Coach's Corner

Forty years ago when I was playing for Washington State, I went to Oklahoma. We lost 21-0 to a team that would end up number two in the nation by the end of the season. Norman is sort of like another Pullman, but not quite as remote. It has a wonderful stadium and it has a great college atmosphere for football.

Norman is a very tough place to play, especially at this time of year. It can be really hot and humid, almost to the point where you are soaked even before you finish stretching. It could be a 90/90 day, meaning it will be wet hot – kind of like playing in a sauna. It means that you drink extra water all week long before the game. We don't have that kind of heat in the northwest, even in eastern Washington.

This represents one of the real challenges for the Huskies as they venture into the flatlands in search of their biggest road win in years. Can they endure the elements of heat and humidity much less a team that will probably be favored to beat them, by say, three touchdowns?

It can only be viewed as a great opportunity to play against one of the greatest programs in the history of college football. This is an opportunity of a lifetime and these Huskies must play their best games in five years just to keep it close. Can they win it? Sure they can. And I don't want to hear that crap that if they could just make it close . . .

Neither does Tyrone Willingham or his team. They are going back there to win. Difficult but not impossible.

Oklahoma lost 4 games last year and struggled in their opener against UAB in their win. They are coming off a bad season for them and kicked their starting quarterback off the team before this season even began. Washington won its first opener in five years but also struggled to do so. Regardless, they still hung on and won. The Huskies will be a decided underdog, and nobody but nobody gives them a chance to win - except themselves.

They have an opportunity to get the biggest win since the Huskies upset Miami in the Whammy in Miami 13 years ago.

It may even be bigger because the Huskies of those days still thought they were one of the best teams in America, despite having been crippled by sanctions and probation. The Huskies of today are trying to climb back to that level, and in order to do so, must win games like this one no matter what the odds are.

What must they do to win this game? First and foremost is to not be intimidated by the setting. I don't think that will be a problem with a senior at quarterback and experience up front on the defensive line.

Then they need to do three things well. Protect the football, stop the run (and the best running back that they will face all year), and somehow score one more point than the Sooners (Duh!). I don't care how, a fumble recovery, a blocked punt, a pick-six. But this team needs a break and for them to score in an unexpected fashion would do wonders for their psyche as well as make Oklahoma sit up and take notice. It still gets down to believing you can win, or else you don't even have a chance.

They need to keep it close and then try to steal the game in the fourth quarter. Coach Willingham and his coaches believe it is possible, and they will be trying to get the kids to believe the same thing. Oklahoma can be beaten but the Huskies cannot beat themselves.

Does Oklahoma have better players? Probably. Does Oklahoma have a more established program? Probably. Is Oklahoma a better team? Probably.

Fortunately those things don't always determine the winner. The scoreboard does.

OK, OK. So what if they get blown out and lose? Everyone expects it, so I don't think it will matter too much. The Huskies can go in pretty loose because of this. Even if they lose, the Pac-10 race is unaffected. They just go to next week and try to knock off Fresno State at home.

But if the Dawgs pull off the upset? Don't tell me that wouldn't be the first major step in turning this program around.

Has anyone out there watch the highlights on Adrian Peterson? Wow! Talk about a monster running back. He looks like Bo Jackson did in college. He is like a freight train and I can see him being one of the first players taken in next year's draft. This guy is very impressive and will not be stopped unless the Huskies can improve their tackling. He is the real deal and obviously has a good summer job - otherwise he would have gone pro last year.

Tackling was one of the obvious problems the Husky defense had in their opener, besides of course, playing the pass in the second half. Getting Dashon Goldson healthy now looks like one of the most important things to make this team better. Having three corners (Matt Fountaine, Goldson, and Roy Lewis) rotating together will certainly improve the Huskies ability to defend the pass. Getting Ashlee Palmer may also be big because he is a hitter, but he couldn't be ready for this game anyway.

That leaves it to a group of players who know they should have beaten their first opponent more convincingly. They were in control of the game from start to finish and did accomplish some very positive things.

Washington ran the ball well. The offensive line proved they were better than most expected by opening holes that resulted in 300 yards rushing. The two running backs, Kenny James and Louis Rankin, both played well with the exception of one fumble by Rankin.

They actually rushed the ball 42 times which makes a statement in itself.

The kicking game was solid as well with punter, Sean Douglas, averaging 45.7 per kick with a long of 54, and every punt was downed inside the 20.

Marlon Wood looks like he will become a good punt returner and the new snapper, Danny Morovick only had one bad snap in his first real game under fire. They were also real solid in their kick protection and coverages, which bodes well for his Saturday because I think they'll need to win the field position battle against Oklahoma in order to win the game.

In first games, there is always the chance that your opponent will surprise you with something you don't expect. Steve Morton, the ex-Husky assistant and now offensive coordinator for SJS, did that exact thing by going almost entirely out of the shotgun empty formation. It forced the Huskies to play almost exclusively out of their nickel package and greatly restricted their options defensively.

The Huskies got great play out of all their defensive ends with Greyson Gunheim, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Brandon Ala, and Chris Stevens all turning in solid performances. They recorded 3 sacks and 10 total tackles for loss with almost all coming from this group.

As a team they stopped the run and that will be critical in beating Oklahoma. They will not stop Adrian Peterson but if they can contain him it gives them a chance.

Another thing about Saturday that made me smile is that as a team, the Huskies responded well to adversity. Last year when they fumbled twice and threw an interception, they would have folded their tents. This time they took the mistakes in stride and went about winning the game in spite of them.

It goes without saying that they cannot make those kinds of mistakes on Saturday against Oklahoma.

And Washington got a standout performance out of Isaiah Stanback. It looks like he finally believes that his running ability is the key ingredient to making this year's Husky offense something difficult to handle. He used his speed well against the Spartans and should remember that Texas beat Oklahoma last year mostly with quarterback runs.

This is what college football is all about. Going into a hostile environment and pulling off a stunning upset. I know it will be tough and I know there are some of you laughing at me (what's new?), but I must reiterate that if you don't think you can do it, then you are probably beaten before you even get on the bus.

I've been in Ann Arbor, in Lincoln Nebraska, in Miami, and have seen it happen as a coach. It can be done.

So make it so.

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