First and Ten

The University of Washington has had some huge plays on first down early this season. The Huskies starting quarterback Jake Locker has had 20-yard runs, and their starting wide receiver D'Andre Goodwin has had a 25-yard catch. With the good also comes the bad.

On first down in their opening two games against top-25 teams Oregon and BYU, they have had 11 incomplete passes, 11 plays go for negative yards, and 17 plays go for zero to two yards. That means on first down 39 plays have been for two yards or less and 17 plays have been for four or more yards (not including first and goal).

Clearly the goal of any good offense is to have consistency right out of the gate. Both of Washington's first two opponents combined to average 6.07 yards on first down. The Huskies, on the other hand, have averaged 3.1 yards on first down (not including first and goal).

One problem has been the lack of consistency in the passing game. While Jake Locker has not helped himself by not completing passes he should, he certainly hasn't been helped by drops or 'pops' courtesy of a young, but improving receiving corps. "There were a couple other plays where there was a drop and I missed a couple other throws," said Locker this week when asked about the final drive in the BYU game. With the super soph working on his accuracy he also needs the help from his receivers to make plays when the ball is catchable.

Goodwin admitted Monday he needs to work on catching the ball first, and then taking off. When that doesn't happen, the dreaded 'pop' occurs - like when a ball 'pops' off hands or pads when a receiver isn't paying full attention. With so many incomplete passes Locker has been searching for a go-to receiver. True freshman tight end Kavario Middleton is one receiver that has shown an ability to step up and make a key catch when needed. "Oh yeah, that's a big 6-foot-6 guy in there with hands like he does, definitely (comfortable throwing to him)," Locker said without hesitation.

With Oklahoma coming to Seattle this Saturday the Huskies might want to run on first down to make second and third down more manageable. "Yeah, we want to get a huge chunk out of the way on first down," said Huskies' starting fullback Paul Homer. With the emergence of David Freeman and Willie Griffin at running back the running game is starting to open. "David Freeman did really good out there," Homer added. "Along with his running he did really good pass blocking. They're (Freeman and Griffin) very talented guys and they can see the hole well, and they were hitting the holes we had for them."

For the running game to be successful the Huskies will have to be able to count on their veteran offensive line. The line showed good improvement from week one to week two, but they need to play better to match up with Oklahoma. "I thought (sixth-year center) Juan (Garcia) played a little bit better," UW Offensive Coordinator Tim Lappano said Wednesday. "I thought their overall effort was better. I still don't think they are playing up to their full potential. But I thought their effort and their technique and everything was a lot better going into week two than it was obviously going against Oregon. They played with a lot better pad level and got after it a lot more."

Oklahoma's defense only relinquished 25 yards on 18 first down plays during their first game against Chattanooga. In their second game against Cincinnati their defense opened up a little bit more, surrendering 123 yards on 25 first down attempts. With the Sooners' stingy defense coming the Huskies will need to execute on all three downs if they plan on moving the ball effectively.

But getting a big chunk on first down opens the playbook, and that means more things for the OU defense to key on. How they do that - while at the same time making sure they keep Locker upright - is the reason why the UW coaches are making the big bucks.

"We have to run the football better out of our two-back sets," Lappano said. "We aren't able to bang like we should be able to do out of our two-back sets. We were pretty good at the end of the year in those sets. It's a good opportunity to take the ball out of Jake's hands, give him some rest. That's something we want to do, it's an identity we want to have."

However they do it, they'll clearly have their hands full against a Sooner team that has outscored their opponents 41-0 in the first quarters of their first two games. "They are very explosive on offense and we've got to match that," Lappano said. "Just like BYU, they went down in 19 plays, 18 plays - they took the ball all the way down the field and scored. And we had to do it. We didn't do it the first time, the second one we marched all the way down the field and scored. We have to answer. That's what you have to do."

And it all starts on first down. Top Stories