Here is my mid-season report card for how the Huskies have fared to date.
Isaiah Stanback is a big reason this team is 4-2. He is not the most accurate quarterback and will never stand back and be a gunslinger that picks apart secondaries. But he has avoided the big turnovers and made the big throws when called upon. Stanback's legs are the key ingredient in the current Husky attack. The threat to run has to be respected by defenses and it freezes linebackers in their tracks. And when he throws, Stanback doesn't have to be set to deliver a laser beam. His arm is a rocket, and with the exception of the Oklahoma game, he has avoided the critical turnover. His decision making is so much improved, he and OC Tim Lappano are definitely clicking. Stanback could remove the minus from his grade if he connects at a higher percentage rate. He still misses wide open receivers one to two times per game but has gotten less and less apt to try to force balls into coverage, so that trade off is a good one.
Photo: Kenny James
Running backs: B
Kenny James and Louis Rankin have been serviceable and have occasionally been able to hit some big runs. Neither has been dominant thus far this year. Rankin had success in the first three games but has been shut down since. James showed solidly against USC and appears to be ready to step it up. Stanback still represents the best UW rushing threat, but Rankin and his speed and James and his between the tackles burst could improve things a lot. James is the senior of the group and probably has the most upside at this point because of his ability to see the hole and the cutback lanes so well. Fullback Mark Palaita has been solid on his blocking and is earning his scholarship.
Photo: Ben Ossai
Offensive line: B+
These guys are the primary reason the offense has had success this year. All five starters played every snap of every game until the USC game, when Erik Berglund started in place of WT Ben Ossai for disciplinary reasons. C Juan Garcia has had some difficulty with shot gun snaps on occasion, but he's been a rock inside, flanked by a much improved duo of seniors, Stanley Daniels and Clay Walker. Opposite Ossai has been Chad Macklin. These five have been protecting Stanback quite well with the exception of when Oklahoma kept bringing seven guys on blitzes. All in all, the line has opened holes pretty well, protected their quarterback pretty well, and has overachieved to date. Well done. If they continue on their current plain, they will lead the Huskies to a solid bowl appearance.
Photo: Johnie Kirton
Tight Ends: C
Starter Michael Gottlieb has missed most of the first half of the season with injuries, and he is the best blocking option here. In his place, Johnie Kirton has stepped up and made three touchdown catches. He has dropped a few, but never in the end zone. Blocking is not his strong suit yet, but that will come for the sophomore. Rob Lewis is back now, and although not the blocker that Gottlieb is, he should still solidify it some with is return. If Kirton doesn't suffer any more drops and comes back to the ball more, the grade here will improve immensely. He can really be pivotal in this offense because he is such a big target.
Photo: Sonny Shackelford
Wide Receivers: B-
Too may drops and inconsistency so far. Sonny Shackelford has been outstanding, however, and is quickly becoming one of the best receivers in the Pac-10 that doesn't play for USC. He is the go-to guy in the Husky offense through the air. Opposite him, Anthony Russo has made some catches for long gains but doesn't seem to get open as often as Shackelford. Quintin Daniels is fast and gets good yards after the catch, but it has taken him a while to rehab from injuries. Corey Williams has fallen off the radar because he doesn't block as well as Russo or Shackelford. Cody Ellis is getting more time now, and Marlon Wood is very dangerous on reverses and inside screens. He is finding his niche. Marcel Reece is still adapting to the Pac-10 game and has had a few drops thus far. This group could really improve if Russo, Wood, or Reece can step up and give Shackelford more help.
Photo: Greyson Gunheim
Defensive Line: B
The inside guys have been abused at times. Afoa is double-teamed on almost every play and Donny Mateaki has been pretty quiet. Jordan Reffett has spelled Mateaki quite a bit and has shown pretty well. The outside guys have been outstanding. Greyson Gunheim and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim have made a lot of trouble, getting into the opposing team's backfield. Senior Brandon Ala has been great in reserve on the outside as well. Jordan White-Frisbee would've helped a great deal with his huge presence inside, but in his absence, Mateaki and Reffett have been serviceable. White-Frisbee's foot injuries will make him an offensive tackle for the balance of his Husky career now.
