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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
His website is www.derekjohnsonbooks.com
Q & A With Hugh Millen
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