Last season the Washington Huskies came painfully close to playing into January. Driving and scoring instead of throwing a Pick 6 to LSU, punching the ball across against Notre Dame, not throwing an INT in the final seconds against UCLA and of course letting a Arizona State throw a perfect touch down to end the game.
All four above games were winnable games and have, seemingly, driven the 2010 edition of the Washington Huskies to spit out the bad taste of bitter defeats. Nothing will cleanse these dawg’s palate like the sweet taste of a strings of victories that lead to a bowl.
Finding their way to a date in January will not be easy as Washington, once again, sports a difficult nonconference schedule: On the road in BYU to start the season, Nebraska at home with Syracuse as a “trap game” between those two contests. But if the Montlake Malamutes have truly turned the corner there will be five factors that will have helped to catapult them.
With three games slipping away in the final minute there has to be a bitter taste on the tongue of every dawg. Every single Husky has to be looking deeply at themselves and finding out how to squeeze out one extra yard on a catch, get one extra yard on a kickoff, or one inch higher to intercept a ball.
But somebody on each side of the ball needs to step up and grab each person who’s not pulling their own weight and kick them in the butt. Blown assignments, poor route-running, and taking a play off have to be things of the past.
Husky faithful’s hearts beat faster to memories of the Steve Emtman period at Washington. They remember that he never let up, never let any body let up for a single play. He backed up his words with precision as the Huskies executed opponents on the way to winning a national championship in 1991.
Word out of Washington is that Chris Izbicki has taken on a degree of leadership on offense. He’s walked the walk of being a leader by having what Coach Sark said was the best physical and mental transformations on the team.
Hopefully his teammates will see in him a man who has taken advantage of his second opportunity. He’s not the same knuckleheaded kid that he was when he got into trouble his first year and was relegated to the former coach’s K-9 quarters.
Across the backside of the defense appears to be solid for the first time in several years. Having a solid defensive backfield will be essential to a successful scheme on the field. Now that defender Daniel Teo-Nesheim is plying his trade on Sundays in Philadelphia and Donald Butler is as well (save for a season-ending injury) the Husky defense will have to spread the load out a bit more.
Without DTN lurking across the line from them offenses may try sitting back a bit longer and try picking apart the Husky defense. If safeties Nate Williams, Nate Fellner and Will Shamburger, and cornerbacks Desmond Trufant, Quinton Richardson and Anthony Boyles can compress the passing zones they will be give the pass rush more time to get after the opposing quarterbacks.
With the DB’s establishing themselves as a force blitzing schemes will be more effective at keeping the opposition off balance enough that the “Bend, Bend, Bend, Bend then break by the end of the game” defense of last year.
Whether he’s called Ivan the Great or Ivan the Terrible, by all accounts Husky strength and conditioning coach, Ivan Lewis, has transformed the physicality and speed of the team.
Leading the transformation of the Husky physiques is Alameda Ta’amu. Given his girth two seasons ago, Ta’amu was seemingly college-ready from “Day 1”. Despite his 348lb frame Ta’amu didn’t begin to turn dominant until the end of last season, the end of his true sophomore season, under his second defensive coordinator.
Although on the scale he’s only shed 18 pounds of actual weight it appears that he’s dropped more fat. And judging from the weight gains of others on the roster (many have added between 13 and 19 pounds of muscle) Ta’amu has sweated off nearly 30 pounds of fat and added 15 pounds of brute force.
The similar transformations appear across more husky Huskies on the defensive front as they lost 20 pounds on average. Much has been made about the growth of QB’s under Coach Sark being the greatest between seasons one and two, the same may wind up being said for these newly crafted speed demons.
I’m not, by any means, suggesting that Husky coach Steve Sarkisian should be placed upon any seat that has any sort of heating element attached to it, but his first year as captain of the ship he should have learned a few lessons about winning close games.
As much as USC has prepared Sark for winning it may not have prepared him as well for winning in the final, critical seconds of games. In the four year span in the middle of Sarkisian-led Trojan offenses USC averaged over 40 points per game so it was not exactly vital to prepare for closing out a close game.
Losing a game that one could have and should have won shouldn’t just sting until the media begins asking questions, it should be painful. It should be a pain that you never learn to live with and something that you go to great lengths to ensure you don’t visit that feeling ever again.
It’s different to lose a game when they other team is bigger, stronger and faster, but losing winnable games needs to hurt.
Given coach Holt’s disappearing act after one loss last year he was feeling about as "awesome" as every Husky fan. I like that. It tells me that his heart resides in the right location.
Expanding the Playbook
“A blazing offense is the best defense”, coach “Bear” Bryant once said. Though his quote is often switched around the same isn’t exactly true for the 2010 Washington Huskies.
This year’s Washington offense is filled play-makers at virtually every skill position on offense…giving them what many are expecting to be a “quick-strike offense”.
But if Jake and his pals can produce long, clock-eating, methodical drives that will make the defense better for two reasons: the defense will be fresher each time it goes onto the field; coach Holt will have time to break down the offense from the previous defensive stand
By the end of the game this can pay huge dividends as the defenses bodies will not be as tired and their minds will be more alert.
Winning the time of possession, for the most part, goes hand in hand with winning the game. They go together like peanut butter and jelly on slices of bread. During the Willingham debacle, things flowed for the Washington Huskies like Laurel and Hardy working a crime scene.
Given last year’s personnel challenges of working with what he was given, coach Sark has put his own stamp on the Washington Huskies.
He has not only schematically changed the team, but reached beyond the playbook and has modified the player’s mindset and transformed their bodies physically as well.
He has stated that the proverbial proof is in the pudding, but he’s not sure if that will translate into wins on the gridiron; but Husky fans can feel good about the team not being home for the holidays this year.