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Washington-Illinois Review

The Dawgs moved to 2-0 on Saturday night against a feisty Illinois team.  From the get go it was obvious that U-Dub was the better team but the game was in doubt as late as the fourth quarter.  If you’re reading this, you probably have already read/watched/heard about the game so I’m not going to tell you what happened.  I’ll just add a few notes here and there and move on to this week.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a replay on TV (with it being on the Big-10 Network) and I’m not sure I want to hear those announcers for another 3 hours anyway.  In other words, I’m not going to do quite the breakdown I did against Boise.  I’ve made this weird little outline that pretty much encapsulates the main notes I have on the game.  Enjoy!

Distractions:  First, this trip seemed a little hectic for the Huskies.  On the radio show today, Sark said their bus showed up late at the airport when they landed.  He also mentioned that Northwestern University (their mascot is the Wildcats, if you need any more proof that they are stupid) cancelled on letting the Huskies having a walk-through on their field.  This led to the Dawgs having a practice in a large, public park in downtown Chicago.

Dumber Distractions:  Then, the officials happened.  Yes, the Huskies committed too many penalties, without a doubt.  The Huskies ended with 12 penalties for 104 yards.  I can remember 4 or 5 penalties I don’t particularly agree with.  ASJ was called for holding without touching anyone.  Danny Shelton was called for a late hit on a guy that was still in-bounds (although he did launch himself, this will usually be a penalty).  Jaydon Mickens was called for a late hit and was shown walking around while the player was being tackled, so I don’t know how it could be a late hit.  Josh Shirley was called for a roughing the passer penalty because he was pushed into the quarterback and his arm touched him.  There were a few other holding penalties that didn’t seem quite right.  If you take away just three of the four penalties I mentioned, the yardage is down to about 70 yards.  That’s not good but it’s not nearly as crippling, obviously.

Dumbest Distractions:  The Huskies also fought off a number of trick plays.  There was around ten trick plays the Illini tried.  Most of them worked for about ten yards.  One led to a big first down on a pivotal play and went for about 40 yards.  Other than that, the Huskies survived.  I hate those plays.  Not as much as my fellow Good Guys hate them but I can’t stand them.  It seemed fitting that the Huskies pretty much ended the game by intercepting a double pass.

The Real Story:  When you take into account and consider these first three points, the Huskies really dominated the game.  The offense racked up over 600 yards, led by a running back who should be considered for the Heisman Trophy.  The defense played fast in the first half and looked like the same team that played against Boise.  They had their lapses (more on those in a minute) but they dominated a team that played with a lot of confidence and tenacity.

Cause For Concern – Offense:  As I said, there were lapses on both sides of the ball.  First the offense.  In the Red Zone, the Huskies settled for field goals twice.  At the end of the half, the Huskies drove down into the red zone before stalling there.  The drive ended because of some really questionable play calling.  There was no running plays once the team got in there even though they had all their time-outs and there was plenty of time on the clock.  The other drive that resulted in a field goal ended similarly.  I know Kasen and ASJ are great Red Zone weapons but right now Sankey is our best weapon.  He needs the ball no matter where we are on the field.  I think Sark will remedy this problem but it’s something to be aware of.

Another Cause for Concern – Offense:  After really impressing in the opener, Dwayne Washington really struggled on Saturday.  He had 2 carries and 2 fumbles.  Not exactly the ratio you want.  Dwayne will get it right, but it was a tough day for the freshman and the Huskies need him to be effective as the season goes on.

Cause for Concern – Defense:  The big plays that were prevented against Boise came against Illinois.  The defense had a few blown coverages and Ducre was burnt for one long touchdown.  That touchdown kept Illinois in the game when it looked like the Huskies were about to put it away completely.  After being so sound defensively in the opener, the Huskies need to clean up some assignments and their mental game to prevent the big play.

Another Darn Cause for Concern – Defense:  In the second half, John Timu sat out because of a shoulder injury.  It is expected that he’ll be able to return, if not this week, next week.  It was apparent that Timu is very important to the defense.  In the second half, Illinois moved the ball pretty well and often ran right up the middle.  The defensive line got pushed around a little bit and the linebackers weren’t as effective because of that.  I’m curious to see if power teams will have success running right at us, even with Timu in.

