Huskies not buying it

SEATTLE - Tyrone Willingham says that the identity of his Washington football team is rooted in the fact that they are good listeners. Well guys, listen up, and listen up good. Your coach isn't buying what UCLA is selling. In fact, he doesn't think the UCLA that got smoked at Utah by 38 is going to remotely resemble the team the Huskies will see Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.

"We open with another top-20 opponent, and the road doesn't get any easier. It presents a tremendous challenge," Willingham said Monday. OK, the tremendous challenge comment is clearly debateable, but top-20 opponent? I guess he didn't get the memo on the new polls that were released that day.

The Bruins, ranked at No. 11 before they played Utah, might as well have played Appalachian State, because this week they were unceremoniously bounced from the top-25. Ouch. And if it hadn't been for Michigan wetting themselves during their home opener, the Bruin beatdown would have received a lot more national press simply for the fact that top-12 teams just don't drop that far unless they really laid an egg.

And among many other things, it just gives those that bemoan the idea of early polls more ammunition in support of their claims. But Willingham doesn't watch the polls.

"They aren't the team that played last weekend against Utah," he added. "We know we have another extreme test."

Extreme test? From a team that coughed it up five times and gave up nearly 400 yards to a team that got smoked by Utah, who in turn got smoked by Cincinnati? OK, we know that the Law of Transitivity doesn't work with college football...or at least Willingham isn't buying that logic either.

"I don't have a problem identifying the UCLA team," Willingham said, again. "I feel like I have a pretty good read on them from at least my chair. This is a good football team. I think they have a lot of the good ingredients in the right places. I think the defense has given up limited yardage on the ground. And when you are talking about defenses, you'd like to have one that stops the run and then moves to the passing game."

And true enough, it's hard to poke too many holes in his research. UCLA's defense has given up an average of 2.5 yards per rush. But two of the three teams they've played (BYU and Utah) are currently 95 and 108 in rush offense out of 119 D1 teams, respectively. And Washington is currently averaging over twice as much as the Bruins are currently surrendering, so something is going to have to give.

And in the passing game, there is plenty of irony to go around. The Huskies, who only have two starters with at least three years in the program, are struggling to make sure their pass defense doesn't get beat too many times while their secondary continues to learn on the job and take their lumps. UCLA? All of their starters across the back third have at least three years in the program, and three of them are fifth-year seniors. And yet, the Bruins are giving up 100 yards a game more through the air than the Huskies. In short, their pass D is more like a colander than a wall.

But don't be deceived. This Bruin team is good.

"They are a good football team," Willingham said.

So I've been told.

"It's not going to be the same UCLA team that played Utah that we'll see in the Rose Bowl on Saturday," UW cornerback Roy Lewis reminded me again.

I hear you guys.

So what is it? Are the Huskies expecting a Bruin team spitting fire because they are so angry at getting punked on the road? OK, I can buy that theory. Willingham understands it. "It's a normal thought - to believe that they would be mad, that would be angry about their loss," he said. "But why shouldn't we be very angry about our loss?"

"UCLA is a good team, they always are," added junior offensive guard Casey Bulyca. "You can't take them lightly. Just because they got beat this weekend, that doesn't mean anything. So did we. We're going to see the best UCLA team they have, and both teams are going to play hard so we'll just see what happens at the end of the game."

I'm not arguing with you Casey. It probably has more to do with the fact that you could probably pick me up and stick me head-first into a trash compactor without breaking a sweat, but I hear what you're saying too.

"It's kind of scary," UW defensive tackle Jordan Reffett added. "A team like that - they ended up beating USC last year and their defense is really tough. They have a quarterback that's been playing pretty well. They had a lot of turnovers on offense, and anytime you do that there's going to be a blowout. It's going to be exciting to see if we can go out there and force their offense to make mistakes, to force their quarterback into making some mistakes. Their defense is still going to be tough."

So in a nutshell, any UCLA fan who thinks these Huskies are going to look at the Utah game and decide that they'll win simply by showing up should thing again. These dawgs aren't biting.

At least not until they hit the Rose Bowl sod Saturday night. Then, they might have a nip or two in them.
Injury news: Willingham said that everything was status quo from Saturday night, in which he said that basically that they came through the Ohio State game relatively healthy, but mentioned Wilson Afoa, Anthony Russo and Jason Wells as three players that would need to get evaluated. On Monday, the only players he mentioned as far as an 'injury report' were Byron Davenport and Dan Howell, and he said that both of them would be evaluated during the week, in terms of their availability to travel and play.

Who is the backup?: The Huskies are one injury away from having a pretty nice-sized hole in their running back corps if Louis Rankin goes down. Willingham said that J.R. Hasty has been slowed by an ankle, but that the injury wasn't the only reason he had been passed up by two true freshmen - Curtis Shaw and Brandon Johnson - in the lineup. And Johnson was held of the Ohio State because of buised ribs. So either Hasty has to get healthy in a hurry, or Willingham will have to dig deeper into his depth and bring out true frosh RB Willie Griffin to back up Rankin and Shaw. Either way, the irony of lack of depth at this position despite signing FIVE running backs last year is not lost on the coaches right now.

Letting the players play: Willingham was asked about putting his true frosh defensive back Vonzell McDowell in man coverage against Ohio State. "I don't put a ceiling on our guys, or a floor either," he said. "Because of the nature of their position, they are vulnerable sometimes. They aren't the only defensive backs that got beat somewhere in the country on Saturday. And there were some veteran defensive backs that probably got beat as well."

Officials suck, part 1: When asked if he would be looking back to the last time the Huskies played in the Rose Bowl, Willingham definitely had some thoughts about that game. "There was a particular holding call that could have been disputed, at least from my chair, that made a huge difference in that football game," he said. "That was a Louis Rankin touchdown that got called back. There were also some plays we did not make down the stretch that made a difference."

Officials suck, part 2: The media asked for Willingham's thoughts on the ruled incomplete forward pass that UW linebacker E.J. Savannah returned for a touchdown. "It was a bang-bang play," he said. "I kind of thought it may have been fumbled before he (OSU QB Todd Boeckman) started to move forward, but the officials made a decision and it was not a reviewable play. I was hoping that it was." Top Stories