Seahawks Death Week: Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

We were pretty spoiled the last few months, with the greatest local football season in recent memory.  When you factor in the Seahawks winning their division and getting into the second week of the playoffs, combined with the Huskies winning the Pac-12 for the first time in forever and making the College Football Playoffs for the first time PERIOD, it’s been pretty great talking about football the last few months.  And, the best part is we all get to look forward to next year, with the potential for both teams to be even BETTER!

But now, today, January 20, 2016, there’s no more football.  Alabama got nipped by Clemson (leaving us all to wonder what if, had Clemson been the 4-seed and the Huskies the 3-seed) and the conference championship games this weekend feature the nausea-inducing triad of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger.  Ultimately, when Atlanta gets beaten, I’ll have yet another Super Bowl with no one to root for, because I fucking hate Green Bay, New England, and Pittsburgh.  Boycott the Super Bowl you say?  Lady Gaga is the halftime performer anyway, so it’s not like I’ll be missing all that much?  I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s on the table.

Even worse, with no professional basketball in Seattle right now (and, for that matter, no professional hockey, but that’s neither here nor there), all I’m left with are the Washington Huskies men’s basketball team, embroiled in what’s looking like Romar’s worst season since he was hired, with the likelihood that he’ll be fired by season’s end, depriving us of what’s looking like a potentially world-beating 2017 recruiting class.  That’s a post for another day, but I’m looking at the rest of this regular season and I don’t see more than 2 wins for the Huskies!  What a collosal shitshow.

Just because it’s college basketball season, though, I wouldn’t expect an influx of posts on the Huskies.  There might be a disgruntled game recap here and there, but everything’s going to feel like beating a dead horse.  I’m sure there will be the occasional Seahawks post, as news would warrant, but what this really means for the ol’ blog is turning the page towards the 2017 Mariners season.

Sigh.

I mean, yeah, this MIGHT be the best Mariners team we’ve seen since the Pat Gillick years, but it also might be Year 2 of the pitching staff dragging this team down to mediocrity.  Sure, we MIGHT get some bounce-back years from our ace and our bullpen, but I can’t help but wonder where the other shoe is going to drop.  Is this the year we’re decimated by injuries?  Are we going to continue our terrible luck in 1-run games and in extra innings?

The worst part of any baseball season is that it’s such a God damned slog.  Six months’ worth of regular season, another month of Spring Training, another few weeks of training camp before that; then you’ve got another month and a half of yet another post-season we won’t get to experience.  It feels like baseball season JUST ENDED; and to those of you who are already longing for its slobbery, awkward embrace, you’re fucking sick!  You’re demented and you’re suffering from Stockholm syndrome at the hands of the MLB taking your brains hostage!

In football season, everything zooms by!  You know how easy it is to crank out 5 posts a week during football season?  Two Seahawks, 1 Huskies, and a couple of miscellaneous depending on how the news goes down in any given week.  There’s always SOMETHING to write about.  In August, it starts ramping up, and in January it’s over.  Bingo, bango, bongo.  Then, you’re left with most of a fucking calendar year focusing on baseball.  Yuk.

As usual, I’ll try my damnedest, but it’s gonna be pretty bleak around here until at least March.  I mean, how many fucking Opening Day roster projections can one man create before he goes insane and starts chopping off arms and legs?

This is what I’m like when the Seahawks’ season ends.  It’s like a reverse butterfly situation.  The beautiful Seahawks crawl into their cocoon, then they come out as an ugly baseball-playing caterpillar.  If you need me, I’ll be counting down the days until NFL Free Agency starts.

A Murderer’s Row Of Outgoing Huskies & Some Other Peach Bowl Thoughts

The big news of the week is the four underclassmen who are declaring for the NFL draft.

  • John Ross – WR
  • Budda Baker – S
  • Sidney Jones – CB
  • Elijah Qualls – DT

We more or less all saw this coming a hundred miles away, so it’s not like it’s a shock or anything.  And, really, it shouldn’t be a source of frustration; these kids balled out for the Huskies and have achieved all there is to achieve (for the most part).  I don’t begrudge them taking their talents to The League.  Nevertheless, can we take just a moment to fantasize about what next year’s team would’ve looked like with these guys returning as seniors?

Ahh, that’s the stuff.  It could’ve been massive, but in a way it’s exciting to see the guys coming up behind them.  Sure, they could be worse, but what if they’re better?

This is on top of the guys who were Seniors and have thus run out of eligibility:

  • Kevin King – CB
  • Joe Mathis – LB
  • Psalm Wooching – DE
  • Jake Eldrenkamp – OL
  • Jeff Lindquist – TE (erstwhile QB)
  • Brandon Beaver – DB
  • Darrell Daniels – TE
  • Cameron Van Winkle – K
  • Shane Brostek – OL

Some pretty big names on this list, but in going down the roster, it’s heartening to see the large pile of Freshmen and Sophomores.  The hope being that Coach Pete and Co. mold these guys into the next great Husky football teams in coming seasons.

