Beaten and Bewildered; Two Weeks to Wait

No question about it, the Oklahoma Sooners are a really good football team. They might even be a great football team and we'll know that for sure by December. They have depth, experience, and lots and lots of talent. They played with the overmatched Washington Huskies and were kind in holding the score to the old speed limit of 55, even though they probably could have gone 70.

Wow, were they good. They totally controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and it seemed like their skill athletes just couldn't be tackled. The game reminded me of our loss to Nebraska in 1998 when we were also outclassed in a 55-7 drubbing. We couldn't stop the run that day and we couldn't stop the run Saturday. Against Nebraska, Washington ran for 97 that day and the 'Huskers ran for 434 because they didn't have to throw. Against the Sooners Saturday, the Huskies rushed for 87 yards against 274. Unfortunately, Oklahoma could also throw at will and added another 317 yards through the air, including five touchdowns. Ouch! If you can't stop the run then you're not going to win many games. If you give up five TD passes you certainly won't win either.

Obviously, the Huskies couldn't afford to fumble the ball four times and lose three of them. Nor could they punt so poorly early in the game, block so inconsistently, and continue to miss tackles. Missing three field goals is a big no-no. Giving up four sacks and getting none (for the third week in a row) puts pressure on your quarterback and inversely on your cornerbacks. It was ugly and dropped the Huskies to 0-3 to open the season. It was so dismal that half the fans had left before the end of the third quarter.

As bad as it was though, this team has no choice but to let it go and get ready to try and get back into it. They have eight league games left and if they could win five and get a monster win over Notre Dame, it would give them six on the year and almost a certain bowl bid. That is exactly the remedy to get over this game.

Following that defeat to the Cornhuskers in '98, we were stunned the next week by Arizona, only to win three in a row and a win in the Apple Cup earned us a berth in the Oahu Bowl. Of course, we ended up getting fired anyway but we had succeeded in overcoming a complete blowout. It can be done.

The schedule finally turns into a favorable one for the home team. They can't possibly lose next weekend and will have two weeks to find some confidence to beat a beatable Stanford squad. It won't be easy and it could be the most important game to date considering nobody gave them a chance in hell of winning any of these first three anyway.

As dark as everything seems, Washington does have a chance to get back in the fight. UCLA got smashed by a team Washington barely lost to; WSU got bombed by a questionable Baylor team, Arizona got upset by New Mexico and the Cal Bears lost to Maryland. Most importantly, Stanford got beaten by TCU and the last straw was ASU losing to UNLV in overtime (that one baffled me). Misery loves company and it's pretty obvious the Pac-10 has evolved into Snow White and the Nine Dwarfs.

USC could be the best team in the country again but I think Oregon is also a contender even though they had to find some luck in beating Purdue on the road. The Oregon State Beavers' victory over Hawaii, at home was to be expected considering June Jones, Colt Brennan and all those electric receivers are gone. That represents a lot of possible wins, and with two weeks to prepare the Huskies still have a lot to play for.

So it's back into league and the Cardinal present an interesting opponent to try and get that first win. After winning their opener against the Beavers, they have now dropped two in a row. They should have a breather next weekend against San Jose State but that is never a given considering their recent history against the Spartans.

The Cardinal have an excellent big running back (Toby Gerhart) similar to the one the Huskies had trouble with against BYU. They will need to get better tackling from their safeties and linebackers if they expect to break into the win column. That is probably the biggest fundamental weakness in Washington's defense; they simply miss too many tackles.

True freshman safety Johri Fogerson had a surprisingly good game considering he has only been at the position for two weeks. I'm sure he wished he had tried to tackle low to the legs of the Sooners' great tight end, Jermaine Gresham, on his 64-yard scoring play. Still, Fogerson tied Mason Foster as the leading tackler with nine stops. I thought Foster played as well as anyone on the defense. Matt Houston got his most extensive playing time and likewise made some nice plays. Oklahoma had great success with their outside stretch play and Houston showed some strength at times at the point of attack.

With two weeks before the next game, maybe safety Victor Aiyewa can heal up and help on the back end because Nate Williams has been struggling by missing more tackles than he made against Oklahoma. He is certainly valuable in coverage but you can't afford to miss when you're a safety. That obviously comes from experience as the two senior Sooner safeties (Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes) showed with some picture perfect tackles.

The Huskies will likewise need to create more turnovers by the defense and go back to their solid ball protection on offense like they did in their first two games. You don't win many games in which you give up three fumbles, especially when they happen after big gains. If Washington simply tackles better, sustains their blocks better, and catches and holds on to the ball better they will have a much better chance of beating Stanford. Making their field goals would help as well.

Stanford has a solid defensive front but they are nowhere as deep as Oklahoma's so they won't be as fresh in the second half. Washington still needs to stick with their running game and that means Jake Locker rushing at least 15 times as he is still their best runner.

When you have two weeks to prepare the Huskies should be physically and mentally fresh. A win here and Washington is back into the conference race. The team knows this and it doesn't matter what all the critics think, they will be the ones who determine the final outcome - not the coaches, not the fans (who want to fire their coaches), not the media, and not the oddsmakers. Their whole season balances on this upcoming game and they know they can and will compete with Stanford. Tim Lappano said it himself - it's a must-win game.

Oklahoma was obviously a much more experienced, much better, and higher-quality opponent than the Huskies will face the whole year with the exception of USC. This is the turning point in their season and there is no win like the first win, especially when all you've done is lose. Stanford will no doubt challenge the Husky defense with the run and this is probably going to be a game won in the fourth quarter. Getting a big play in the kicking game may again be the key but I think whoever runs the ball the best wins this game.

It might also be prudent in future non-conference scheduling to try and get more wins than money. At least build up to a game like this by doing exactly what Oklahoma did. They started with Chattanooga, stepped up to Cincinnati, and then played Washington.

Face it; Oklahoma is one of the best programs in college football. You are better to play these sorts of teams in a bowl game, otherwise you are liable to get beaten up pretty badly. Oklahoma is a football-centered school, they understand this.

Because Washington is no longer a football-centered school, they don't.

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