Lots of Offensive Good News – Now that we have the lowlights out-of-the-way, let’s get to the good stuff.  The whole offense played really well.  I’ll just go position by position here.  Price played a great game.  He was very accurate and made good decisions.  He made a few really good plays and otherwise simply controlled the game.  At running back, Bishop Sankey was the star.  The guy is on fire and might be the best player on the team, right now.  Jesse Callier had a great return and added a few huge plays.  The receivers weren’t quite as good as the opener but were still dynamic and exciting.  Mickens and Smith continue to look fantastic.  I expect a big game from Kasen soon, as he seems to catch the ball every time it’s been thrown at him ASJ looked a little tired and didn’t perform his best.  He was on the field for over 80 snaps, which probably wasn’t the best move for his first game.  The offensive line had one of the best games in recent memory.  They gave Keith sufficient time and dominated the line of scrimmage.  Price was sacked twice but one of those he literally ran to the defender on his right and made sure he was tackled by him.  It was as weird as it sounds.

Don’t Get Defensive, There’s More Good News!  While the defensive came out to be the weaker link this week, they still did plenty of things right.  On the defensive line, Shirley had maybe the best game of his career.  He recorded three sacks, but what I think is more impressive is his two tackles for a loss.  Shirley has been called a liability against the run but he proved to be solid against it on Saturday.  Danny Shelton is not putting up numbers but the defense is noticeably worse when he’s taking a rest.  Hau’oli Kikaha continues to get better and better.  The rest of the D-line was so-so and many of the pressures were due to good coverage.  The linebackers looked very quick in the first half and were often in good position to make plays.  Their tackling, again, wasn’t the best but they are still one of the best groups on the team.  Timu truly makes a huge difference.  The secondary has played really well so far.  Ducre gave up the touchdown, but that was a great play by the offense, and then came back and sealed the game with an interception.  There were a few more blown coverages but the man-to-man defense was great.

Review and Preview:  All in all, it was a great victory by the Dawgs.  After the horror of the Apple Cup last year, the team didn’t buckle when Illinois made a run at them.  The Huskies toughened up when they needed to and ultimately dominated the game statistically.  As they move ahead they get an easy game this week against Idaho State and a home conference opener against Arizona.  The Huskies should be 3-0 and about to breach the top 15 by the time they open Pac-12 play.  It’s been too long since we’ve gotten to say that.

Until next time, go Dawgs!

Scott Lawyer!!

Scott Lawyer!!

– Andrew

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Looking At The Dawgs – Offense

In past years, I’ve tried to do position previews before Husky football season kicked off.  Usually these previews fizzled out somewhere between the linebackers and the secondary.  In an attempt to end this, I have simplified the previews this year.  I will be previewing the offense in one post and the defense in the next.  I will do a general overview of each side of the ball first and then break down the position groups (although I’m not going to make those all that in-depth).  I don’t plan on listing all 90-plus guys on the roster over these but I will try to give an idea of what I think about the starters and the depth at each position.  With these things in mind, let’s get started with the offense!130318123323-keith-price-top-single-image-cut

Offensive Overview:

Heading in to 2012, the Husky offense was thought to be a strong point of the team.  They had lost their top receivers and one of the great Husky running backs of all time but they had a stud tight-end, a few exciting prospects at running back, a returning offensive line, a decent receiving group, and a Heisman contender at quarterback.  Things didn’t exactly go to plan.

Before the season began, the Huskies were already down a few offensive linemen.  That continued throughout the season and caused the offense to fall apart.  The tight-end was great.  A star was found at running back.  But, the offensive line couldn’t pass block, a second, third and fourth receiving option was never found, and Keith Price went from a Heisman dark horse to a guy that some people wanted benched.  The offense was a disappointment, but it was one that people could make excuses for.