And, quite frankly, the number of star players returning really dwarfts those leaving, and that’s not even counting all the red shirts and incoming Freshmen we’ll have this fall.  Assuming there aren’t too many high-profile transfers, the Huskies will still be great next year and for years to come.

Tip of the cap to the guys leaving though.  I know there was a bit of snark in my previous Husky post this week, but I’ll always have the fondest of memories for John Ross.  I haven’t sat down and really put in the thought, but I have to think he goes down as one of my top 3 favorite Huskies of all time, up there with Tui and Reggie.  I can’t wait to see Ross in the NFL and will be rooting hard for him to be great.

Same deal with the secondary guys.  Budda?  Are you kidding?  My God is he going to be fantastic at the next level!  I would give absolutely anything for him to fall to the Seahawks in the first round.  Sidney Jones was always a comforting presence there, locking down one side of the field.  He should have no problem proving his greatness at the next level.  And Kevin King had, without question, the greatest interception I’ve ever seen in my life against ASU.  Like I said before, it’s going to be TOUGH to replace these guys.  The secondary will be the unit to watch in the early going, to see who steps up.

Qualls, Mathis, and Wooching round out the guys I’m prepared to talk about today.  Big number 11 was a force on the interior, and was a big reason why the beef along the D-Line was able to be as effective as it was.  Joe Mathis was definitely missed when he went down with injury and was lost for the season.  We certainly could’ve used his leadership and athleticism against Bama.  And Wooching, with increased playing time due to Azeem Victor going down, really stepped up and filled some of the pass rushing void, allowing this defense to really not lose a whole lot down the stretch.

The 2016 Huskies will always be something special in my book.  Now, let’s hope 2017’s version blows them out of the water!

***

Just a few random thoughts about the Peach Bowl that I left out of my previous Husky post on Tuesday.

I remember sitting there as the game went along, seeing botched Husky drive after botched Husky drive, silently pleading for this team to start taking some shots down the field.  I mean, that was the key going in, right?  You’re not going to run on Alabama; your only shot is to do what Ole’ Miss did, which is throw deep and throw often and hope for the best.  The fact that we couldn’t complete anything longer than 20 yards all day was a real point of bitterness on my end.  I mean, what the shit?!  I know their pass rush was pretty good, but there were times Jake had PLENTY of time to throw!

But, you know, upon further reflection, that’s probably easier said than done.  If it was so easy to throw deep on Bama, everyone would’ve done it and they probably would’ve lost a game by now.  Even though I was in attendance, I didn’t get a good look at the coverage down field; my attention was predominantly focused on the lines.  I mean, how can you not?  That Bama D-Line is spectacular!  I remember one time in particular, it was 2nd & 3, where it looked like the perfect time for the Husky offense to take a shot, but someone was on Jake’s ass almost immediately and he had to throw it away.  I feel like that happened more times than we realized.  I’m sure the Huskies WANTED to throw deep, but it’s not like you can do that all the time.  You have to pick your spots.  And, my hunch is, more often than not, in those spots you’d find a Bama lineman or linebacker in the backfield harassing our guy.

On top of that, it was pretty apparent that Alabama didn’t have any respect for our running game.  It seemed like all day they went with a 6-man box, just DARING us to run the ball.  Of course, when we did, we still couldn’t, because their 6-man box is way better than anything we could throw at them.  I’ll say this, I was dreading any instance of Myles Gaskin touching the ball.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s a solid running back with great vision and patience.  But, you’re not going to get very far being patient against that Bama D-Line.  This was proven by Gaskin having a rushing long of 10 yards, while averaging 3.4 yards on 10 carries.  I would’ve much rather seen Lavon Coleman get the lion’s share of the carries doled out to our running backs.  Not necessarily because I think he’s the superior back, but I think his style lends itself more to potentially breaking one against them.  Now, obviously, on 7 carries he only got 16 yards, with a long rush of only 5 yards, so it probably wouldn’t have made a difference if he had another 10 touches.  But, still, I like a guy who’s quick to decide and hits the hole hard against a line like that.  Because, let’s face it, if the Huskies were able to open ANY holes in the running game, those holes weren’t destined to remain open for very long.

Ultimately, when you combine the fact that Alabama mostly kept six in the box, and rarely blitzed, it allowed them to keep their safeties back and eliminated most – if not all – deep passing attempts.  I will say that, after the pick six, right before halftime, I saw John Ross streaking up the middle of the field, having gotten behind the defense.  Had Jake Browning seen the same, we could’ve stolen a touchdown right back and made the second half a lot more interesting.  But, who knows, he was probably trying to dodge another defender who aimed to take his head off.  It was pretty discouraging to see us almost never attempt a pass in the middle of the field when the game was in doubt.  Again, I don’t know if the defense dictated that, or the game plan, but an offense full of short passes to the sidelines isn’t going to get it done against any defense.

