OSU Really Good or Cougars Simply Awful

I love bye weeks. We don't have to worry about the Huskies losing and we get a chance to watch the rest of the Pac-10 play. I watched three Pac-10 contests this past Saturday, starting with the Trojans beating the Sun Devils, followed by the Beavers totally demolishing the Cougars, and ending with Rick Neuheisel leading his team to a defeat at the hands of the Ducks.

None were good games, but considering the Huskies play five of the six teams coming down the stretch it was worth the scouting report.

Considering the Beavers are next up for the 0-5 Dawgs, their game against WSU was of particular interest. It was a complete wipe out as the 66-13 score would indicate, and either the Beavs are really, really good or the Cougars are really, really bad. I think it is probably a combination of both, but based on the Beavers' stunning upset of USC a couple of weeks back, there can be no doubt Mike Riley's team presents a big test while the Huskies search for their first win.

I used to think Husky Stadium would mean the difference, but considering their dismal record at home over the past five years (7-21), you can't bank on the fans. In fact, I'll bet there will be a significant crowd again; although it will have a lot of black and orange in it. That's something that shouldn't be ignored. This program is still one of the best for attendance, but the opponents seem to be bringing more and more fans and that west end-zone has been in the winning spot way too many times.

So, what is it going to take to win this game? The Husky coaches have had two weeks to sort it out. This will have to be their perfect game plan, as winning this game is the most important game of their lives (at least at this time in their lives). It's the same for the players except they are the ones who have to make it happen. They will determine the outcome.

Winning a game - any game - is now the most important and number one goal for this team. Forget bowl games, forget winning seasons, forget being rated in the bottom ten, forget KJR (my station, of course), forget Dawgman.com (my site, of course), forget the print media, the blogs, the gamblers, the points and all the detractors. This is your mission. This is your deal. Pull it off and you will remember this game for the rest of your lives.

Specifically, Washington will need to match the Beavers' toughness on the inside in both lines. The Huskies will be without senior guard Casey Bulyca, but Ryan Tolar is more than ready to step in. He and center Juan Garcia and guard Jordan White-Frisbee can and will have to control the middle for the Huskies to win the running game. Their young defensive front will likewise have to match the Beavers' experienced offensive line.

Winning the rushing game should win this game, but that will be difficult due to the Beavers' freshman sensation, Jacquizz Rodgers. Considering the Huskies have already lost key running backs (Chris Polk, David Freeman, Brandon Johnson or Brandon Yakaboski) and moved Johri Fogerson to safety, it looks like they will have to rely on two freshmen - redshirt Willie Griffin and Terrance Dailey.

Of course fullback Luke Kravitz, who has been used in short yardage situations at tailback could be used more, but he's coming off a foot injury at Arizona. So it will most likely be Griffin and Dailey. Griffin dropped the ball twice in his first start down in the desert, and Dailey played his first action of the season and his career against the 'Cats and showed flashes of what he has been doing in practice for the past month. An early injury in camp put him behind the competition but he continued to shine in scrimmages. 'Turbo' is a special runner with his quickness and elusiveness. He's sort of like a scooter in that he can slide laterally and then accelerate quickly. He is by far the quickest of the running backs and will depend on his vision under fire if he is to have success against the Beavers.

This might be a game for playing both tight ends - Michael Gottlieb and Kavario Middleton - at the same time. Maybe even Walt Winter, as well as fullback Paul Homer, just so that they can get extra blockers at the point of attack.

The most noticeable advantage for the Beavers is that they start three out of four seniors on the defensive line and three out of four seniors in their secondary. That is almost the opposite of the Huskies, who often times have three out of four freshman on their front and three out of four freshmen in their secondary. Therein lies the difference in the two programs. Oregon State is a more mature and deeper program than the Huskies currently are.

The Beavers feature a really well-balanced offense in terms of skill players. Besides junior quarterback Lyle Moevao, who leads the league in passing despite throwing four picks against the Cougars, and 'Quizz Rodgers, who is on pace to crush the Pac-10 freshman season rushing record by nearly 400 yards, they have arguably one of the most exciting players in the league in receiver and kick returner Sammie Stroughter, as well as Rodgers' brother, James at the other receiver spot. Wow! They are all good and they did beat USC, who happened to be the No. 1 team at the time. This Oregon State team is for real and winning this game will be huge for the Huskies if they can put it together.

