Coach's Corner

What a terrible start. How disappointing was that? For me, I ended the evening at 2 a.m., totally devastated. We had just completed our radio gig and it took me hours to get to sleep. Whereas I usually process losses well, but Oregon win over Washington hit me right in the gut. I felt sick to my stomach. One of my radio partners actually went and vomited during a break in the show.

The youthful Husky football team had just rolled over in the fourth quarter and the 44-10 loss totally wiped out all the good plays and positive improvements. The callers on our post-game show needed to vent. They were all in various stages of denial and rage. Everyone was trying to cope with the reality that Washington is still not a very good team. In fact at times they were a bad team. Their inexperience manifested itself in dropped passes by receivers and blown angles of pursuit and missed tackles by defenders.

Oregon won all three phases of the game; offense, kicking, and especially defense. It was hard to watch their fourth-string quarterback take them right down the field with two minutes left, putting a smashing and insulting finish on the game. Considering it was the season opener and against their bitter rival, the end result was both disappointing and devastating.

By the time I woke for breakfast, I began to feel even worse; only this time it was for the Husky players and coaches and how long that bus ride home must have been. I can't even imagine how bad those people must feel. I knew that the coaches would spend the whole day Sunday having to relive, re-watch, and remind themselves of just how bad it was. Then it must be put away - the lessons learned - and start preparing for BYU. That's what this game is all about.

That is their reality - try to win the next game; try to prove that not only can they play better and coach better, but also simply prove they can win a game. Prove they can tackle better. Prove they can block better, catch better, punt better, and execute better. Prove they can make the correct adjustments, make the right calls, and out-coach the BYU staff. They don't have to prove it to the media, the fans, ESPN or the administration. They have to prove it to themselves.

BYU comes in as a ranked opponent and has a maturity about them that gives them great confidence. Face it, their average age will be at least 24 or 25, whereas the Huskies are mostly teenagers. Many of the BYU players are married with children, and lots of them have experienced church missions throughout the world. They come in determined to establish their BCS credentials against a foundering program. The Cougars will certainly be the favorites and they have an outstanding quarterback and passing game. They are sound in their mechanics and intend to blast their way into a BCS bowl the same way Hawaii did last year. Beating a storied program like the University of Washington would be an important feather in their cap. The Huskies will need to get off the canvas and play their very best game to win.

The Husky defense knows they have a lot of work in front of them to get ready for this game. They will go back to the drawing board and relearn their coverage reads, improve their pass rush and simply tackle better with better angles. They will need to create more turnovers. They need to get some fumbles and more interceptions like the one they got from Quinton Richardson, who I personally thought had a good game against the Ducks. They need to get their hands on balls. They need to practice with the intention of doing so.

Jared Ballman will need to rebound from his inconsistent effort against Oregon. He simply needs to punt like he knows he can. His punt team will have to improve their coverage lanes and make the open field tackles. Washington will need to solidify all the aspects in the kicking game this week. They will also need to win the kicking game to beat BYU.

They will not see as much option this week and that should be a blessing. Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell has played a lot more passing teams in the NFL than he has option teams. They will however, see a much better passer in Max Hall than any of the Duck quarterbacks were. BYU can move the football offensively and returns lots of veterans on defense. Their offense is a little more conventional than the Ducks and the youngsters in purple should be a little more at ease playing in Husky Stadium. Even so, it will take a complete one-week transformation, but it is possible and they could be at full strength by kickoff time.

Hopefully safety Jason Wells will return, as they surely missed his veteran leadership on the back end of the defense. There is a chance he could redshirt - and while that could bode well for the Huskies' long-term goals they certainly could benefit from having him right now. Michael Gottlieb is another player that could help the Huskies if he's back to 100 percent health, and he's currently probable to play on Saturday. Veteran players with experience are needed to beat teams like Oregon and BYU, who have lots of veterans themselves.

Regardless of personnel issues, the Huskies need to quickly solve the problems behind their second half meltdowns. It was only 14-10 at half against Oregon, despite at least five dropped passes and a poor performance by Ballman, who had two punts of 29 and six yards. Yes - six yards.

At least the Huskies were somehow hanging tough on the scoreboard. At the end of the third quarter and into the fourth it was still a two-touchdown game. Jake Locker was beginning to take over the game when all of a sudden the bottom fell out when they went for it on fourth down and failed. That play was immediately followed by a defensive communication mistake (compounded by another missed tackle), allowing the Ducks' monster wide receiver Jaison Williams to break the game open with a touchdown catch on a play when he looked totally uncovered.

Whatever, the difference in experience was clearly evident. They will get better as they acclimate to the speed of college football. True freshman tight end Kavario Middleton showed his big league potential and proved to be a good target with excellent hands. Gottlieb's expected return should strengthen the team's running game.

Oregon had moved a linebacker to defensive end and Will Tukuafu showed tremendous speed off the edge, sacking Locker a number of times. Then when the Ducks dialed up their blitz package in the second half, Jake did not have the time to place the ball where he wanted it. That, and additional drops kept the Huskies from ever getting back into the game. Washington is not as good as Oregon yet, but they closed the gap from the year before. As bad as the score was, there is still a nucleus of young talent that only needs some seasoning to get better.

This game could've been closer than the final score and as they expand the package for freshman running back Chris Polk, fans will eventually see his greatness. He never really got on track, and even though there was push at times by the offensive line, it seemed like there was always one or two unblocked Ducks along the line of scrimmage or in the UW backfield. Many times it was Oregon's best player, Patrick Chung, coming out of the secondary to stop the run before it could ever start.

Realistically, Washington got beat by a more experienced team and still needs to win a game in the fourth quarter. They cannot drop kickoffs, drop passes, and miss tackles and win games against this caliber of opponent.

In retrospect, changing this game to the opener backfired on Washington simply because Oregon's program is currently more mature than the Huskies. Oregon's defense had four returning all-league players, including one of the best secondaries the Huskies will see all year. The Ducks are a good football team and probably will contend for the Pac-10.

The Huskies are still a developing team and simply need to win a game (which is precisely why all the top teams in the country schedule themselves a warm-up game to start the season). Did you read the scores and notice who teams like Oklahoma and BYU and everyone else in the top 20 played? How about Pac-10 teams like Arizona and ASU? Idaho and Northern Arizona are not the Ducks, thank you very much.

The saddest part for me was how quickly everyone wanted to immediately write off the season once the game was over. It was only the first of 12 games and it is not the time to be talking about firing coaches and blaming kids individually. It's time to rally and improve. It's a time to teach and learn and develop some resolve. Former Washington Head Coach Don James always believed that teams should develop the most between the first and second games. That is right now.

It's time to get better, time to improve mentally and physically; but basically it's just time to win. Think about it. Should Washington beat BYU and somehow upset Oklahoma wouldn't that help the sting of the Oregon loss? How about a victory over USC? How do we know what is going to happen the remainder of the season?

It's just so unfair to these kids to start calling for their coaches' heads when they have only played a single game. Let the games be played and then make a decision. Besides, none of us on talk radio, in the print media or on internet forums will make the decision anyway. As disappointing as this loss was I have again reached the level of hope. After putting it into perspective, I have renewed my faith for the future of the program.

I hope they win the next game.


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