I’ll just close out with a little something on Jake Browning.  I think it’s pretty clear he took a big step forward from his Freshman year to this year.  I feel like he’s getting a lot of flak from fans, who think he “doesn’t show up” in big games.  Let’s just take a step back here and remember he started from the very first game as a true Freshman last year.  So, he was essentially thrown into the fire, and did pretty well for himself.  He was damn near a completely different quarterback by season’s end.  That put him into his Sophomore year this year, where as I noted above, he took a big step forward.  The team succeeded accordingly and we cracked the College Football playoffs!  He even found himself, for a while there, in the national discussion for the Heisman Trophy!  Granted, it was a bit of a down year for the Heisman; I don’t know anyone who thinks Lamar Jackson is literally the best player in college football in 2016 (this probably should’ve been the year it went to a lineman or something).

In 2017, you have to figure Jake will be in the discussion for the Heisman Trophy from Day 1.  He’s coming off of a 12-win season and a playoff berth, the pressure will be ungodly.  So, I’ll be most interested in seeing how he responds.  He’ll be an upper-classman, he’ll have two years’ worth of experience in this system, and you figure he’ll be poised for one more big step forward in his progression.  At this point, he’s got the experience, he’s mastered being a leader for this team, now it’s time to refine and fine tune his game to be an elite college quarterback.  With a target on his back, and all of the Huskies’ backs as conference champions, nothing will come easy for this team in 2017.

How they respond to being in the long shadow of the 2016 Huskies will go a long way towards dictating whether we’ll be even better next year, or regress towards the mean.

Monday Morning Long-Snapper: What I Did Over My Christmas Vacation

Almost Famous goes from being the perfect movie to watch on a long, cross-country flight, to maybe one of the worst?  On my way home, I watched it for only the second time in my life.  It should be – and absolutely IS – right there in my wheelhouse, so I try not to watch it too much.  Better to stave off yearnings that I’ll ever be a William Miller, or that I’ll ever find myself a Penny Lane to pine over to my last breath.  Now that I’m sensibly in my 30s, those naive pie in the sky dreams are sucking fumes in the wake of my lost 20s, so maybe I won’t wait another decade or so before watching this movie again.

Hey there blimpy boy, flying through the air so fancy-free …

***

My break started earlier than anticipated, and on much more of a downer as a result, as I had a funeral to attend in the days leading up to Christmas.  The alcohol was endless and my hangover was relentless, but it was a lovely ceremony and it was good to catch up with family I rarely get to see, in snowy Yakima no less.

This led into Christmas Eve, and a Seahawks performance we’d all rather forget.  That night, we played beer pong and listened to Christmas music like our lives depended on it.  A good time would be had by all, if it fucking killed us!

The next few days harbored a lot of sleep, up to 12 hours per day in many cases.  Almost like a year’s worth of working 5 days per week, with diminishing returns on slumber had finally caught up to me.  Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt so refreshed.  Some people need to work or else they feel their lives have no meaning; I just need a fucking paycheck.  I could EASILY spend my days doing absolutely nothing, as long as I can live as comfortably as I do right now.

***

I bought my plane tickets and hotel reservation the day it was announced the Huskies would be playing in the Peach Bowl.  I’d made a promise to myself that I would FINALLY go to a Husky bowl game this year, as long as they made it to either one of the playoff games, or the Rose Bowl.  And, unlike a lot of people, I didn’t want to hedge and say I’d only go if the Huskies made the National Championship Game.  It didn’t matter to me that the opponent was Alabama.  It didn’t matter that we’d be facing probably the best Alabama defense of all time – and maybe the best Alabama team in general of all time – nor did it matter that the game was taking place in their backyard.  It didn’t even matter that every fiber of my being was screaming out that the Huskies would lose this game.  As I’ve said before, this isn’t my first rodeo.  I’ve gone to plenty of Husky road games where we had no chance of winning.  Much worse Husky teams have been blown out by many more points than what would eventually transpire against Bama, against much worse opponents to boot!

None of that mattered.  All that mattered was that Washington was there.  They were in the thick of things.  They were one of four teams remaining in the chase for the college football championship.  They were the talk of the nation (even if the overwhelming majority of that talk was how they had no chance of winning) in the weeks and days leading up to the game.  And, quite frankly, even though I didn’t believe the Huskies would win, I had to acknowledge there was still a chance, however remote.  There’s a reason why they settle these things on the football field.  On any given Sunday Saturday and whatnot.  And IF the Huskies could pull off the upset, I had to be there.  I had to see it in person.  It would be the greatest win in the history of the program, one of the biggest upsets in the history of the NCAA, and the single greatest sporting event in my lifetime.  I’d give ANYTHING to be there in person, to share in the joy with thousands of other die hards who braved the trip.

Well, “ANYTHING” ended up being about $900 for the plane tickets, another $600 for the 3-night hotel stay, $175 for the seat, around $80 for the Atlanta City Pass (so I could get into all of the touristy things I wanted to see while I was there), and various other expenses for food and whatnot while I was in the city.  It should prove to be a pretty lean January when it comes to the ol’ budget.

***

My dad dropped me off at SeaTac the morning of the 29th, where I realized I’d forgotten to pack my ticket to the game.  I knew right where it was:  on the front seat of my car, parked in front of my dad’s house.  But, since I don’t think I ever left the house after Christmas Eve, I never got into my car, and as such I never noticed it was still in there and needed to be packed into one of my bags.  Seriously, I had at least 4 days to do this!