The answer is to score early and play with the lead. That way the Huskies can keep the fans engaged from the start and try to get to the fourth quarter and then see what happens. Pound it at them. Run the football, be solid in the kicking game, and try to keep the defense on the sidelines. That is the obvious plan. Now, how to do that and subsequently allow UW quarterback Ronnie Fouch to pass when he wants to, rather than when he has to, will at least give them a chance (that and much improved and inspired play by all those kids on the defense).

Linebackers Donald Butler and Mason Foster need to amp up their excitement for playing and lead by example. They need to be a force in this game and the rest of the games this season. That means the defensive front has to get push and control their gaps against the zone read play, thereby allowing the linebackers to run through and make tackles. Every opponent this year has been coming off the ball and blocking together in one direction. Then their backs - for all five teams - have been cutting to the open spaces. It is called zone blocking, and it can go inside or outside with essentially the same double team or scrapes every time. The Huskies' inside kids need to maintain their gaps or shades by coming off on the ball and going with the offensive linemen while at the same time pushing them back. That is hard to do without the necessary strength it takes to play there. Still they need to get some penetration by attacking, rather than catching the blockers. Slowing down Rodgers is about all they can expect to do. They will not stop him, but holding him to three or four yards a whack might do the trick.

Of course Moevao could go off, but stopping the run needs to be Washington's number-one priority. That means the safeties must tackle well. Tripper Johnson and Victor Aiyewa are settling in and showing steady improvement and hopefully Nate Williams will return to form. All three are first-year starters and sure tackling will be the key versus another first-year stater in Rodgers.

The Huskies need to take the big plays off the board; don't allow the bomb or the long run and they have a chance. But they have to load up against Rodgers first. They need to make a statement by gang-tackling and stacking the box against the run. They need to control the line of scrimmage and win the game in the fourth quarter. None of this has happened for five games, but there is always a first time. It's called smash-mouth football and it works: Run the ball and stop the run are at its core.

Against the Cougars, Oregon State ran the ball 43 times for 323 yards. Wow! It was really difficult to tell how bad the Cougars really are because of their injuries. But then, everyone has injuries at this time of year and it just seems like the winners overcome things like that.

WSU is really struggling this year and their win over Portland State looks like it might be their only one of the year. Of course their coaches get free passes because it's their first year, but it is obvious they are at least three good recruiting classes from getting that program back. No doubt their whole year is now going to rest on the Apple Cup. It looks like another one of those years when the two Washington schools are battling each other for the cellar of the conference. I think the talent level at Washington, particularly in their sophomore and freshman classes, appears ahead of the Cougars and the end of the season is still a long way off.

The Cougars have looked grossly over-matched in every game I've seen this year, including three games now where they have given up over 60 points. Yikes! They are getting smoked by just about everyone. It is really different from the Huskies, who at least played it close with Stanford and BYU. The Cougars are down to trying to rush back their number-two guy, Kevin Lopina, as they host USC on Saturday. And if Lopina goes down again they'll be forced into using their fifth-string quarterback. More injuries will further complicate their situation.

Both of the Washington schools reflect their struggles in recruiting because of the constant turnover in coaching. The Cougars, like the Huskies, are now on their third coach in seven years and each transition costs you in recruiting. It's sad to think that as little as seven years ago both of these programs were among the best teams in the league. They are now a collective 1-11 on the season.

Both home teams better strap it on, or otherwise the visitors could hit the speed limit driving though these swiss-cheese defenses. Fifty-five, 65, or even 70 could see the scoreboard unless their defenses dig in and at least stop the run. I think the Huskies have a better chance of doing that than the Cougars do. After watching most of their games, I feel for Paul Wulff and his staff. Their rebuild is obviously behind that of Coach Willingham and the Washington staff. The problem is, lots of fans and media believe Washington is headed for yet another coaching change and that will again hurt recruiting and could eventually even the playing field.

Whatever. Both Washington teams can only get better and any win for either program will be simply huge.


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