NOTES FROM THE PRESS BOX

<b>PRELUDE:</b> First of all, I must say that viewing a game from the press box in Husky Stadium is akin to watching warring ants from the top of the Space Needle. Though it was Idaho and not Oklahoma, space is still at a premium, shooting down my idea of bringing a Sherpa with me next time . . .

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED? The importance of last week was to try and find a decent start. Mission accomplished – sort of. This week, the greatest need was to hone for next week's conference opener against California. I felt going in that Idaho would lend itself well to that end – that the Vandal short passing game would give Washington a ton of different looks. However, Washington's own ball-control aerial game left Idaho on the bench – the Huskies held the ball for nearly 22 minutes in the first half. It was as dominating a first-half as one could hope for. But the second half – to be honest, it was more of a sleepwalk than a cakewalk. Credit the Vandals for hitting the openings that were given to them – but unfortunately, there were plenty. The spaces between the linebackers and the secondary were gaping further as the half progressed. "We ended up holding the ball for 38 minutes, and that's not a bad number," coach Neuheisel alluded. But in reference to the last 25 minutes, Neuheisel said "we have got to get our defense to understand, and be excited about, continuing to keep the other guys off the field."

CONFERENCE STARTS – AS DOES SCHOOL: Two senses of urgency will hit the Huskies this upcoming week. Not only will they unveil the conference portion of their schedule, but also the fall quarter begins on campus. "It's a new twist to the routine," Neuheisel explains. "Coaches always worry about school beginning, because kids are always on their feet. They're in lines for books and such – at least that's what we're told (said with a sly smile). So we'll call on the maturity of our football team to make sure we're rested and ready to go."

"I think we're ready for conference play. I like our chances, now that the games are for real . . ."

WAS IT BECOMING TOO EASY? Washington knew going in that Idaho's defense left a lot to be desired. How would the Huskies respond? A 361-yard first-half blitz pretty much delivered an emphatic answer. The Vandals guessed right on a couple of weak-side blitzes by Jordan Kramer – both resulted from missed checks - but for the most part it was pitch-and-catch for Cody and crew. On the defensive side, Josh Miller was dominant in the first half, especially snuffing out misdirection. Kai Ellis was also spending a ton of time in the Vandal backfield. The push was definitely missing in the second half.

ON YOUR GUARD: Willie Kava took over at right guard for the fallen Aaron Butler, whose knee contusion shouldn't keep him out too long. After four series, Ryan Brooks was given a look – purely a coaches' decision to play both, as Kava is still working his way back from off-season knee surgery, according to Neuheisel.
QUARTER-BY-QUARTER GRADES:

FIRST QUARTER:
GOOD: Other than a missed block on the opening play that allowed Brandon Kania to come in on Cody untouched, the line play was solid, especially Nick Newton on the pull. The return of Braxton Cleman was a highlight – Brax can tell his grandchildren that he received a wonderful ovation for getting zero yards on his first carry in a year. Cleman ran HARD early, bulling tacklers as he went. Rich Alexis returned from an early ankle knock to run for a hard 42 yards – his 19-yard weave was a thing of beauty. Washington had nearly 12 minutes of possession time, and there was only one penalty by BOTH teams in the frame. And obviously, Mahdavi's hit and Carothers' return gave Washington their first seven and stoked the defense for the remainder of the half.

BAD: Cody Pickett should have had TWO interceptions on the opening drive – which eventually didn't matter as Paul Arnold's "effort fumble" took care of it (Arnold did save one of the potential picks, however). For the fourth-straight week, Pickett started a bit slow, coming up short on a deep ball to Arnold and throwing behind a wide-open Reggie Williams. John Anderson's FG attempt sailing wide right – it was the first time all season Washington failed to produce points after a turnover. Charles Frederick fielding a 60-yard punt at his own two was definitely a lowlight (though he would later make up for it in spades).

