Dawgman Opinion-Editorial

Washington has won back-to-back games for the first time in a couple of years, and they did it against decent opponents in Fresno State and UCLA. The Huskies were underdogs in both contests, at home, and beat both in close games. If Washington was becoming a dangerous foe last week, this week they cemented it.

Why? Several reasons, really.

Number one, they have confidence. They hung on late to defeat San Jose State and Fresno State when both of those teams were attempting a late comeback. In doing so, the Huskies proved to themselves that they could close the deal. On Saturday against UCLA, they got off to such a horrible start it wouldn't have been out of character in recent seasons for the Huskies to roll over. As the score piled up to 16-0 in favor of the visitors, and the offense continued to struggle, it flashed in my mind that the Bruins just seem to have our number.

But the team didn't quit. Starting on their own 8-yard line, the Huskies got their initial first down in the game with 6:00 to go in the half. A Bronx cheer went up in the Husky Stadium crowd and that seemed to fire up #4 on offense because the next ball he threw was a perfectly delivered touch ball over the outside shoulder of Sonny Shackelford, who made a difficult catch. The crowd came alive, the Husky sideline came alive, and Isaiah Stanback was feeling it. He drove the team down the field and found Shackelford for the score that was crucial to the game. It showed the crowd, it showed UCLA, and more importantly, it showed themselves that they could drive and score. It also gave the crowd a reason to get into the game.

The second reason this Husky team is now dangerous is that they have a quarterback that is finding his rhythm. He is creating things with his ability to scramble and his cannon-arm threat that must be respected. With confidence, rhythm, and an offensive coordinator that is brilliantly calling plays that make defending #4 increasingly difficult, no defense wants to face Washington right now. When Stanback was floundering with self-doubts, you could fluster him into trying to do too much.

He is a different player than he was two weeks ago in Norman, and there is every reason to believe that he will continue to improve. His ability to take it around the corner or up the middle is opening up everything else, not to mention it put daggers into the UCLA defense that was covering receivers well enough, only to see Stanback tuck and run. It broke their will.

The third reason this Husky team crossed the line from being a nuisance to becoming dangerous is that the defense shut down the Bruins after their first drive. The Bruin coaches called an atrocious game in the red zone, true, but the Husky defense took full advantage of this by attacking the tentative looking plays and stuffing them before they ever unfolded into anything. The blitz packages were well disguised and the pressure that Gunheim and Te'o Nesheim got were enough to make Ben Olson look lost and get happy feet. The defense gets a game ball for the way they made adjustments. It took them a full half to figure out what Fresno State was doing, but they adjusted well in that game as well. Against the Bruins, it took exactly one drive to adjust. Kent Baer is finding the right balance with his mix of athletes now. It is not a dominating defense but if you can make the opposition go on long drives, it is a good enough defense to keep this team in the game.

And now they have a confident offense that appears to be able to capitalize and find ways to move the chains.

This program has needed something to help it feel good about itself. A 3-1 start to that season that included a Pac-10 opening win against a school that has had their number over the past decade is just the stuff to make Washington feel downright giddy. Walking up on campus with heads held high, this group cannot wait to get out of class and walk down the hill, cross Montlake Boulevard, and suit up to go pop some pads out on the Husky Stadium field turf.

Kudos to the crowd on Saturday as well. Although the stadium wasn't full, it was rocking. The crowd didn't jeer or boo when UCLA jumped the Dawgs early. Only once did I hear an idiot scream at Stanback for throwing an errant pass. The uninformed fan neglected to see that the receiver had stopped his route and that the ball was actually perfectly thrown, but no matter.

It would've been easy for the fans to go, "Here we go again," as the Huskies dug themselves further and further into a hole that the Bruins would likely never let the Huskies out of. But the crowd hung tough as their defense stood tall time and time again, and everyone was rewarded by the 92-yard scoring drive. As the teams headed to the locker rooms, you could sense that the fans were watching a new Husky team, one that was still in the game and not one that was going to quit.

Sure enough, the Dawgs scored to pull to within one score and the crowd was going bonkers. You could sense it in the air that they believed. They believed that their team was still in the game.

If there was any doubt that this Husky squad had no quit in them, watching 250-plus pound Greyson Gunheim run down the field and make the tackle on the Bruin punt returner that had just galloped 70-yards to the Husky 9-yard line erased them all. Ultimately that drive ended in a field goal, allowing the Huskies to withstand yet another potential disaster.

The fans and the team definitely feed off of one another. The team loves the excitement, they've earned it. And the fans have desperately been waiting for something to cheer about, and are now cutting loose. The numbers have dwindled, but the spirit is still there. You should've seen the body language on the UCLA sideline after Stanback found Kirton for the go-ahead touchdown. It looked vaguely familiar, kind of like the Husky sideline two years ago when things went badly for them. This time it was the team in white from Westwood that had the slumped shoulders, milling around their coaches looking lost.

Then it was the quarterback from the visiting team that looked rattled, heard the noise, and made the crucial mistake. Ben Olson's gift pick-six that he delivered to Husky linebacker Dan Howell made it a fait accompli.

This Husky team is now dangerous. They head to the desert to take on Arizona on Saturday in a game that the ‘Cats are going to consider a pay-back opportunity for the whoopin' the dawgs put on them last year in Tucson.

No matter the outcome, this Husky team has every right to feel good about itself and have some fun. However a road win in Arizona, something that at this point they should probably expect, would catapult this program from "gaining momentum" to "turned the corner and are now seeing how far they can run down the straightaway."
Previous Dawgman Editorials:
UW now dangerous foe
Games 1 through 3 are crucial
Watch the young linebackers
Four keys to being competitive

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