I called my dad when he got home, and he was able to get the ticket and scan it for me.  So, that was one crisis averted.  The flight to St. Louis was uneventful (if a little bumpy upon entry), the layover was relatively short, and the flight to Atlanta was relatively short and uneventful (if a little bumpy upon exit).

By the time I touched down, I was into the 6 o’clock hour.  I flew Southwest, which I haven’t done in quite some time, so I forgot about the whole thing with the groups and no assigned seating.  I gather that some people don’t like this feature, but I think it’s great!  Usually, you have to pay more for a seat in an exit row; with Southwest, you just have to be in the A-group (or at the top of the B-group) and as long as you’re flying solo, you should be able to get the extra leg room you desire.  That was the case from St. Louis to Atlanta, and it was a G.D. delight!

Took a cab to the hotel in Midtown, ordered a room service burger and apple crisp, and called it an early night.  This was always pegged to be a wasted travel day, considering I was losing 3 hours on the flight, and considering we’re talking about a lot of hours on a plane and walking through airports.  Plus, since I was going it alone, I could do what I damn well pleased.

Be it ever so humble …

Travelling alone has its benefits and draw-backs, as you can well imagine.  Having total control of the itinerary is nice, because I can do whatever I want, whenever I want.  But, having someone else do all the planning and logistics is nice too, considering I’m a lazy, lazy man.  But, given the shortness of this trip, I really only had to plan activities for one day, and then I could go with the flow the rest of the time.

Flags and whatnot …

I woke up at 6am on Friday, walked over to Walgreens to pick up some deodorant and a razor that I’d also forgotten to pack, printed off my game ticket at the little office next to the hotel lobby, and settled into breakfast at the hotel restaurant.  From there, it was about a mile’s hike to Atlanta’s Olympic Centennial Park.

Isn’t it Christmassy, you guys …

First stop:  the Georgia Aquarium.  I can’t recommend this place enough (as long as you try not to think of it like an aquatic animal prison).  Lots of different fish exhibits to walk through – including one area with a moving floor, and glass all around, so it’s like you’re moving underneath the sea – as well as a bomb-ass dolphin show.  I spent the most time here, and even had lunch in their little cafe (pulled bbq chicken, spinach, mac & cheese, and corn bread).

Hi guy …

Next stop:  World of Coca-Cola.  Upon entry, they herd you into a lobby where they hand out free mini-bottles of a Coke of your choice.  This is where having the City Pass comes in handy, as I was ushered around the long line of people waiting outside and got right in.  From there, you wait a bit in this giant cluster of people until they open the doors to the next room, which has a ramp and a little open area at the bottom.  There, one of the employees talks you through all the memorabilia on the wall and gives you a bit of a history lesson on all things Coke.  After a few minutes of that, we were led through some more doors, where there was a movie theater.  We sat through, I want to say, a 5-minute Coke commercial.  Once that was finished, more doors, and the rest of the 2-story museum.  Lots of memorabilia, an opportunity to take a pic with a guy in a polar bear costume, a giant gift shop, and probably the main reason to go:  a big room full of soda fountains, with Coca-Cola products from around the world.  It was pretty overwhelming, to be honest, and absolutely jam-packed with people (mostly kids), so it was tough to get to most of the sodas you might want to try.  I did end up trying something called Beverly soda, which is a (discontinued?) European product and tastes like dead asshole run through a puke factory.  I ended up cleansing my palette with some pineapple Fanta before calling it.  I mean, this room would’ve been my jam when I was in my teens; I’m pretty sure I would’ve made it a point to try absolutely everything they had to offer had I been 20 years younger.  As it is, who has the time?  Plus, I had other things I wanted to do that didn’t involve shoving a bunch of kids out of the way as I plowed through the sugar-water orgy.

One of MANY pics I took of all the crazy crap on the walls …

Next stop:  The Center For Civil & Human Rights Museum.  I chose this over the Atlanta Zoo mostly because I find the civil rights movement much more interesting.  Plus, I’d already been to an Aquarium that day, and anything to get away from another giant throng of kids.  Lots of cool info laid out in a really cool way; I highly recommend it, particularly now that we’re fully into Trump’s America.

Next stop:  Coffee.  Because I was fucking exhausted from walking around all day, dehydrated as all hell (got a bottle of water too), and needed some time off my feet to recharge and re-energize.

Next stop:  College Football Hall of Fame.  I chose this over the Natural History Museum because I’ve already been to the New York Natural History Museum, and there’s no way Atlanta’s version would be able to top it.  This was pretty great.  There was a mini-Fan Fest going on, what with the Peach Bowl happening the next day and whatnot.  You could run the cones, kick an extra point, throw footballs through a hole, the whole deal.  They also had all the trophies (from each major bowl, as well as the Heisman, among others), an interactive part that showed each College Football Hall of Fame class, where you could use the giant touch-screens to find the coach/player of your choice and read about their achievements.  They had all the helmets of all the college football teams.  Lots of old memorabilia, you name it.  It was pretty sweet.  Not a lot of Husky stuff there though, which I found odd, considering they were playing in the God damn city’s bowl the next day, but what are you gonna do?