In the spring, the Huskies started to implement a no-huddle offense.  This has continued and will be used this season.  Apparently, the playbook is close to the same.  While they may have simplified it some, Sark has not moved to a spread offense.  I will talk about how this affects the defense in the next post but it has yet to be seen how it will affect the offense.  If the playbook really hasn’t changed much, I think the offense has a chance to special.  Sark has always been good at taking advantage of match-ups on the offensive side and as long as this is the focus of the offense and not just ‘going fast’ I feel confident in what the team can do.  The offensive line returns almost everyone and the depth of the whole offense could make running the no-huddle effective.

Position Previews –

Quarterback:
Starter – Keith Price (RSr.)
Keith Price was extremely efficient and productive in his first year as a starter in 2011.  Last year, he was a shadow of himself.  Price couldn’t move around very well, was constantly pressured, and made questionable decisions.  His efficiency in the red-zone, which was what made him great in 2011, slipped dramatically.  Price seemed to want to be too perfect at times and played scared at other times.  I’m hopeful that playing in the no-huddle offense will limit his thinking and get him back to just playing ‘Keith Price’ football.  He is only a few touchdown passes short of breaking the UW career record.  He’s had an amazing career, regardless of the last two games of 2012.  Here’s hoping he gets back to his improvising, accurate ways.  I’m glad he’s our quarterback.
The Depth – Cyler Miles (RFr.), Jeff Lindquist (RFr.), Troy Williams (Fr.)
It seems like what is listed above is the pecking order.  Miles has separated himself as the backup.  He is a good athlete and a play-maker.  His weakness seems to be his arm strength.  Lindquist came in with Miles and, while he may have fallen behind him now, appears to be in the running for the starting job next year.  Jeff is from Mercer Island and has a stronger arm but maybe not the big play ability of Miles.  Williams is a true freshman and was highly recruited around the country.  He is mobile and said to throw the best ball out of all of the quarterbacks (maybe not the most accurate, but the strongest and best spiral).  Expect Williams to redshirt unless everything falls apart.  Unlike last year, the quarterback depth appears to be in solid shape and they seem to be capable backups.   Continue reading

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Around The Pac-12 – Week 2

The first week of college football is done and over with.  That’s kind of sad when you think about it, but there’s no time to reflect because we must press on.  Before I move on to telling you dumb things about the rest of the Pac-12, I’ll cover just a few Husky notes.  The expected news broke today that Jesse Callier and Hau’oli Jamora will be out for the rest of the season.  Callier is a blow and the running back depth is very low.  He was the guy with the most experience back there and one of the most talented.  The true freshman, Erich Wilson, will now be the second running back and I expect him to play pretty well (he did in the opener).  He could have an impact that Callier did his freshman year.  The Jamora news was expected, but it’s too bad for the young man.  Also, tonight Sark admitted on the radio show that he kept the offense vanilla for the opener.  He said they have other running plays in their back pocket that they think will be ran effectively.  I truly think you’ll see a different offense this week.  Of course, the opponent is a very stiff test.  Anyway, on to the rest of the Pac-12!

Arizona – Beat Toledo 24-17 OT – Coming Up: vs. Oklahoma State

Arizona’s game against Toledo wasn’t an over-inspiring opener for Rich Rodriguez.  They did gain a ton of yards and would have scored a bunch of points if it weren’t for turnovers.  This week, they play a team who just scored 379 points in one game (not really).  Oklahoma State will test the Arizona defense and probably over-match them.  The Cowboys have beat Arizona 73-24 over their last two years of playing.  Good luck, Rich Rod!  I can’t believe I haven’t called him that yet.

Arizona State – Beat Northern Arizona 63-6 – Coming Up: vs. Illinois

The Sun Devils played spoiler to Northern Arizona’s dreams of a perfect season.  That’s a ridiculous thing to say but I bet the Northern Arizona players were dreaming of a perfect season, so stop being so disrespectful.  A much stiffer test come this against Illinois.  No, Illinois isn’t a top 25 team but they are a mediocre Big-10 team who could challenge for a bowl.  We could learn more about Arizona State this week!  Unless we don’t watch or read about them.  It’s hard to learn about something without observation.

