the clock and how the game was at that point, there was enough time to punt to them," Willingham said on the 4th-and-1 decision with roughly ten-and-a-half minutes left in the game. "I didn't want to take the risk and give them a short field. They had a fairly short field for most of the day.

"Knowing what I know now, I'd probably change (my decision). It didn't win the football game for us, so I'd probably go in a different direction."

And the timeout? "You look at one of the interceptions, I'm as much to blame as anybody else," he said of the DuRocher pick-six by ASU's Josh Golden as time expired. "Just run the ball, run the clock out - don't put your guy in that situation."

Willingham and Washington will get a chance to exorcise some ghosts, as well as a current five-game losing streak, against "The Black Bandits of Benton County". The only thing left to wonder is whether or not the Huskies will come to Husky Stadium with game faces or Halloween masks and leave with either a bag full of cool candy or a sack full of popcorn balls and circus peanuts.

Trick or treat, Husky fans!
Injury report: As it is with most Monday injury updates, a lot of it is unknown. Willingham said that the playing status of Louis Rankin was up in the air, as well as Darrion Jones, Ty Eriks, Brandon Ala and Josh Okoebor. The players that were dinged up against Arizona State (James Sims, Tusi Sa'au and Joe Lobendahn) all came back to play and Willingham said that all three should be good to go against OSU. Willingham was especially effusive about Sims' contribution against the Sun Devils. The senior from Las Vegas ran for 140 yards in his first running back start of the season. "He added something to our attack," Willingham said of Sims. "It wasn't just the blocking up front. He broke some tackles and ran very hard and gave us a physical presence in the backfield, and that was wonderful."

Where's the beef?: Manase Hopoi already has his Halloween outfit figured out. He's going out as the Invisible Man. After leading the Pac-10 in tackles-for-loss in 2004, the senior from Sacramento needed only 8.5 sacks in 2005 to overtake Ron Holmes as Washington's all-time sackmaster. Averaging a half-sack a game, he has been close to a non-factor all season long despite starting every game and leading the team with 7 tackles for loss, a far cry from last season's 22. Some of that has to do with the opposition and their attempts to take Hopoi out of the game, but that's not the only reason. "He's been struggling and I don't know why," Willingham said of Hopoi. "Hopefully we can do some things to free him up and create some opportunities for him."

Pain in the Hass: As good as Arizona State's Derek Hagan and USC's Dwayne Jarrett have been this year, they aren't the Pac-10's top receiver in terms of catches and yards. That honor goes to Oregon State former walk-on Mike Hass. And it isn't very close. He currently leads the league with 69 snags for 1237 yards, an average of 9 catches and 155 yards per game. "He catches the football all the time," Willingham said matter-of-factly when asked about what makes Hass a special player. "He's a heck of a competitor, he fights for every inch. He makes the easy catches, he makes the tough catches, and he runs great routes."

No TV for Arizona: The Washington-Arizona game was not picked up for television, so it will stay at it's announced time of 4 p.m. MST/3 p.m. PST. The 12:30 game will be USC at California, the 4 p.m. game will be Arizona State at UCLA and the 7:30 p.m. game will be Oregon at Washington State. As it was with the ASU game, there's always a chance the UW-UA game could be picked up by local TV closer to game time.

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