So many helmets …

Next stop:  Stats Sports Bar.  Because I didn’t feel much like doing the CNN Tour (which is the final component of the Atlanta City Pass), which is just another hour or more on your feet walking through their giant building.  Considering I don’t even like WATCHING the news on TV, there really wasn’t a great interest to see how the sausage is made.  Also, let’s face it, I needed a beer and some fried pork dumplings!  I needed to sit down, watch some sports on TV, and gather my thoughts.

I ended up leaving around 4:30pm.  I had many options at that point, one of which was a live broadcasting of Softy’s radio show at the German bar next door to Stats.  But, that wasn’t going to start until 6pm.  Which would have been fine under normal circumstances, but I didn’t totally feel like sitting in a bar by myself getting shitfaced for 90+ minutes.  On top of that, I kinda had to poop, and that’s not really an enticing practice at a sports bar, what with all the piss everywhere on the floor and on the seat and whatnot and so forth.  This really ended up dictating my entire evening, as I had planned on going to a bar/restaurant that was playing jazz music, which was closer to all the touristy stuff I was seeing than it was to my hotel.  Given how tired I was from walking around all day, as soon as I made it back to my room, I knew I wasn’t leaving again the rest of the night.

So, I ordered some pizza from a local place, kicked off my shoes, and watched a lot of football and South Park in the room.

***

I opted to sleep in and eat leftover pizza for breakfast on gameday.  Considering the damn thing cost $40 with tip, I was going to make sure that large pizza lasted me a few meals the rest of the way.

When I was finally ready, about two hours before kickoff, I hailed a cab, who got me close to the Georgia Dome.  From there, it was relatively painless getting in.  Frankly, I’d expected more of a hassle getting through security.

I got my ticket through a friend who has season tickets and wasn’t going to the game.  I had no idea where it would be or how much it would cost until it arrived at his home in the days before Christmas.  It ended up being in the Club level, 3rd row, just above the Husky band.  I opted to keep it sober at the game, primarily because I wanted to actually REMEMBER the game, but also because stadium beers are fucking expensive as hell and they were cutting off beer sales at the end of halftime.  Not having to get up to pee and buy more beer every 30 minutes was also a nice little draw.

I guess you could call where I was sitting the “Husky section” of the stadium, but there were still plenty of Alabama fans scattered throughout.  If I had to pull an estimate, I’d say it was 75/25 Alabama fans in attendance overall.  It’s really interesting to see how they watch a game, compared to what I’m used to.  Now, this might have been a result of them playing a Washington team they had no fears for whatsoever, but they were pretty quiet when Bama was on defense.  I’d say if anything, they sort of got it up whenever the Huskies were faced with a 3rd down, but other than that, the atmosphere wasn’t really overwhelming.

That is, until Alabama scored, at which point the place erupted and my eardrums throbbed.

I didn’t run into any unruly or rude Bama fans.  They were mostly friendly and chatty and generally curious about a Washington team they knew absolutely nothing about.  What can you do?  They’re an SEC team whose entire world revolves around the SEC.

The funniest part of the game was listening to the Alabama fans bitch about Lane Kiffin.  “God dang it, Lane!” was shouted whenever Bama went away from the run game.  Suffice it to say, they like Lane Kiffin about as much as any other fan base who has had to have him as their coach/coordinator, or any other fan base who has had their team go up against his, or just anyone else in general, because Lane Kiffin seems like he’s really unpleasant as a human being.  I’m sure Florida Atlantic will regret hiring him in no time.

***

So, all right, let’s get into the game itself.

To start, I couldn’t be prouder of this team and especially this defense.  The 2016 Huskies have, without question, a world championship-calibre defense.  Are they better than Alabama’s defense?  Probably not; that was probably the best defensive effort I’ve ever seen in my life.  What Alabama was able to do with five and six-man fronts in stopping the run, while doing what they did to shut down our passing attack, was legendary.  Nevertheless, Washington’s defense wasn’t that far off.  Had our offense come to play, we had a legitimate shot at winning this game.

I’ll always wonder “What If” with this one.  I mean, it’s absolutely remarkable how we were able to march right down the field in the first quarter to take a 7-0 lead, followed by how we were totally and completely shut down the rest of the way!  We went 64 yards on 8 plays, in just under 4 minutes, and at that point – when Pettis made the fantastic catch in the endzone – it looked like the Huskies had the blueprint to beat this Bama team!

Then, Alabama showed everyone why they’re so highly regarded.  On the very next drive, they ran on 8 of their 9 plays, moving the ball at will to tie the game at 7.  From there, you had to wonder if we’d ever stop their run game.  I mean, they did it like it was nothing!  Like we weren’t even standing there!  If they would’ve replayed that game and just ran the ball on every down, you could’ve talked me into Alabama winning by 50 points, just based on that one drive alone.