California – Lost to Nevada 24-31 – Coming Up: vs. Southern Utah

This was probably the Pac-12’s worst loss of the week.  I didn’t think the Golden Bears would lose and I expected them to be in the upper-echelon of the conference.  This could be a blip on the radar or it could be the beginning of the end of Jeff Tedford.  This week they play Southern Utah.    Southern Utah’s mascot is the Thunderbird.  Cal will probably drop their wrath on the Thunderbirds.  This is because Southern Utah is bad, not because a Thunderbird isn’t powerful.  They sound very powerful.

Colorado – Lost to Colorado State 22-17 – Coming Up:  vs. Sacramento State

Colorado had the other bad loss for the conference this week.  No one expected them to be good, so it’s not surprising but it doesn’t help the Pac-12’s reputation.  This week they play Sacramento State.  I would make some remark about Sacramento State but they beat Oregon State last year so they’ve earned some respect.  Still, this shouldn’t be much of a game as Sac. State lost to New Mexico State 49-19 last Thursday.

Oregon – Beat Arkansas State 57-34 – Coming Up: vs. Fresno State

If you hadn’t already heard this score, you’d probably think, “Wow!  That’s a lot of points Oregon gave up!”  It’s true that they gave up a lot of points but they were also ahead 50-3 midway through the second quarter.  Good for Chip Kelly to not be like Oklahoma State and score 522 points (they didn’t really score that many).  Although it is a little strange that the Duck’s backups gave up that many points.  I still wouldn’t really look far into that.  This week the dreadful team from Eugene continues it’s non-conference gauntlet against a mediocre at best Fresno State team.  At least we’ll get to find out more about Oregon’s backups these first few weeks!

Oregon State – Postponed vs. Nicholls State – Coming Up: vs. Wisconsin

It’s amazing how quickly something can change your perception on a game.  For some reason I thought that the Beavers played at Wisconsin this week.  I didn’t give them a chance.  Once I looked it up and saw that wasn’t the case I thought that an upset could occur.  Wisconsin is a very good team who should beat Oregon State but that’s a tough place to play.  Unfortunately for the Beavers, they weren’t able to get the kinks out last week because their game was postponed.  An upset would be a stretch, but I’m guessing that this game might be a little closer than people think.  I’m usually wrong though, so sorry Beaver fans.  Some of you seem nice and I don’t mean to ruin your chances.

Stanford – Beat San Jose State 20-17 – Coming Up: vs. Duke

If you’re feeling bad about the Huskies opener, I suggest you look to northern California to feel bad.  The Golden Bears lost to a team from Nevada, which shouldn’t happen and the Trees had to do everything in their might to beat a state team from a city.  If you can make sense of that sentence, congratulations.  Stanford looked bad in their opener.  Maybe worse than everyone aside from Wazzu.  I don’t expect them to be bad going forward and I think that if you survive the first week you should celebrate.  Still, they have some major question marks and didn’t look like the physical team we’d grown accustomed to.  This week they face off against Duke in a battle of very smart football players.

UCLA – Beat Rice 49-24 – Coming Up: vs. Nebraska

Of all the Pac-12 teams, UCLA might have had the most impressive opener.  They went on the road and beat a team by 25 points.  That’s not an easy thing to do, even if that team was the Rice Owls.  This week they face a much stiffer test, because they’ll be sore.  Wait, that’s not right.  They’ll face a much stiffer test in opponent in Nebraska.  I have my doubts about the Bruins putting up another 49 points against Nebraska but I don’t think a win is out of the question.  UCLA has been known to surprise in their non-conference schedule.  Plus, I’d take a Bruin over a Cornhusker any day.

USC – Beat Hawaii 49-10 – Coming Up: at Syracuse

USC’s first offensive play of the season was a touchdown.  There will be many more of those plays coming.  The Trojans are very good and look to improve as they face Syracuse in New Jersey this Saturday.  This shouldn’t be much of a game, as Syracuse is about the same kind of team as Hawaii (that being mediocre).  I’ve heard that Matt Barkley will stay and play for the New York Jets on Sunday, as well.  Take that Tebow and Mark Sanchez fans!  Are there any Mark Sanchez fans?

