Q & A With Hugh Millen

Following Washington's loss to Arizona State, Dawgman.com spoke with former Husky quarterback and current KJR Analyst Hugh Millen about certain aspects of the team.

Derek Johnson: That was a brutal loss to the Sun Devils, but there are still seven games left to try and salvage this season. The running game has got to get untracked. I firmly believe that J.R. Hasty needs to be given half the carries and see if his physical style translates into more yards on the ground. Your thoughts?

Hugh Millen: What the coaches want to do is work in some reps for the other three running backs, and I support that. (Louis) Rankin has experience and has done the most. But he hasn't been dominant enough to warrant exclusive right to all the carries. I would work the other three guys (J.R. Hasty, Curtis Shaw and Brandon Johnson) in there and give them a chance. If one of them shows something in the game, give them more of an opportunity from there.

Johnson: Some people on the Dawgman message boards as well as on KJR have been critical of quarterback Jake Locker's dwindling completion percentage. Against ASU, he was a mere 10 of 28. You have a different take on that aspect of his game.

Millen: There were a number of protection breakdowns where Jake was running for his life. A lot of his incomplete passes came in situations that would have been a sack for most other quarterbacks. All of a sudden, Jake's completion percentage is going down, and a lot of fans don't realize that there are many times where Jake is in a bail-out situation. A lot of other quarterbacks would have been on their back. I remember a few years ago when the Huskies got crushed at ASU. The Sun Devils had Terrell Suggs, who got six or seven sacks against the Huskies. If it weren't for Jake's athleticism, it would have been a repeat performance of that Terrell Suggs game last Saturday.

So Jake was back there running for his life, but as you have seen, it's almost impossible to get that guy down. He can get out of anything. He's strong as a bull. If he gives ground, he is so quick he can high-tail it toward his goal line, get outside the tackles and then throw the ball away. He does that to help the team, but his statistics take a hit. He also had receivers drop some passes, and that hurt his numbers also. If there was a better line around him, and they were more precise, it would help him out. The receivers could help them out if there was more precision in their route-running.

Johnson: I can't say that I am very excited about many of the players on the team. But one guy I really love is fullback Paul Homer. He reminds me a little of ex-Huskies Pat Conniff and Richard Thomas. Especially with the tight end being virtually non-existent in the offensive play-calling, I would love to see Homer get the ball 3-4 times more per game on handoffs and 1-2 more times on swing passes and the like.

Millen: I share your admiration for Homer. Guys like Homer help create a toughness offensively. I think the other ten guys in the huddle feel a little bit tougher with him out there. Homer understands that this is a physical game, and not everybody in this day and age understands that. He has a throwback style that is very appealing. With the way the Huskies have struggled offensively, I would agree with that. I think giving him the ball at least a couple more times per game would be very interesting. I don't know how much wiggle he has, but his physical presence is contagious.

Johnson: Switching to defense, I keep yearning for the Husky defense to begin swarming to the ball and playing ferociously on a consistent basis. I am beginning to wonder if perhaps we are asking our guys to be something they aren't. A coupe of years ago, former Husky Dave Hoffmann said that nastiness is something that can't be taught, but must be recruited. I am very curious what you think about that.

Millen: I certainly respect Dave's opinion on that. Somebody has got to be a leader out there. The first thing is that they need to bring a higher intensity. Secondly, when something bad happens, they have to be able to keep a pall from overcoming them as a unit. You can't let that happen. Emotion is the defense's best friend. I would agree that if a guy hasn't shown a degree in nastiness in high school, while it may not be impossible he will get it, you definitely should play the percentages when recruiting. I would agree with Dave on that. A confident defense is an active defense. When defenses are really playing well, a guy makes a big play, and the other ten guys are running over and head-butting him and celebrating. The enthusiasm is ubiquitous. If you're truly playing with the emotional intensity you should, an almost de facto result of that is the guys are head-butting and excited. It's a momentary outlet for the excitement. What it implies is that you understand it's a team game and the emphasis is team first. When your buddy makes a big play, you're just as excited and happy for him, because you guys are part of a team. You're excited to be playing together. You have that connection as a teammate, and you want to go let them know about it.

The Huskies used to play like that. Oddly enough, the example that comes to mind is the Arizona State-Nebraska game (from 1996). Nebraska was undefeated and had a long winning streak. I remember watching that game, and early on thinking to myself, `ASU is going to win this game.' After every play, the entire Arizona State defense was celebrating. They had the right mindset. They played with such ferocious intensity and an understanding of defensive team football. When you really see that, and it's genuine, it's a sign that the defense is in the right state of mind.

The Huskies have been in every game this year at halftime. My thought is that if the Huskies can play thirty minutes at that level, they can play sixty.

Johnson: One common complaint from Husky fans is that our defense doesn't employ enough press coverage. The defensive backs are always so far off the receivers. Is that fair to speculate? Or would running more press coverage against the likes of Oregon be inviting disaster?

Millen: Yes, they would be inviting disaster. You saw what happened the one time when they employed press coverage against Ohio State? (It resulted in a 68-yard touchdown). Press coverage can be problematic. Sure, it takes away timing from the short routes, but you can run away from it easier. You can run a go route and it can be the quickest way to the end zone.

Johnson: I'm leading you with this question, but here is it anyway… How much are the Huskies missing the play of safety C.J. Wallace? (Now with the Seahawks).

Millen: (laughing) Well Derek, you can almost answer your own question. The Huskies are missing good safety play. On any long run that you see a defense surrender, 99% of the time you can be assured that at least one safety didn't do his job. You can blame the 8-yard runs on the front seven, but longer runs are on those safeties.

Johnson: Final thoughts on Jake Locker?

Millen: I see a guy that is not only a tremendous athlete but also a very gifted passer. He has a quick release, he has a natural passing motion, he's got good velocity on the ball and he just has everything you're looking for as a passer. What he needs is experience, and he needs the offense to be precise around him. He is going to be a better passer as he comes to understand the game more, with experience. By the time he's a senior, he will be one of the top one or two players in the conference.

Derek Johnson can be reached at derekjohnsonbooks@comcast.net

His website is www.derekjohnsonbooks.com

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