Coach's Corner

Pat Hill brings his Fresno State Bulldogs into Seattle for the second time in three years, and the game represents a tremendous challenge for this year's Husky team. The Bulldogs have already proven they can win in Husky Stadium by beating Keith Gilbertson's team of Dawgs by a 35-16 margin to open the 2004 season.

It was to set the tone for the worst season in Husky history, a lone win over San Jose State.

Well, the Huskies beaten San Jose State again this year and they have no intentions of that being their only victory. This time around, the game looms large if the Huskies have any intention of playing in the post season.

Truth of the matter is, that 2004 score was deceptive because the Huskies actually ran 89 plays in that game to the Bulldogs 56. They gained 360 yards to the Bulldogs 262, but lost because of 4 interceptions, a blocked kick, and Déjà vu, an Isaiah Stanback fumble. Mistakes beat them then just as mistakes beat them last weekend in Norman Oklahoma.

Early in the second half last weekend, the Huskies lost to Oklahoma in a matter of a minutes when they got a punt blocked that led to a score and then fumbled the ball inside the Sooner's five yard line while attempting to close the deficit to three. The defense failed to respond after the Stanback fumble and allowed the Sooners to drive the length of the field for a score, which was basically game, set, match.

Almost the exact same thing happened against the Bulldogs in 2004. The Huskies were right in that game and then a rash of turnovers put that game out of reach.

Time to learn from history. Protect the football for Gawd sakes! And no blocks or returns in the kicking game. This Husky team isn't good enough to be able to withstand hurting itself with mental miscues. They just cannot let momentum bury them by compounding mistakes. If you do fumble, don't go to the bench and sulk about it – go do something about it.

But obviously, the best thing to do would be to avoid giving the ball away in the first place.

Should the Huskies come out of this game with a victory, thereby pushing their record to 2-1 for their non-league schedule, they would take a huge step toward their first bowl game in four years. I really feel that this game is that important in turning around this program. Fresno State is a perennial winner in the WAC and it would represent a major confidence boost for this Husky team if they can win on Saturday.

The game is at home, and since it is band day, that will guarantee that the gaping empty holes of seats will be mitigated with musicians. That should push the attendance to 60,000 to cheer them on. Certainly the first half against Oklahoma should give the Husky faithful some thing to cheer for and the players themselves obviously know now that they can play with anyone.

I have known Pat Hill for a long time because we both had Jim Sweeney as our mentor when entering into coaching. Pat has this job primarily because of his relationship and connections with Coach Sweeney. We both started as Graduate Assistants for Sweeney and I will be surprised if Jim is not in the house come Saturday (cheering for Hill and the Bulldogs of course). Pat Hill is a great coach.

I can tell you this about the Bulldogs, they will run the ball well, they will be dangerous in the kicking game and they will swarm to the football on defense. They will hit you in the face and see how you respond to it. This is going to be a physical game and the first team to blink could be the loser.

The Huskies know they can win, they know that they can hit, and now they have to prove to themselves that they can play an entire football game and not just one good half.

They must first shore up the backend of their defense. They need to get better in their zone coverages and play more aggressively and with more confidence in their man coverages.

For those of you that say the Huskies should blitz more, I think you'd be surprised at just how often they did blitz on Saturday. Sometimes you may not recognize it though, and Oklahoma's backs did a great job of picking it up when it came, something the Husky backs struggle with at times.

Improving their pass defense involves both the linebackers and the defensive backs, and of course pressuring the quarterback more without having to add more linebackers to the rush.

One area that surprised me though was the special teams. The Huskies need to be more disciplined in their kick coverage lanes and become tighter in their kick protection schemes.

Washington has an identity on offense this year, and that is running the football between the tackles. They also have an outstanding punter, and they stop the run well on defense. They have done all of these things well in the first two games, and now need to work on the rest. I still think this could be a good team. They just need to win some games, starting with Fresno State on Saturday.

Who would have thought that beating Fresno State would mark a turning point in the program? That's pretty much where we are though. Fact is, the Bulldogs represent a level of excellence Washington has not enjoyed for years. The Huskies will be underdogs to a WAC school in their own stadium, and rightfully so.

In order to win, the Huskies need to have a winning performance out of their quarterback, Isaiah Stanback. Pat Hill knows that the Huskies can run the ball so he'll make Isaiah beat his team. This game will prove to be a real test for Stanback. It is time for Isaiah to prove that he can win.

As great of an athlete as he is, he has never really experienced winning at any level of his career. He needs to take this game and run to win. Use his legs and his toughness to gain another 100 yards plus rushing and his team will win again. His strength is his legs, and he'll never be a drop back quarterback. Tuck it and run!

Early in the Oklahoma game, right in the corner of the end zone where all the Husky fans were sitting, Stanback chose not to run on 3rd and 3, in favor of trying to throw to Johnny Kirton on a crossing route. Every single Dawg fan there, including those of us in the press box, could see he would have walked into the score. Everyone was collectively saying, "run it". He chose to pass, he misfired just as he did all day running to his left, and the ball sails high and incomplete. The Huskies settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown, basically because of a poor decision by the quarterback.

One play or one player never solely determines the outcome of a game but it is these kinds of decisions that have plagued Stanback through out his career. He needs to settle into the tempo of the game and use what is his greatest weapon, his feet. Stanback can lead his team by running the football.

The Huskies have proven in their first two games that they are committed to the run. Once Stanback realizes he may be their best runner, maybe he will think ‘run first' in those situations which would open things up even more for the other backs.

As a team they still need to stand collectively in the face of adversity. They responded well when San Jose State mounted a late game challenge but they seem to fade when Oklahoma came out the second half and took the game to them. They need to fight thru the tough times in games and hold on to the idea that they can still win. They need to respond to swings in momentum and they need to hold their resolve. They can be a good football team and they proved it in the first half against the Sooners.

Winning at home is also a very important part of this game. A win over a Fresno State team that took the Ducks to the limit would represent a great win at this point for these kids. This is a game that could put them back on track, and a game that could set them up to get them over the hump. Top Stories