Utah – Beat Northern Colorado 41-0 – Coming Up: at Utah State (Friday)

Utah beat a bad team.  This week they’ll play a slightly better team and will probably win, but by fewer points. How’s that for analysis?  Some team’s pre-season’s just aren’t fun.  I’d rather see my school play against one really good team (or at least a unique team) than a whole bunch of uninteresting team.  I’ll see how I feel about this thought after LSU injures every single starting player the Huskies have.

WSU – Lost to BYU 30-6 – Coming Up: Eastern Washington

Wow, the Cougars looked bad.  I didn’t expect them to have such a difficult time scoring.  If the team plays like that for the rest of the season, Jeff Tuel will be injured and they’ll only win 3 or 4 games.  This game is one that they will win.  They should have no problem with Eastern Washington, although we’ve seen bad things happen against the Eagles.  I think we’ll see improvement from the Cougars as the year goes on.  I just hope it happens at a Paul Wulff improvement rate.  Sorry Coug fans, I couldn’t help myself.

Over all, it was a pretty underwhelming week for the conference.  There were a few close games that shouldn’t have been close and a few losses that should have been wins.  The Pac-12 has a chance to make a statement this week, although week 1 didn’t boost anyone’s confidence.  Here’s to a few upsets!

Thanks for reading!

Andrew

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Getting To Know Your Dawgs – Tight End

I meant to write this post about 2 days ago.  Thank you for being patient even though you didn’t know that this post was supposed to be 2 days ago.  Matthew and I have been painting our parents house and, it turns out, that’s a big job!

Today we move on to the tight end position for the Huskies.  This is one of the biggest strengths on the team with the Dawgs having 3 tight ends who could probably start on teams in the Pac-12.  One of those guys is a potential All-American.  There isn’t a lot of depth behind those 3 tight ends but we can worry about that down the road, since they’re all young right now.  Let’s get to it! (The order in which I list the players is the way I see the depth chart turning out)

Austin Seferian-Jenkins (So.)

ASJ had one of the best tight end seasons in U-Dub history and he was only a freshman.  There is no reason to believe he won’t keep getting better and stronger.  Most people know about the amazing athlete that this guy is (an all-conference tight end, a bruiser on the U-Dub basketball team) so I won’t get into it too much this year.  A lot has been made of the Huskies losing three of the their top offensive – (Polk, Kearse, and Aguilar) and that is a cause for concern.  I do think that it opens the door for Seferian-Jenkins to make an even bigger splash.  What kind of numbers can we expect?  I don’t think 800 yards receiving is out of the question.  He is probably the best pro prospect on the team and it’s time that we start treating him like that.

Michael Hartvigson (RS So.)

Hartvigson, the pride of Bothell and Dan Scansen, was a 4-star commit coming out of high school but wasn’t as high-profile as ASJ.  Michael is a quality player who will make an impact this year.  I expect to see quite a few double tight-end sets just because Sark will want to get his best players on the field.  Hartvigson is a solid blocker but we haven’t seen much of his receiving ability.  That’s not to say he doesn’t have any, he does, it just hasn’t been utilized as much as his blocking.  I fear that Hartvigson won’t escape ASJ’s shadow for the next few years and we may not know how good of a player he is.  With that being said, Sark will find a way to use his best players so, if Hartvigson is a top player, he’ll be used.

Evan Hudson (RS So.)

Hudson, also the pride of Bothell and Dan Scansen, decided to follow his buddy (Hartvigson) and walked on to the U-Dub football team.  Hudson could have had accepted a scholarship at a smaller school but he wanted to be a Dawg and has since been awarded a scholarship.  Because of the two studs in front of him, we don’t see much of Hudson on the field.  If there was an injury in front of him though, I would feel comfortable with Hudson in the game.  I’ve heard nothing but glowing reports from practice and in his limited game time.  I honestly have no idea how good Hudson is, but, if I had to guess, I think Hudson is a quality Pac-12 player.

Josh Perkins (RS Fr.)