But, it’s a testament to how stubborn Lane Kiffin is that he’d continuously go away from the one thing that was working for his offense.  Alabama’s quarterback, Jalen Hurts, wasn’t able to do much through the air, completing 7 of 14 for 57 yards; and we even held him in check on the ground, with 50 yards on a whopping 19 carries!  If you’d told me he’d have that type of output before the game, I would’ve bet on the Huskies shocking the world.

This game came down to field position and 3 key plays.  There wasn’t much we could do about the field position.  Our offense couldn’t do a damn thing to flip it, and even the few times we did, Alabama was able to get enough yards to get to around mid-field, where their punter was able to pin us inside the 10 yard line more often than not.  I mean, I get that Alabama gets all the best high school players from around the country, but how is it fair that they also have the best punter in college football to boot?

On a related note, the one thing the Alabama fans around me were impressed with when it came to Washington’s football team was our own punter.  They were mesmerized with how many yards he was able to get – with his rugby style of punting – on the bounce, when their return man kept coming up short on the fair catch.

The field position thing could’ve been overcome – I’ll always believe that – had we not suffered the 3 key plays I referenced above.

Play 1 – The John Ross Fumble.  We’ve since come to learn what was plainly obvious all year:  John Ross has declared for the NFL Draft.  It was pretty brutal how much of a non-factor he was in this game, considering he’s the best player on our team (I was honestly shocked it didn’t come out that he’d already declared for the draft midway through the first half of the game).  Compared to all the athletes on the Crimson Tide, John Ross looked slow as shit on his kick returns; no impact there.  He ended up with 5 catches for 28 yards on offense; no impact there.  And, with Washington once again moving the ball near the end of the first quarter, immediately after the Alabama touchdown to tie the game, near midfield, Ross caught a short pass and had the ball knocked out of his 1-handed grasp.  It was obviously pretty demoralizing – because all anyone is thinking about if you’re a Husky player or a Husky fan, is that you CAN’T CAN’T CAN’T turn the ball over against Alabama if you expect to win (indeed, you probably have to play a perfect game, and even that might not be enough) – but our defense was able to hold Bama to a field goal, so it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.  At that point, as a Husky fan, all I was thinking was, “John Ross will make this up to us somehow.”  Of course, he would not, but I don’t know how much of that was his fault necessarily.

Play 2 – The Pick Six.  This was the back-breaker.  I’m going to have nightmares about this one for a good, long while.  The Husky defense had settled into their dominating performance, having forced three punts on the last three Alabama possessions.  You had to believe, from a Husky standpoint, that if we’d just kept it a 1-possession game, we’d be able to break through at some point.  Then, Jake was pressured, and threw out into the flat before taking the sack.  Unfortunately, he was throwing to Lavon Coleman, who isn’t an ideal target in that scenario.  And, he was wildly off-target on top of that, throwing it right into the waiting arms of the defender who had an easy touchdown in front of him.  When you factor in we were under 2 minutes left to go in the half, and we had a little momentum with a couple of first downs to that point in the drive, and there aren’t any words to describe my despair at that moment.  Scoring on that drive would’ve been huge, but going into halftime down just 10-7 would’ve at least given us hope for a second half run!  But, going into halftime down two scores felt like the game was over.  I wanted to go home right there.  At that point, it felt over to me.  Alabama’s defense had hardly given an inch aside from our lone scoring drive, there was no way we’d be able to make up the difference unless there was some freaky defensive score on the horizon.  But, I mean, Bama could’ve just knelt down three times and punted on each of their second half drives and let their defense do all the work and it would’ve ended up with nearly the same result.  Nevertheless, I stayed all the way to the bitter end, which was made all the more difficult after Play 3.

Play 3 – The 68-Yard TD Run.  Bo Scarbrough was the offensive MVP of this game without question.  He had 180 yards on 19 carries and 2 TDs.  Even without this run – where he broke about a million tackles en route to crushing our hopes and dreams – he still averaged over 6 yards per run the rest of the day.  And, mind you, that’s a day where – as I said before – the Husky defense played out of their minds!  At this point in the game, we still had most of the 4th quarter left to go.  Had we stopped him, I don’t think the Huskies could’ve come up with the 10 points they needed to tie the game.  But, we didn’t stop him, and with that it was decided.  A 17-point lead for Alabama with a little over 11 minutes to go is absolutely insurmountable.

I should’ve left right there and gotten a jump on the nearly 2-mile walk back to the hotel, but I sat and suffered.  I mean, when would the Huskies ever get back to this point again?

***

It’s at this point that I’d like to take a minute to address all these Husky fans who keep saying that we’re “ahead of schedule” in this thing.  Look, I’m as guilty as anyone of “just being happy to be there” when it comes to being in the final four and in the College Football Playoffs.  I could never honestly believe that Washington was going to beat Alabama, and quite frankly it was hard to even imagine a way we’d win this game without the Crimson Tide starters suffering simultaneous heart attacks on the way to the stadium.  And, aside from that, I can appreciate how far we’ve come from how low the program was after the 2008 winless season.  Chris Petersen has done a PHENOMENAL job in his three years, and I absolutely believe he’s the right man for the job.

