Coach's Corner

Coach Willingham has been preaching error free football since he first arrived at Washington. Considering the Huskies were the worst team in the country last year in terms of turnovers, his emphasis on protecting the football only seemed to make sense. Through their first seven games they had actually only committed eleven total turnovers.

Along with blocked kicks, turnovers are always the most costly of mistakes. Against the Sun Devils, they simply dropped the football, and with it, dropped their chance of defeating a very beatable ASU team.

With the Huskies driving, Isaiah Stanback scrambles out of the pocket carrying the football in one hand, gets tackled, and coughs up the ball. This was a preventable mistake that unfortunately led directly to an ASU score. That was in the first quarter and the Huskies were only trailing 7-3, but he would have made the first down.

More importantly, it would have retained possession of the football. Considering the fumble was near midfield it also meant a shortened field for the Sun Devils.

James Sims Jr., who arguably played the best game of his career, had a similar mistake. Again it came near midfield with the Huskies driving and only down by four. Fortunately, it did not lead directly to a score but it certainly swung the field position when ASU punted the Huskies back to their own 20.

Sims, unfortunately, has a history of dropping the rock and this one proved critical because Washington clearly had the momentum when he committed his gaffe.

This is not to insinuate that these two mistakes cost their team the game. But since they were the only two Washington fumbles of the game, and stopped two drives into enemy territory, it makes them critical errors at the very least. Particularly for a team with no margin for error.

Combine those two fumbles with the two interceptions thrown at the end of the game and you have what was a competitive football game turn into another major cluster%$&*.

With no interceptions and no lost fumbles, Arizona State wins the turnover battle 4-0. That was the difference, even with an ASU frosh torching the hapless Husky secondary for 400 yards.

Stanback ran the ball well and passed for 61 yards on their opening drive, but suffered greatly from drops by his receivers. Sonny Shakelford dropped two balls that were right in his hands as did Craig Chambers. With the outcome still in doubt, Anthony Russo drops a pass over the middle that would have put the Huskies in great position to go ahead in the game.

All of these drops were catchable balls and right on the money.

Stanback had an off night, having many balls sail on release whenever he scrambled out of the pocket. Still, if his receivers simply do their job and catch the football, he finishes 14 out of 20 and adds another 50 yards to his tally. Considering that ASU was moving the ball effectively through the air all night, Washington could ill afford not to hang onto the football.

You only have a limited number of possessions in a game. Washington only had 10 total possessions and ASU eleven. Of the Huskies 10, you have to subtract four for the turnovers and add them to the ASU total. While it's true that ASU scored on its first three possessions, the Huskies kept battling and with ten minutes to play only trailed by four points.

To allow ASU's offense back on the field four times, all in good field position, is asking too much to overcome for a 1-win football team. When almost half of the chances you have to have the ball are surrendered, it's not going to get it done. Particularly when the other guys are shredding your secondary that is having trouble figuring out their zone drops.

This is precisely what Coach Willingham's premise of protecting the football is all about. That's the theory, anyway. Now it must be practiced.

Unfortunately, these were not the only mistakes made by the Huskies that proved to be critical. Coverage mistakes by the secondary were clearly exposed, as ASU receivers were often wide open sometimes due to simple area alignment mistakes in zone defenses. Then consider all the coverage mistakes while covering punts and kickoff in the kicking game and it's a wonder the Huskies were only down 4 points into the fourth quarter.

There were also kicking mistakes. Namely, the inability of the Husky kickers to be directional kickers. Terry Richardson, ASU's punt and kick returner, entered the game as the number one kick and number three punt returner in the conference. To not kick away from him was nonsensical. The last punt of the game was returned 21 yards and led directly to the ASU score that put them up by 11. Field position could have been improved simply by angling the ball out of bounds, or at least pinning the returner to the sideline.

Remember you don't have to win the kicking game, but it is crucial that you not let it hurt you. It obviously hurt the Huskies in this game.

ASU also made many critical mistakes with a rash of stupid penalties but their miscues rarely resulted in changes of possession. They finished the game with no interceptions, no fumbles lost, and no blocked punts like they had the previous week in their loss to Stanford. Despite being ripe for the picking, ASU gave themselves every opportunity to win by not giving up the ball.

Now the Oregon State Beavers come to town fresh off a game in which (shades of Derek Anderson) they threw SIX interceptions as well as losing a key fumble at the end. These were the primary reasons why they lost their game to Arizona. It appears that whoever commits the least amount of errors on Saturday will most like win the game.

Certainly, considering the pass offense the Beavers have, Washington must also correct their coverage mistakes and start to get some better breaks on the ball by the secondary. Arizona proved that this Beaver team could be beaten even if they throw it all over the yard.

Washington must create some turnovers themselves and at the same time give up none. Zero. Nil. Zilch. This Husky team is just not good enough to squander ANY possessions or chances to gain field position in the game.

The Huskies did some really nice things against ASU. They ran the football, they actually rushed the passer, and they blocked and tackled like they really meant it. They were improved in those areas. They played solid run defense and their specialists are performing well enough to win.

The Husky quarterback must now play at the top of his game and be error free in order for the Huskies to break into the conference win column. The receivers must catch the ball. The ball carriers must hang onto the ball. The special teams must be solid and create a mistake by the Beavers.

If this happens, Washington wins this game 31-17 by continuing to run the ball and by keeping the Beaver offense on the sidelines. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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