Perkins had a fantastic spring and quite a few people had him pegged as an emerging number 3 receiver for the Huskies (I’m looking at you, Matthew Long).  It seemed like a good bet.  Perkins is a big guy, which is the type of receiver it seems that Sark likes.  Or is it really?  I guess that’s a debate for another blog post.  Anyway, Perkins was moved to the H-back position which is kind of a cross between a fullback, tight-end and wide receiver.  That paints a really clear picture, doesn’t it?  I think Josh may see the field this year, as a pass catcher or lining up in the way Marcel Reece does for the Oakland Raiders.  That’s just a guess on my part.  Perkins was kicked off the team for about 2 days for an undisclosed incident but then was reinstated.  I don’t know if that puts him in the doghouse or if it will decrease his playing time.  Time will tell.  Perkins is a guy who could definitely fill a role on this team.

As you can see, the tight end position is in fairly decent shape.  The depth is solid and young and there’s a whole lot of star power at the top.  I didn’t include a couple of walk-ons but I don’t think that they’ll play a huge role in the present or future.  I hope they prove me wrong, because I don’t really know much!

Thanks for reading!

Andrew

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Take a Deep Breath

Growing up in a home where sports were always on the forefront, I learned many lessons.  My dad, and brother to a lesser extent, taught me certain truths about game.  Dad passed down the thought that sports are as much mental as they are physical and a hate of zone defense.  One of the lessons he repeated the most was that you never know what is going to happen in the first game of the season.  The game is weird and often not vindictive of a team’s talent level or future record.  With this thought in mind, I would caution my fellow Dawg fans to take a deep breath instead of joining in the insanity that has ensued over Husky Nation.

Don’t take this the wrong way, I’m not happy with the way the Huskies played on Saturday.  It was a pathetic display by the defense and the offensive line.  They were not the team we expected to see this season and if they hope to better last season than they will have to play better (I’ll pick apart what needs to improve after the jump).

But, over the last 2 days I’ve heard irrationality coming from the radio, blogosphere and everywhere else I could hear about the Huskies.  There have been calls for Nick Holt’s job, which is absolutely absurd.  There have been people underselling how well Eastern played, which is strange since everyone under the sun was talking about how the Huskies were in for a battle last week.  There have been players called out who shouldn’t have been.

UW Dawg Pound, which is a good Husky football blog that I follow regularly, said this on Saturday night:

Alameda Ta’amu played like a big fat pile of goo. He was dominated most of the evening by players who had no business being on the same playing field with him.”

This just simply isn’t true.  I was at the game and watch Ta’amu pretty closely.  No, he didn’t have a monster game but he was himself, clogging up the middle and getting free more than any other D-lineman.  This was with him being double-teamed the entire game.  UW Dawg Pound is a blog that I agree with in most things and a blog that I encourage Husky fans to ready, John Berkowitz is a good writer and has good insight on the Dawgs.  That’s why I picked this example, it’s the kind of blame game that’s going out all over this fan base.

So, should we be upset with the way the team played?  Sure, coach Sark sure was in his press conference today but don’t go blowing things out proportion.  A few players played poorly and the team didn’t play at full speed.  I’m sticking with my pre-season prediction and I imagine the other 3 Good Guys’ are doing the same.  Hey, we’re 1-0 and have the 6th longest winning streak in the nation!  I’m good with that.  Continue reading

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Montlake Jake

Jake Locker was a part of Husky football long before he enrolled at the University of Washington in 2006.  His legend, of a state champion quarterback with lightning feet and the size and toughness to be recruited as a safety by USC, had long since rolled south from Ferndale.  He was Montlake Jake before stepping on campus, destined to resurrect a football program suffering through its worst seasons in decades. 

The legend only grew when he turned down major league baseball, something that his almost predecessor Matt Tuiasosopo didn’t do several years earlier.  He spent 2006 redshirting, to some controversy.  The team could have used him, and many were concerned that Jake would be gone to the NFL as soon as he became eligible.  Regardless, it was no surprise when he easily won the starting job in 2007 and made his debut at Syracuse.

