Coach's Corner

After watching Stanford's first three games it is apparent to me that the Cardinal will test Washington's young defense this Saturday night. They are really a very conservative team in terms of their approach to the game in that they prefer to run the ball on offense, play tough, attacking defense, and are solid but not flashy in their return game.

I have not watched their game against San Jose State yet but will this coming week.

Like most Husky fans, the bye week gave me the opportunity to watch four Pac-10 teams play, as Arizona State, Washington State, Arizona, and UCLA were all on the tube. The Sun Devils, Bruins, and Cougars are all opponents the Huskies play on consecutive weekends in November, but the Wildcats of Arizona are next up after this weekend's game with Stanford and I thought they dominated Rick Neuheisel's powder blue boys. Arizona also has two weeks to prepare and gets the Dawgs at home in Tucson. Winning that road game against a veteran quarterback and some excellent receivers will prove a tough task for this Husky team.

I did not watch the 17th-ranked Oregon Ducks lose to Boise State, but it is obvious their quarterback situation could potentially derail their chances of having a great season. It's also obvious why Kirby Moore, the receiver from Prosser High School, verbally committed to the Broncos over offers from schools like Washington, Washington State and Stanford because his brother Kellen passed for 386 yards and three touchdowns for Boise State. I can't imagine the brothers not playing together on the smurf turf.

But all of that will all have to wait because right now the Huskies need to give all their energy and effort into beating the Cardinal, all while beginning their fall quarter of classes. To say it is a 'must win' would be fair assessment but however you view it, the Huskies will have to play their finest just to get that all-important first victory.

Having watched the Cardinal in their spring game in person and watching them on TV open their season with a win over Oregon State, I believe Washington can and will win this game. Furthermore, after seeing all the teams the Huskies have left to play in the conference, I am convinced the Huskies have a legit chance against every team in the conference with the obvious exception of USC, who appear to be head and shoulders the best team in the league, if not the nation. But they will have to show considerable improvement since the Oklahoma game if they are to break into the win column.

To win this game the Huskies will have to stop the run, and that means stopping Toby Gerhart, their strong running back who is the go- to-guy in the Stanford offense. He ran for 148 yards on 22 carries against San Jose State, with 121 coming in the second half. He is currently considered the number-two rusher in the conference. He has scored over half of their touchdowns so far this season. He runs the power, the zone read play to the tailback, as well as the toss sweep, on which he will cut up hard and is a full load when he turns downhill with the ball. He reminds me of Jake Locker with his inside running strength and I would imagine he will have at least 20-25 carries or more this weekend.

Clover Park native Tavita Pritchard, the Cardinal quarterback, has yet to convince me that he is an elite-level quarterback. Word out of Palo Alto is he is barely holding off a freshman, Andrew Luck, for the starting position. But nobody will ever forget his great winning effort last year against USC. Surely he will have added incentive playing in his home state. I think Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh would rather be carried by the legs of Gerhart rather than the arm of Pritchard.

Regardless, the Husky defense will have to concentrate on stopping the run simply because everyone has run the ball against them. The team that rushes the most times for the most yards will win this game.

Richard Sherman will be next in terms of touches and Pritchard is really at his best hitting receivers in the middle of the field on crossers as well as dragging receivers on bootlegs. Those routes are a big part of their passing game simply because they run the ball so much. Pritchard is noticeably better on bootlegs to his right hand but he is not afraid to pull it down and run it himself. They will pass in passing situations so Washington will have to find a pass rush and that might mean more pressure calls. It would be good to get Quinton Richardson healthy on the back end, as he gives the Huskies the chance to play more man-to-man coverage.

Last week in practice the Husky defenders really concentrated on tackling, and if they simply improve that aspect of their defense it will do much to help their effort.

Besides Sherman, the Cardinal have a stable of tight ends and fullbacks and will use two to three of them at once in order to strengthen their running attack. They seem to play close to the vest with their offense, hoping to be in it by the fourth quarter and give themselves a chance to win it. After going down 10-0 to San Jose State they rallied behind the running of Gerhart to finally take the lead in the second half. They were only ahead by six points when they scored with less than 10 seconds left, winning by a modest 23-10 score. They won both of their two victories in the fourth quarter this year.

Their offense struggled the week before against Texas Christian and had trouble handling TCU's obviously quicker defensive front. Stanford is the last ranked passing team in the conference, with a total of less than 150 yards per game. After playing ball control and field possession in their first two games, they ended up with only 52 possessions vs. TCU. If the Huskies can hold the Cardinal to under 60 snaps you can look at that as an indicator of success. That obviously means cranking up their own rushing game but not forgetting that Stanford is currently ninth in pass defense. This could be that breakout game for Washington quarterback Jake Locker in that he could personally keep Stanford's defense on the field more by moving the chains himself. Stanford had eight sacks against the Spartans, with many coming off blitzes. I would say their defense is probably the strength of their team and in the spring they showed some real athletic kids coming off the edge.

Obviously Jake Locker represents a different dilemma for them but I would still imagine Stanford will try to pressure at least from the outside in order to keep him contained. Although the Cardinal blitz a lot with their new defensive coordinator, they also appear to be primarily a zone team. I think they will really be going for the ball as they have forced a number of fumbles this year and Washington had four (losing three) in their loss to Oklahoma. Ball security will be critical for the Huskies to get this first win.

After three games the Huskies are the least penalized team in the conference and have yet to throw an interception. If they can continue to play error free by eliminating those fumbles it will also really help their chances.

Washington's coverage teams also need to really be solid as the Cardinal rank second in punt returns. Although their punter David Green is only a freshman, he is still averaging 43 yards per kick. Strong punting really compliments their ball and field possession philosophy.

Starting fast would help the Huskies because that would keep the crowd involved and really give them a home field advantage. Against Oklahoma I thought the crowd was really into it early and tried hard to help the Huskies but as the game slipped away so did their enthusiasm, and eventually their very presence.

I know this Husky team would love to win this game for their coach. They know it means a lot to him and his future at Washington but they need to win this game for themselves. Turnarounds come from within a team, not from inspirational coaching. They need to feel what it is like to be in a winning locker room. That means staying strong in the face of adversity. Don't wilt when things go bad. Don't hang your head if Stanford should score. Don't worry about "misses", be it tackling, blocking, catching, throwing or kicking. Concentrate instead on "making plays", be it big plays or even small plays. Do your job and put yourself and your team in a position to win it.

It should be obvious to all the Husky players that there are other games to be won in this conference if they can get this first one. It may take a Herculean effort by Jake, similar to the one Tui put up against Stanford when he rushed for over 200 and threw for over 300. That would be my perfect scenario but I'll take a win by a point if it means a win.


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