Fear of Failure Numbs Me

Living here in our northwest sports purgatory is really starting to get difficult. There isn't a single local team worth a damn. The Sonics left, the Mariners finished last, the Huskies and Cougars are the worst teams in the conference, and now the Seahawks get smashed by the Super Bowl champs. Even both of the Oregon schools got beat this weekend (although I can't say that really bothers me).

It's just a collective failure that is trying my normally positive outlook on life. My Huskies are failing, the economy is failing, and now my 91 year old father, Bruce, is failing. Obviously, the latter has been occupying the majority of my thoughts but the toughest part is I have absolutely no control over any of this.

I don't have enough money savvy to even begin to understand the complexity of our nation's financial failure. I read about it but it is so far out of my reach both mentally and monetarily that I just forget it. But I can't even begin to forget my father's situation, and to have the Huskies open up 0-5 is just about as depressing as it gets.

All weekend I've been struggling with these failures. But for me, just remembering the Serenity Prayer has been helpful. I can't change any of the three but at least football is still a game and the Huskies have two weeks to put the breaks on. Their current situation can be temporarily fixed by simply winning a game. What happens to the coaches after the season or how it all affects recruiting cannot be the focus; preparing for, and beating Oregon State is the only thing that matters. They have to improve in almost every part of the game.

This team is in a world of hurt. Their complete collapse against Arizona was hard to watch. I wanted so badly for the coaching carousel at Washington to end with Coach Willingham. I never thought Lambo should have been fired in the first place and when he did I couldn't understand why Gary Pinkel didn't get the job.

I thought Rick Neuheisel did a great job his first two years winning with the kids we left him, but the program slipped terribly after that Rose Bowl win in 2001. Poor evaluations and overall recruiting mistakes resulted in depth deficiencies due to attrition and admission and/or injury failures.

When Gilby took over I really was excited for him and hoped he would be given the time to do the job. Unfortunately, his chances of salvaging the mess faced the same recruiting shortcomings and administrative incompetence. Forces outside his control continued to plague his efforts with the one and only class he was allowed to recruit. There were literally three turnovers in the recruiting process in five years, with no less than 25 different position coaches. That's not to mention the four different athletic directors in the last five years.

What happened to the program?

Then it was Tyrone Willingham's turn, and realizing four coaches in six years was already a recipe for recruiting disaster. I still hoped the best for a program that I had invested a third of my life in. Unfortunately, continued attrition and admission denials only further diminished an already shaky talent base. Of course the wholesale practice of playing true freshmen started by Neuheisel only exacerbated the problem because there were no longer any fifth-year seniors to lead the team.

The practice of not red-shirting freshmen has resulted in a continual use of 18-year old kids, culminating this year in the playing of 12 rookies - which is exactly half of their best recruiting class in decades. Five years from now this will hurt again.

Trying to find a positive after the Arizona game is hard, with the exception being the play of Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. For me, I think the positive things for this team are all in the future. There is a tremendous nucleus of young players now in their freshman and sophomore years, including a sophomore quarterback who we know is special. There are only six senior starters and 10 total seniors in the top 65 players.

The valuable playing experience these youngsters are getting now will only make them better in the years to come. The sobering fact though is that another coaching change will only further screw up recruiting, thereby taking even longer for the program to get back. Still, I really believe there are plenty of reasons to be positive for the future of the program. This team will be much better in two years no matter who the coaches are.

You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. But that is all in the future, and again out of our control. Neither you nor I will have any input into the future of this program so for now all we can do is root for the kids to win a game. Any game will do. The next game presents one more chance to stop this losing streak. The future of the program has to be reduced to the next game. Somehow, some way, this team has to find away to win.

In order to beat Oregon State in two weeks the coaches are going to have to find some answers to stopping the run on defense and running it themselves on offense. Of course shoring up the kicking game will help and there is no doubt in my mind that there will be better play out of quarterback Ronnie Fouch.

How they go about it I don't know, but in my opinion I think they will have to win both sides of the running game first and foremost in order to beat the Beavers. That starts by winning the line of scrimmage for all four quarters, not just for a quarter or a half.