It was everything Husky fans had hoped for.  Jake ran up and down the field, showing the lightning speed and strong arm that had so long been rumored.  He wasn’t polished by any means, especially his passing, but that was to be expected from a freshman making his first start, and it wasn’t hard to imagine him leading the Huskies to a Rose Bowl win a few years later before becoming the first pick in the draft.  The talent was that obvious, that mind-blowing.

And then things didn’t quite go to plan.  2007 was respectable but disappointing, more from a team standpoint than individual.  Expectations were fairly high coming into 2008.  The Huskies started the year with losses, none more devastating than against BYU, where the now infamous celebration penalty against Jake cost the Huskies a possible win.  Still, Jake’s passing looked improved, and the poise he showed in leading that last minute drive against BYU would surely be put to better use down the road.  In the fourth game of the year, against Stanford, everything fell apart.  Jake broke his thumb while blocking, and stayed on the sidelines for the rest of the year.  The rest of the team spiraled lower than anyone thought possible.  Tyrone Willingham was fired but allowed to coach the rest of the season, and the team lost all will to fight.  They went winless, even falling to the equally hapless Cougars in the Apple Cup.  Some argue that the talent on that squad was better than most winless teams, but few teams have ever been as low emotionally as the 2008 team was to end the season.

2009 brought a new coach in Steve Sarkisian and a new attitude, along with Locker’s return.  The turn-around they made that season now seems nothing short of remarkable.  Central to the season was an astonishing upset against #3 USC, as Jake calmly led UW down the field for a last second field goal to win.  The season was up and down, ending in five wins, but the Huskies won their last two against WSU and Cal in dominating fashion, leading to huge expectations for 2010 and that potential #1 spot in the draft for Locker, if he wanted to leave early to take it. 

No one would have been a bit surprised if he had left, and the national media had pretty much written him off as a former Husky, when he walked into Sarkisian’s office with his new dog, Ten, and nonchalantly announced that he was coming back for one more year.  Fans started talking of the Heisman and winning eight or nine games, a juggernaut offense behind Jake, Chris Polk and Jermaine Kearse a seeming certainty.

The only problem was that the team just wasn’t that good yet.  The offensive line, along with the rest of the offense, struggled, and the defense was inconsistent.  The Huskies lost a winnable opener to BYU, beat Syracuse, and then got crushed by Nebraska.  They beat USC again and won a thriller at Husky Stadium against Oregon State, but Jake spent the second half of the season nursing broken ribs and the Huskies dropped three straight to a murderer’s row of Arizona, Stanford and Oregon to fall to 3-6.  Even with three winnable games remaining, hopes for a bowl game were nearly gone, and Jake’s reputation had taken a major hit during an inconsistent and lackluster season.

Then UCLA came to town on a cold Thursday night.  It was close for the first half of the game before UCLA began to fall apart.  UW seemed to grow up that game, sensing the victory was theirs to take, and they finally took it.  By the end it was a laugher, with the Huskies pounding on a completely inept Bruin offense.  The Huskies next went to Berkley in a faceoff of two teams trying to keep their bowl hopes alive.  Cal’s offense was nearly as bad as UCLA’s, but UW had a difficult time against a stout Bear defense.  Trailing by three in the final minutes, Jake again took over.  Clearly still hampered by the rib injury.  He threw a long pass that Kearse made a great play on en route to moving the Huskies to the goal line in the final minute.  The Bear defense stopped them there, however, and it looked like the Huskies would settle for a field goal to tie it.  Sarkisian decided otherwise, and in a play that may have single-handedly restored Husky football  to its traditional state of toughness and excellence, Chris Polk plunged through the line untouched, and the Huskies were 5-6 going into the Apple Cup.

Jake again wasn’t perfect against the Cougars, throwing an interception just before halftime that made a close game out of what probably should have been a blowout.  Polk made the difference, though, running for 284 yards, and the Huskies found themselves in the now familiar spot of having the ball in the final minutes of a tie game.  Locker and Polk again marched down the field, and Jake threw a perfect pass to Kearse for a go-ahead touchdown. 

The Huskies would play in the Holiday Bowl.  Montlake Jake’s legend was cemented in Husky lore.

