Sluggish starts offensive to UW

SEATTLE - There was only one time in 2006 where the Washington Huskies scored a touchdown on the opening drive of a game. In fact, that drive consisted of one play. It was Kenny James, running through Oklahoma's defense for 54 yards, while a stunned Sooner crowd had barely found their seats, let alone had time to sit down.

Same thing happened in 2005. Sonny Shackleford's 56-yard lightning bolt against Cal set things off in motion for the Huskies against Cal, but that energy bomb fizzled out in short order. Even against Idaho that season - an eventual 28-point win - no points were scored in the first quarter.

Of the 262 total points the Huskies scored last season, a little more than 10 percent (30) was scored in the first quarter. And in 2005, that number was 17 percent (41/237). Just going back to the box scores, it's clear that Washington just doesn't do anything on opening drives. Maybe it's the whole concept of trying to figure out adjustments to what you see when you get out onto the field - and some of the numbers would back that up. Washington scored 41 percent of their total number in the second quarter. But the fact remains - fast starts don't appear to be in the Huskies' lexicon lately. Even during the Huskies' worst season in decades - 2004 - Washington scored 27 percent of their season total in the first quarter, so while they didn't play well, it wasn't because they were consistently having to play from behind right away.

Even Juan Garcia was curious about the slow start against Syracuse. The senior center from Yakima - and the unquestioned leader of the offensive line - came to the sidelines after the Huskies' third series scratching his head. "We started out sluggish," he told on Tuesday. "I was like, 'Man, are we just too young, or am I not doing a good job leading, or what?' We started coming together and showed what we could do.

It's incredibly hard to separate the fly fecies from the pepper in Washington's 42-12 blowout win over the Orange, but looking back on the game, it's clear the Huskies did not get off to the start they wanted to. They had the focus and composure to turn the tide against SU, but I doubt they are going to be given the same amount of opening-quarter slack by their next opponent - Boise State.

"We started slow, and I thought that affected our performance," UW Offensive Line Coach Mike Denbrock said. "Once we picked it up I thought we communicated well even though it was a loud environment early on in the game. There was a lot of encouraging things there. We just need to keep digging and keep improving, because we're going to have to be a lot better this week.

"I think overall we had a solid performance. There's a lot more there we can get from this group."

Denbrock knows his guys, and knows when they need a swift kick in the rear, or a pat on the back. Starting out in their first game of the season on the road with a couple of brand-new players, he felt the patient play was the one required. "It's always a balance, from a coaching standpoint, as to how much you want to jump on someone and how much you want to pat them on the back. We had some pretty big eyes early on in the game, so there was a little bit of back-patting going on.

"As the game went along, it was more like making sure we were out in front, making sure we were the ones making it go. It's something you are always monitoring, seeing how the game unfolds."

It didn't help things when Syracuse's Tony Jenkins split the 'A' gap on Washington's first series from scrimmage and plowed into new Husky quarterback Jake Locker. "It was my fault," Garcia said afterward. "I made the wrong call. I apologized to Jake and everybody. I just called the wrong linebacker. I told them it was my fault, I take that one. I didn't realize how bad it was until I saw the film."

I think it (first play) did wake us up a little bit, but it was important for us to be a little patient with that group at the beginning of the game and let them settle in," Denbrock said. "We don't have any preseason games to get some of the wrinkles out. It took us a few minutes to get our bearings, but once we did I thought we played pretty good.

So does Garcia feel that all the kinks are ironed out, and the newcomers are ready to take the next step in the learning curve toward becoming veterans? "Even before the (Syracuse) game I could tell some guys were nervous, but after a couple of plays everyone was saying how they weren't nervous at all," he said. "It was good.

"When you run for 300 yards, it's pretty good."

And maybe that's the key - getting the run game in order. When you have success running the ball, you can control the clock, the pace of the game, and how much your defense will have to be out there on the field. But when you have no experienced tailbacks behind your starter (Louis Rankin), it can be a little hectic.

"They were fine," UW Running Backs Coach Trent Miles said of J.R. Hasty, Brandon Johnson and Curtis Shaw. "They were excited, just like everyone was, and I think they handled it well. "We graded out OK. We did some things we want to clean up detail-wise. We didn't have many major mistakes mentally. When they were in there, they played hard. The effort was there. Now we just have to get the details of our assignments down to a 't' and we'll get there.

For his part, it took some time for Johnson to settle in. "It was really exciting," he told Tuesday. "It was like I was in a different world. It was my first college game. I was excited. It was hot, really hot. There were a lot of people there, and I hadn't played in front of that many people before. The Syracuse people were talking so much mess to us. It's nice to finally have our own field and fans that are on our side. They were talking to Louis about staying in bounds. We were laughing at them. They were telling us that the 'W' on our helmets stood for weak. It was crazy."

It wasn't until the first kickoff return when Johnson stopped his people-watching and started focusing on the task at hand. "At first I was nervous," he said. "I wasn't sure what to expect. Once I caught the ball, it felt like I was in a high school game again. Everything slowed down and I felt calm after that."

And when he scored his first touchdown as a Husky? "It was great," Johnson said. "I felt so good about it because I worked hard to get it, and the line blocked real good. I just hit it up in there and got it."

"It was good to get those first butterflies out in the first game, especially an away game," added Hasty - who only saw one play in the Syracuse game, but he made it count, rushing for six yards. "It's good to get that feel when you're away. It's going to be a little more comfortable here with the fans behind our backs, giving it to Boise State." Top Stories