The young Husky defensive front knows they have to get off on the ball better, start disengaging themselves better from the blockers and making things happen in the backfield. They need to have a plan on their pass rushes and someone besides No. 66 needs to hit the quarterback. Regardless of passing downs, they need to stop the run by getting off blocks and making some tackles themselves.

They likewise need to get much better play out of their linebackers. They are playing too high and not striking blockers and separating themselves to get to the ball carriers. Of course tackling better will be necessary by both the 'backers and the secondary. It appeared to me that Tripper Johnson showed up better against the run than he had in previous games, and Victor Aiyewa at least got a game to shake off the rust. The whole back end needs to tackle better in the open field. All of these things can be worked on this bye week.

Above all, the defense needs to bring an attitude. They need to play a whole game with emotion. There needs to be more hits like the one Mason Foster delivered on the swing pass by the Wildcats. There needs to be a fumble recovery or an interception for a touchdown. They need a defensive score to inspire the team and the Husky Stadium crowd.

In order to really improve, the secondary needs to first get healthy and then get tougher at the same time. They simply can't be over-running plays, missing tackles, and being out of position. They need to continue to be more disciplined with their eyes and to break on the throws. Again, these are kinds of things they can work on over the next two weeks. They can get better fundamentally and they will have to in order to win this game.

Offensively, I think the Huskies - and I want to stress that this is only my opinion - need to commit themselves to running the football even if it means adding more blockers at the point of attack with traps, pulls, or counters. That might mean using 22 personnel (two backs and two tight ends). Both Michael Gottlieb and Kavario Middleton can easily be split out or flexed and used in combination, creating size mismatches with defensive backs. Obviously running the football needs a good back but I could also see value in playing both their fullbacks at once.

I liked Terrance Dailey's burst and well-balanced running style in the last game. Now that they have burned his red-shirt, it would be terrible not to give him a chance to show his vision and quick feet. He offers a completely different style than the kids in front of him on the depth chart and has been a star in most of the scrimmages for the younger players.

I know he's a true freshman and I know they have already lost two other rookies - Chris Polk and David Freeman - to injury, but without Jake Locker as an extra running back they really need something special out of the tailback position. It just appears Dailey is a lot quicker than either Brandon Johnson or Willie Griffin. Of course with two more weeks to heal, Freeman may be available for the Oregon State game.

Somebody has to get enough carries to develop a rhythm for the game. They need to go with a back, get him off early and let him have 20 carries or more. I just happen to think Dailey might be that special, just as I did Chris Polk and David Freeman, but we haven't seen enough of any of them to know for sure. This is what I'm talking about regarding the younger players already in the program.

It might also help to reduce the constant shuffle at receiver by settling in on four or five players, rather than seven or eight. Find out just how good the true freshmen - Jermaine Kearse, Jordan Polk, Cody Bruns and Devin Aguilar - are by playing them more snaps. D'Andre Goodwin is hurt, and even though he still leads the team in catches he also probably leads in drops. Let him heal up. Alvin Logan can block and that makes him valuable, so they really only need a couple of back-ups. By flexing out a tight end they may only need four or five receivers anyway, thereby getting better by giving fewer players more reps (again this is just an idea and by no means meant to second-guess coaching).

The point is, stopping the run and sustaining their own running game are the keys to keeping the Washington defense off the field as much as possible. The more time the offense is on the field the less time the Beavers' offense is. It's not rocket science. Then just have Fouch move the chains by throwing enough for first downs and occasionally going up top off of a run fake. Maybe less is more; use less plays and less skilled players and maybe, just maybe, simplicity will help win the game.

Whatever is decided for a gameplan, they need to maintain their emotion throughout the game and play like it is a championship game. There can be no mistakes, no excuses, and no letting up if something bad happens. Don't worry about losing - think instead about winning. The fear of failure needs to be replaced by the willingness to succeed. It can happen. They can beat Oregon State. This game can turn around their season. They need to believe that, go play like that and it just might happen. They may win their first game.

I hope so.

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