Photo: Dan Howell
These guys can run and make things happen. Scott White is having his best season as a Husky and has been all over the field. Daniel Howell is the most promising young linebacker since Marquis Cooper. Howell flies around from side to side, getting his hands on passes, ball carriers, and has a pick for a touchdown to seal the win against UCLA. Tahj Bomar is having a great senior season and has become a sure tackler this year. The other guy that is bringing it on every snap he gets is Chris Stevens, who is probably the best pass rusher on the team. E.J. Savannah has fought injuries, but he is proving to be solid in coverage and can run well. This unit gets an A and is a big reason why the red zone has been a difficult place for Husky opponents' offenses. They are fast, they make things happen, and it has been fun to watch them tackle so much better. Any Husky fan that can't see how much better these guys tackle compared to the last two seasons is missing some good football.
Photo: C.J. Wallace
C.J. Wallace took a game to get warmed up but he is now in the groove. He might lead the Pac-10 in tackles at the end of the season. Jason Wells has been picked on, but this is the first year of Pac-10 ball so that is to be expected. This is his "how do you do" season. Wells suffered his second concussion last weekend so hopefully there are no long term effects from that. He and C.J. have taken a while to develop chemistry. Chris Hemphill and Mesphin Forrester play about 1/3 of the snaps, and have been OK. Forrester has taken advantage of the gift interceptions he's been presented with, but the other safeties have yet to make plays when the ball is in the air. They have been excellent in run support though, particularly Wallace. Wells can run well, he just needs to be a bit less tentative.
Photo: Roy Lewis
Roy Lewis is proving to be one of the better Husky corners in a few years, which isn't saying a great deal. He had a great day against USC with the exception of not picking off a pass against USC that would've saved three points. Still, Lewis is the best the Huskies have in terms of cover guys. He has done well. Dashon Goldson has been injured, limiting his snaps. But when he is on the field, the defense becomes more physical. In his place, Matt Fountaine has seen a lot of play and has been picked on. He is fast but appears to get lost when the ball is in the air. The corners and safeties need to work together more, but they have improved since the first two games.
Photo: Michael Braunstein
Special Teams: D
The deep snapping has been an adventure. Danny Morovick's delivery appears to slide right and high on occasion, and that has made life difficult for Sean Douglas. Speaking of Douglas, he is the best punter in the Pac-10, his only fault being that he out kicks his coverage on occasion. But it is awful hard to tell a kid to not kick the ball as far. The coverage teams on kickoffs have been good but the punt return coverages have broken down too many times. And having two punts blocked and Braunstein missing a 22-yard field goal makes it difficult to give a much higher grade here. Marlon Wood could improve it with a couple of long returns.
Coaching Staff: A
Tyrone Willingham has this group of kids believing in themselves, believing in their schemes, and believing that they can win every game now. That took some serious coaching, tough love, and trust. Willingham's staff has their charges looking to them and KNOWING that they have a clue. Offensive Coordinator Tim Lappano gets an A for providing a Husky offense with an identity and putting Stanback into places where he can succeed, and Defensive Coordinator Kent Baer gets an A for getting his guys all on the same page enough to where he can call blitzes at will now, and know that there won't be huge blown assignments. Since the entire staff basically reports to these three guys, their grades reflect the rest of the staff. One guy I'd like to single out though is Mike Denbrock for his work on the offensive line this year. Getting what he's gotten out of five guys every game for every snap is perhaps the best position coaching job at Washington in a decade.
Most improved offensive player from 2005 so far: Isaiah Stanback.
Keep it up Isaiah. Even if you don't hit 60% of your passes, keep looking for the run and keep avoiding the crucial mistakes. That will win this team ball games. It has been many years since a Husky offense was so dependent on their quarterback to have a big game in order to win.
Photo: Brandon Ala
Most improved defensive player from 2005 so far: Brandon Ala.
This guy has shown up to play this year. He is getting into the backfield pretty regularly after having a pretty non-distinguished career to date. Great to see a senior go out on such a high note. Ala really had a problem with injuries until this year, which seems to be a common theme. Hats off to Strength and Conditioning coach Trent Greener for keeping these Dawgs so healthy this year.
Other Dawgman Editorials:
UW now dangerous foe
Games 1 through 3 are crucial
Patience with Big Ben
Watch the young linebackers
Four keys to being competitive
All Photos by Kim Grinolds except where otherwise cited.
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