We came into the 2016 season hoping for some improvement – maybe even an outside shot at the Rose Bowl – but we never expected all this.  We set our sights – probably wrongly – for the 2017 season as the target season to start thinking about national playoffs and whatnot.  In that sense, sure, you could say we’re “ahead of schedule”, but the thing is:  there IS no schedule.  There’s no guarantee the Huskies will even be within a game or two of the Pac-12 Championship next year!  There’s certainly no guarantee we’ll be better next year than we were this year!  Sure, you figure the guys we’ll still have around – particularly Browning, Pettis, and Gaskin, among many of our young studs on defense – will be improved with another year’s experience.  But, do you realize the impact we’re going to face with all of the guys leaving for the NFL draft?  On top of John Ross, and the obvious outgoing seniors, we’re also talking about almost the entire starting secondary!  That’s the strongest part of the team we’re going to have to fully refurbish!  In a conference that prides itself on its high-flying passing attacks!

The 2016 Husky defense is the best defense we’ve had since those early-90s Don James teams.  It’s certainly the best one we’ve had since I’ve been a fan, and it might be the best defense Chris Petersen EVER has!  Which is why it’s so frustrating to have to look forward to next year, when our chance was NOW!  It’s fine to be pleased with the direction of the program and look forward to the coming seasons.  Husky football should be in the national conversation for at least the next two years, if not much longer (however long Coach Pete wants to stick around, anyway).  But, these playoff appearances don’t grow on trees.  You have to grab your opportunity by the horns when it comes, regardless of whether or not you’re “ahead of schedule”.  Even if the Huskies win the Pac-12 next year and even if they somehow manage the same record in the process, there’s no guarantee we’ll be invited back, considering it’s still a committee of human beings who decide the top four teams.  This might be the ONLY team Coach Pete ever takes to the college football playoffs; we won’t know for many years probably!

That’s why I’m taking the loss as hard as I am.  Even though this Alabama team was a lot like the 1996 Bulls and our Huskies were a lot like the 1996 Supersonics, this still may have been our only opportunity for a National Championship in my lifetime, and to get so close, only to have three plays dictate your defeat … it’s just a lot to take in as a sports fan.

***

In the closing minutes of the game, a couple of Huskies were taken out by some cheapshots from a couple Alabama players during an interception return.  I didn’t see what happened, but it looked pretty shitty to see a couple of our players on the ground in a game that was clearly over.  It was doubly shitty when the majority of Bama fans in the stadium were chanting something afterward (S-E-C, I would come to learn later).  I was too demoralized to really get in much of a huff about it, though.  It was pretty funny to see a very large individual, with a very large red beard, in a Husky jersey with the number 69 on it, and his very large father, with very large white hair, both standing in the first row of our section, saying nothing, but holding two furious middle fingers in the air towards the Alabama bench.  I don’t know what they were hoping to accomplish – getting on the jumbotron maybe? – but I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen two people quivering with so much rage.

It should probably come as no surprise after the clock reached double-zeroes, and the confetti started blowing around the stadium, when a drunken Alabama couple ran down the steps of our section, waving their red & white pom poms around, dancing next to the large front row seat dwellers, when the younger one – like a rampaging rhino – bulled into the couple, knocking the female over in the process, as he ran up the stairs and out of the stadium.  It happened in an instant, and I was too flabbergasted to turn around and see if anyone stopped him, but if I’m being honest, I don’t know if anyone – or even a group of anyones – could’ve slowed the beast.  It was quite the spectacle, to be sure.

I didn’t stick around much longer after that, so I don’t know what came of him or his father.  It was a long, cold, hilly walk back to my hotel.  By the time I got there, the Fiesta Bowl was on and Ohio State was in the process of getting blown out twice as worse as we did.  So, you know, at least they knocked the Huskies off the front page.  And, in the end, more people came away impressed with our defensive performance than they did rubbing it in about how we “didn’t belong”.  Considering Michigan and Penn State both lost their bowl games as well, it’s hard to make much of an argument for the Big 10 this year.  Were they the nation’s best conference?  Hardly.  They just had the most highly-ranked batch of over-rated losers come bowl season.

I spent New Years Eve in the room, with two bottles of wine and more leftover pizza.  I couldn’t move.  Not after all the walking the last two days.  Not alone in a strange city, where quite frankly there were more nearby police sirens going off on the reg than I like to hear.  But, it’s okay.  I wasn’t really in a partying mood, and New Years Eve is the Big 10 of holidays.  Plus, I had a flight to get up for the next day.

I was up by 8am, no worse for the wear from the wine, and I left shortly after to get to the airport for breakfast and sitting.  A short flight to Baltimore and an insanely long flight to Seattle later, and my dad was picking me up.  They DVR’d the Seahawks game for me, so I got to see us settle for the 3-seed while enjoying a few holiday Bud Lights.  Not much of a consolation, but it’s better than nothing, I guess.

