Pin this one on those in charge

Rumors about Jake Locker's future continue to circulate like gossip around a sewing circle. Will he try his hand at defense? What can he do with a cast on his throwing hand? One thing is sure; the Huskies' quarterback, having suffered a thumb fracture in the second quarter of Washington's 35-28 loss to Stanford Saturday night, won't be able to play every position on defense.

Not even 11 Jake Lockers could help at this point.

"We couldn't put ourselves in the right positions to give ourselves enough stops to keep our offense on the field to get it done," UW Head Coach Tyrone Willingham told the press afterward. "We can't seem to get in the right rhythm. We are not where we'd like to be, and we're trying to figure it out. We haven't found that cure."

Up 'til Saturday night, Stanford had averaged a paltry 272 yards per game offensively; against the Huskies they rumbled for 466, seemingly able to do whatever they wanted to. Toby Gerhart, averaging 102 yards a game rushing for the Cardinal, was knocked out of the game due to a vicious hit by Washington middle linebacker Donald Butler. Thought was, you hold Gerhart in check and force Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard to throw, you play into the hands of a young, but talented Washington defense looking for success.

In the grand scheme of things, Gerhart's 14 total yards meant nothing; all Stanford had to do was insert their number-two back - Anthony Kimble, and his 23 yards-per-game average. His long run to date in 2008? 12 yards. He did one better than that on his first touchdown run, and then ripped off an 83-yard burst off right tackle for the score that essentially put the Huskies out of reach.

The last time Washington gave up an 80-yard run? You guessed it; a Tyrone Willingham-coached Stanford team, back in 2001. The difference? The Huskies won that game, 42-28. In fact, they had won 11 straight against the Cardinal at Husky Stadium, from 1977 to 2006. That game two years ago was the infamous 'Suddenly Senior' game, and it hasn't felt like the coaches have gotten back on track since then.

"Having lost to this team two times has been very difficult, very painful," Willingham said.

So where's the disconnect? What has taken place to give Willingham his first 0-4 start in his career? What has gone on to produce such lopsided results? The Huskies have been outscored 162 to 79, an average of 40.5 to 19.8. They have been doubled up in the rushing department (911-455) and have given up third downs at an alarming rate (67 percent).

"That's the million-dollar question; what is it that hasn't allowed us to turn the corner and get it going right?" Willingham said.

I'll hazard a guess; it might have to do with the one asking the question.

What's the old poker adage? If you sit down at a table and can't spot the sucker after 30 minutes, you are the sucker. Apparently in football years, that means 40 games. "I keep believing that we have the team to get it done," Willingham added. "But for some reason, we're not."

What stings most is seeing how other teams with new coaches are getting it done. Stanford Head Coach Jim Harbaugh already put together a signature win in his very first year, defeating No. 1 USC in their house. Arizona, under Mike Stoops, beat No. 2 Oregon last year. Oregon State's Mike Riley, who has been in Corvallis only two years longer than Willingham has been in Seattle, has two wins over No. 1 teams. Even beleaguered Paul Wulff at Washington State has more wins in his first year than Willingham has currently in his fourth.

And while Washington football founders in swells of mediocrity never seen before in the history of its program, fans are letting their actions speak louder than Willingham's words. The 61,968 attendance announced Saturday night couldn't have been correct. After all, they've never asked the bands that participated in the Band Day events to pay. That's the only way that number could have been anywhere in the vicinity of accurate. By the fourth quarter even more fans were masquerading as empty seats. That giant sucking sound coming from Husky Stadium was the life being taken from UW football. The boos weren't directed at the players. They were voiced in the direction of those in charge on the sidelines, and the message was clear; to whoever swindled them out of the team they grew up loving and caring for? Give it back. The time for waiting for things to happen is over.

"I believe these young men deserve and work hard to get the full support of the Husky family," Willingham said when asked about the negativity reverberating throughout a half-empty Husky Stadium. "This team never gave up."

And to be fair, the coaches have never given up, have never batted an eye when criticism has been levied their way. And for the most part, they've owned up to it. "It's my job to wake up and get it better tomorrow," UW Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell admitted after the game. "I'm just very disappointed in our performance. I thought there was a lot left out there to help our team win. And I start with myself. I need to help them and I haven't done that."

Maybe that's the crux of the matter; for all the good this staff has done in terms of keeping the program away from the NCAA's door and on top of all the things that matter from Sunday through Friday, they just haven't achieved their main objective - wins. So it naturally begs the question; does the coaching staff merit the same support they claim the team deserves?

With Washington sailing into uncharted waters and the aforementioned question hovering overhead like a big buzzard looking for a free meal, the captain is in jeopardy of losing his crew. "Nobody's going to quit on them," UW Offensive Coordinator Tim Lappano said. "And hopefully they don't quit on themselves and point fingers and separate. That's our job to hold it together. It hurts. They are embarrassed, we're all embarrassed. It's very difficult. I'm not going to lie.

"It's a nightmare."

It doesn't get any easier for the Huskies, as they travel to Tucson this next weekend to take on the Arizona Wildcats, a team that is averaging over 150 yards per game more than Stanford. Last year they came to Seattle and buoyed by a 510-yard passing effort by Willie Tuitama upended the Huskies after being down double-digits going into the fourth quarter.

It doesn't appear that second-half collapses are Washington's bugaboo now; they haven't been in position of late to collapse. And with the Huskies currently riding a six-game wave of woefulness, it doesn't take much to imagine Lappano's worst-case scenario.

"I see our young guys getting better in practice," Donatell insisted. "There's no question. You aren't going to believe me because you're going to look at the game and it doesn't look that way. But I do see guys improving and they are going to be good players."

But will they improve under the current regime? The numbers don't back it up.

"There are so many things flying around my young men right now," Willingham said. And he wasn't talking about Tavita Pritchard-laser shots to Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen. It was directed at questions surrounding his job security. "They (players) are frustrated, the coaches are frustrated, everyone's frustrated. The fans are frustrated. We want to get this thing right.

"There's probably enough stuff rolling around right now to cure our national debt."

But is there enough to keep this staff from declaring college football's version of Chapter 11? 40 games has left little doubt as to where things are headed.


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