QUARTER GRADES: Offense B- (164 total yards, but no offensive points), Defense A (two turnovers, one sack, 45 yards allowed), Special Teams D (missed FG, bad punt return decision)

SECOND QUARTER:
GOOD: Nice touch pass from Pickett-to-Ware at the back of the end zone completed a solid 13-play drive. Ware would later catch his second score in the half, celebrating his announced selection to the West Shrine team. Josh Miller had a tremendous second quarter, including a penetrating stuff of Blair Lewis on a 3rd-and-one. Washington would hit on third-and-23 -- Pickett-to-Reddick for 26 on a beautiful seam route. Kai Ellis would knock down two passes in the quarter. Rich Alexis motoring straight upfield with the ball on two successive drag routes – both resulting in first downs. And of course, there was ET's highlight-reel bolt.

BAD: Obvious here -- Reggie going down with a sprained knee on the first play of the quarter. In Washington's next drive, Rich Alexis was caught looking downfield on a wonderfully set-up throw back that may have scored – Washington would eventually give the ball up on downs when they couldn't get three feet on a fourth-and-one. Two holding penalties on a line that hasn't been called much for it previously. And finally (tongue sort-of-in-cheek), a nod goes to the scoreboard operator, who was extremely quick at stopping the clock on Idaho's final scrimmage play of the half, allowing Keith Stamps to sneak in his 49-yard half-ender. Can't we get a little Home Cookin' around here?

QUARTER GRADES: Offense A- (interior running game still lax, but 21 points), Defense A- (would have had their second "A" until that final drive, where the prevent started getting soft), Special Teams B- (almost caused a calamity on a punt pinballing around between lots of players).

THIRD QUARTER:
GOOD: Wonderful interior blitz call on Idaho's first possession, with Anthony Kelley the beneficiary of a free shot on a retreating Brian Lindgren. The sack was supposed to tell Idaho, "Don't even think about it" after the Vandals had closed the first half with a field goal. It eventually didn't, but it should have. Washington answered both Idaho scoring drives with points of their own, keeping things safe. Though the Vandal offense was opening up, the offense was still taking this game seriously after a stellar first half by the defense.

BAD: Poor Roc Alexander, getting turned every-which-way and causing pass interference in the process on Idaho's first scrimmage play of the half. The wheel route that Chris Belser scored on was also far too easy. Alexander would redeem later, playing Jelmberg well on a third-down throw from the Husky 15, keeping Idaho to three points. Derek McLaughlin's first punt in two weeks was a low liner, allowing Cedric Thompson a 15-yard return and setting up a short field that the Vandals would take advantage of for seven points. Brian Lindgren was given far too much time to throw coming out of the locker room. He would eventually throw for 119 yards and a score in the quarter after throwing for only 80 the entire first half. The defense played a bit like they had done their job in the first half.

QUARTER GRADES: Offense B, Defense C- (softer zone coverage allowing the Idaho offense to begin functioning), Special Teams B- (three points, great kickoff return, bad punt)

FOURTH QUARTER:
GOOD: Again, Washington answered Idaho's TD with points, except for the last one. Pickett made at least four great decisions on the 74-yard drive. Ryan Brooks came in for a tiring Willie Kava and performed well from the right side. And an option play that actually WORKED – for five yards. Of course, the next one didn't, but it's all about progress.

BAD: As with the third quarter, Idaho continues a drive and opens the quarter with points – a 12-play, 80-yard drive. Big plays by lesser teams are one thing. But this one was a hammer-it-down drive, one the defense should not be proud of. And the final drive – four plays, 70 yards, easy as you please – was just mailed in. I don't really want to count the 52-yard Cedric Thompson kickoff return "bad", though – really, it was fun to watch. But that was part of the problem – the Husky kick-return team did a lot of watching on that one, too.

QUARTER GRADES: Offense B-, Defense D (could have been even worse, but they did turn the ball over on downs once), Special Teams C

GAME GRADES: Offense A- (can't really fault a 567-yard day), Defense C (first half was an A), Special Teams C (one missed FG, two bad punts, poor kickoff coverage).

GAME STUDS: Obvious kudos to Cody Pickett, Charles Frederick, and Greg Carothers. Patrick Reddick was huge in the absence of Reggie Williams. Kevin Ware snared everything in sight. Rich Alexis had 157 total yards. On defense, I think Josh Miller had a fine afternoon, as did Marquis Cooper, who led the Huskies again with eight tackles and a diving interception. Ben Mahdavi had his best day of the season, and Derrick Johnson had an unsung, but fine day in the defensive backfield as well.
Rick Samek can be reached at RSAMEK1@ATTBI.COM

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