Coach's Corner

What a great Apple Cup this year! A game that started with a kickoff return for a touchdown and featured big plays, great hits, great runs, lots of scoring, and drama right down to the final minute of the game. It couldn't have been more entertaining, as two 4-7 teams squared off in the annual battle for collegiate football supremacy in the state of Washington.

Everything was excellent except for the outcome.

Unless of course, you are a Cougar.

I had sat high up in the press box and watched their players and fans celebrate after the game and before we went on the radio to do our post game show. I could relate to their joy as I had been there before myself, accepting the Apple Cup many years before, from then Governor Dan Evans, on behalf of my team mates after we too had upset the favored Huskies. It was one of the greatest sports victories of my life.

This time I watched their players dancing and singing and jumping up and down and I thought that this has to be one of their greatest sports moments as well. Singing their school song and hoping they saved their coaches jobs. They stayed at it for almost a half an hour. They didn't want it to end.

Led by their maligned record setting quarterback, Alex Brink, they had come from behind to steal a game they should've lost. They drove for and won the game with a touchdown in the last minute and claimed the trophy. Brink finished with Apple Cup record setting passing numbers including five touchdown passes. He has now beaten the Huskies 3 out of 4 times and literally picked apart the Husky defense as the game progressed. He was the star of the game. He was obviously motivated to repay his coaches for stickling with him. He finished his career as the winningest Cougar quarterback of all times in the Apple Cup play.

And now back to the drawing board, and what a crappy place that can be. What could have been, and many expected to have been, a Washington celebration turned into another disappointing and depressing loss. The Huskies simply let another game slip away and with it saw their seasons' record fall to 4-8.

Another brutal loss.

This Husky team has been resilient all year in answering the bell for the next game and I fully expect them to try to put it all together and pull a big time upset. They are now faced with one last gasp chance to salvage something positive out of what has otherwise been a dismal campaign. This program is still trying to turn itself into a consistent winner. These kids had gone 1-10, 2-9, and 5-7 the previous 3 years, and just like the Cougars, had salvaged their own season last year by stealing an Apple Cup of their own. They have worked hard this whole year and are making some obvious improvements but are still losing at a two to one ratio.

And now comes their bowl game. One last chance, on the big stage, to show they can win a game they're not supposed to. They get to do this by traveling a great distance and playing an undefeated team in an island paradise with Hawaiian officials.

They get to do it against another record setting quarterback and do it in a few time zones removed, kicking off at 8:30 pm, Seattle time.

One thing you can plan on - they will have a good game plan and they will play their hearts out. There has been no quit in this team all year long and the way their offense has been developing around its ground game, this could be an interesting finish to the season.

I know this looks like a mismatch between their prolific passing game and the Huskies questionable (I'm trying to be kind) secondary, but just like the Cougars proved, if you can hang around long enough, then sometimes you can steal a game at the end.

Washington really hasn't done that all year. A win here could be the defining victory for this program in that it could help soothe what has otherwise been another difficult losing season. A win here would at least establish some momentum heading into recruiting season.

It won't be easy because Hawaii has a BCS berth riding on the outcome and a chance for the first top ten finish in the history of their school. Just like the Boise State team they just throttled did last year, they want to become the darlings of the BCS. They need only a win over the last place team in the Pac-10 to have that chance.

To win this game, somehow the Huskies need to mount a continuous and relentless pass rush. Sort of like how their defensive end, Daniel Teo'Nesheim, did last weekend against the Cougars. Daniel now returns home to his native Hawaii. The defensive front also needs to get their hands up into the passing lanes because Colt Brennan, the Warriors quarterback, likes to throw a lot of quick passes. And he is only about 6-0 tall.

The rush and any pressure the Huskies can mount on Brennan will play a big factor in this upset. Washington surely must abandon their soft zones in favor of more man blitzes and tighten their corners down in an effort to attack both Brennan and his receivers.

Next, the Husky linebackers need to be more active playing the underneath zones by reading routes and not allowing crossers to move freely across the field. They must know that Hawaii will attempt no less than 50-60 passes in this game and whenever they complete one, the Huskies need to tackle well. Sniffing out screens and draws as EJ Savannah did against the Cougs will help as well.

The answer to their defensive dilemma may well be in how effectively their own offense can control the football. If Washington can run the ball as many times as Hawaii throws it they will have a much better chance at winning this game. I think Washington needs to run it 55-60 times and throw it more like 20-25 times. That will keep the defense on the sideline.

In the Apple Cup the defense actually had 7 3-and-outs and had they intercepted a couple of passes they had in their hands, they probably would have beaten the Cougars. Maybe this time the defense makes those plays when it has to.

Against the Cougars the Huskies had their best kick off coverage this season. That is another good sign of improvement and if they can somehow make something positive happen in the kicking game against Hawaii, it will really help as well. The kick off return for a touchdown obviously was another positive thing for the Huskies and their punt returns have been getting better. Winning the kicking game would be a nice building block for an upset on Saturday.

Looking back, I still think Washington was in almost every game this year, but when you lose 8 times its sort of hard to believe they really could've been competitive.

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