No one expected a win in the Holiday Bowl rematch against Nebraska, and now, of course, no one will ever forget it.  The team seemed to finally take on the full personality of Jake Locker, dominating with their toughness, playing loose and aggressive and fast.  They exerted their will and did whatever was necessary to win.  When Jake found no open receivers for nearly the entire game, he calmly threw the ball away or scrambled for first downs.  The offense came differently, with a pass from Jesse Callier to Locker, and then Polk and Locker ripped the heart out of the Cornhuskers as they ran over and through their vaunted defense.  Mason Foster, in many ways Locker’s twin on defense, led an effort that saw the Huskies dominate the line of scrimmage and limit the Huskers to under 150 yards of total offense before a late desperation drive brought the total to 189.  Before that last drive, the defense held Nebraska to an incredible -36 yards in the fourth quarter. 

The final score was 19-7, but the domination was greater than even the score would tell

Now, the legend of Montlake Jake is complete.  It didn’t end in a Rose Bowl win or national championship, there is no Heisman, and Jake won’t be the #1 pick overall.  And yet, I don’t know that The Jake Locker Era could have been any more satisfying if all that had come true.  It feels as though it took a complete collapse that sent this football team to the lowest place imaginable for Jake Locker to get a chance to show who he is and what he could do.  This team was remade in his image.  For all his physical gifts that fans will marvel about for decades, what will be most remembered is his calm eyes in the biggest moments, his toughness, his loyalty, and a level of character not often seen in college football.

College football is the ultimate fan sport, and only so often do players come along that connect with the fans on a special level.  The only such Husky I remember is Marques Tuiasosopo, whose charisma and late game heroics will be etched in my mind forever.  I wasn’t quite old enough to have those type of ties with the early ’90’s teams, although I’m sure there are plenty who do.  My dad seems to remember Sonny Sixkiller that way.  Brandon Roy and Nate Robinson were certainly that on the basketball court.  Reggie Williams and others had the onfield talent and production to be remembered, but for whatever reason, there was never quite the connection with the fans that moved them to that other level.

Jake Locker is that kind of player who will be remembered forever by anyone who watched him these past four years.  His physical talents were incredible, but it is our good fortune as football fans that the intangible gifts that separated him from others are what also allowed him to bring Husky football back from the dead. 

Jake Locker is everything we could ever want a football player to be.  There will never be another Montlake Jake, but his legend will live forever.

-Matthew

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What I Want To See On Saturday

The Huskies loss to BYU was disappointing in so many ways.  It was the type of game, a road test against a beatable team, that the Huskies couldn’t win last year.  Beating BYU was a chance to start the season by answering questions.  A win would have set the team on a course to improve upon last year’s five wins and show that the team is moving rapidly toward sustained success.

The loss only brought more questions, and it failed to answer any that existed previously.  Are the Huskies improved from last year?  It didn’t appear so, but they didn’t look worse either.  Was all the offseason talk of improved strength and explosiveness just talk?  Can an experienced offensive line be consistently effective?  Will the defense build on a dominating end to the 2009 season?  All questions without clear answers, now one game deep in the season.

One game is still only one game, and this team wasn’t going to contend for the national championship no matter what, so the loss isn’t terribly damaging from a season or conference race standpoint.  Most teams start the season a little rusty, which is why teams play Toledo and UC-Davis and Sacramento State to start.  BYU vs. UW was one of the few games last weekend to combine two good teams, so the Huskies deserve at least a bit of a break.  They get their winnable game this weekend against Syracuse.

The problem with playing Syracuse is that it still won’t answer a lot of the questions.  Syracuse should be a lot easier to handle than BYU, which obviously is good.  This team needs wins anyway they can get them.  But even a win won’t necessarily say much about these Huskies.  Until they pull out a win on the road, it’s hard to judge this team to be anything different than it was last season.

All that said, there are certainly things to watch for this Saturday.  This game could go two ways.  Syracuse could be as bad as Dawg fans hope, and UW could be on the winning end of a blowout.  Syracuse could also be better than expected, or the Huskies worse, and Husky Stadium could see a tight game.  There are actually positives and negatives to each scenario.  A look at them after the jump. Continue reading

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