Scouting Alabama: The Ole Miss Game

I’m not really a scout.  I don’t regularly sit around watching game tape or the All-22’s or whathaveyou.  I’m just a fan with a semi-coherent knowledge of the game beyond the Washington Huskies.  I don’t know if I’ve seen a single Alabama game this whole year!  I might have had part of the Iron Bowl, or the SEC Championship Game, on in the background, with the volume off, on a second television, occasionally glancing over to see Alabama do more Alabama things en route to convincing victories.  So, you know, it’s not like I’m some expert or anything.

In looking at their schedule, it appears there were only two games one might consider “close”.  In early November, Bama went down to LSU and came away with a 10-0 victory.  I have a vague recollection of that game being 0-0 forever before Alabama scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter and it feeling like that was all they needed.  So, if you’re looking for a way to hang in there with Bama, shutting them out for three quarters behind a strong defensive performance is one way to do it.

The other “close” game was much earlier in the season, as Alabama travelled to Ole Miss and came away with a 48-43 victory.  “Close” in quotes because Bama went up 48-30 late in the fourth quarter before giving up some quick garbage-time points.  Nevertheless, Ole Miss was in this one, and very well could have prevailed if it weren’t for some untimely turnovers and even untimelier special teams breakdowns.

At one point, very late in the second quarter, Ole Miss was up 24-3.  A personal foul on the previous touchdown they scored meant that Alabama had excellent field position on the subsequent drive.  It took Bama 3 plays and less than 40 seconds to score a touchdown, which allowed them enough time to force a 3 & Out, which led to Ole Miss giving up a punt return touchdown.  It was 24-17 at halftime, and things got much worse for Ole Miss from there.

On their first drive of the second half, Ole Miss was sacked and the fumble was returned for a touchdown to tie the game.  Ole Miss would go on to give up a go-ahead field goal before mounting a significant, game-changing drive.  In this game, Bama gave up a number of deep balls through the air, which bodes well for a team like Washington.  Ole Miss would get the ball down to the Alabama 1-yard line, trailing by 3 points, for first & goal.  A run for no-gain, a false start, and a loss of two yards put Ole Miss at 3rd & goal from the 8 yard line before a 7-yard scramble by the quarterback put the ball back at the one, at which point they settled for the field goal and the tie.

Bama scored a quick TD behind a long run, followed by an Ole Miss field goal to make it 34-30.  Bama would score another TD behind a long run by their quarterback, before Ole Miss mounted another drive into enemy territory.  They ended up coughing the ball up and Bama returned it for a 75-yard touchdown to put the game out of reach.

Or so it appeared.  Ole Miss got a quick TD, recovered an onside kick, and scored another TD in one play.  That made the game 48-43 with Ole Miss holding all three of their time outs.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be, as Bama killed the rest of the clock on seven consecutive runs.

Alabama ran for 334 yards in this game on 48 carries.  Their quarterback, Jalen Hurts, led the way with 146 yards on 18 carries; running back Damien Harris had 144 yards on 16 carries.  Alabama held the ball for over 35 minutes and I feel like that’s what’s going to have to happen if the Huskies want to beat this team.

Ole Miss was able to force Alabama to punt 5 times.  And they REALLY made them work for a lot of their offensive scoring drives.  17 plays to get a field goal in the first quarter.  Another 9 plays to miss a field goal.  Another 10 plays for a field goal in the second half.  You’re doomed to be overwhelmed by Bama if you let them gash you for big plays.  And it’s going to be even worse if you turn the ball over or give up huge plays on special teams.

You don’t get to where Alabama is by playing sloppy.  The Huskies will have to keep it clean.  Pristine.  That means, as I just mentioned, not giving up huge plays on defense (those huge plays are more likely to come from the running game, so that’s something to keep in mind); not giving up huge returns on kickoffs or punts.  That also means not shooting yourselves in the foot with penalties.  Ole Miss didn’t have a ton of penalties – 6 for 65 yards – but on some of their punting drives, they had penalties that put them behind the sticks.  You’re not going to get very far if you’re constantly behind schedule.  And particularly on that drive I talked about above – where they got to the 1-yard line – you’ve got to get that ball in the endzone.  Settling for field goals against Alabama is a great way to ultimately lose to Alabama.

But, like I said, there are yards to be had.  Ole Miss’ quarterback threw for 421 yards on the day, completing only 26/40, with 3 TDs and 0 INTs.  Ole Miss had completions of:

  • 25
  • 44
  • 63
  • 32
  • 22
  • and 37 yards

You pick nearly any successful Husky football game this year, you’re going to find performances much like this.  Jake Browning completing multiple deep balls.  The offense efficiently picking apart teams and putting points up in bunches.  With the run game unlikely to gain much traction – Ole Miss only managing 101 yards on 33 carries – as I’ve said before, the Huskies are going to have to win this one on the arm of Browning.  Ole Miss damn near did it, and that gives me hope because our defense is better, our special teams SHOULD be better, and even though it’ll be tough sledding, our running game is better than that of Ole Miss.

It sounds like a simple formula:  hold their running game in check, limit the big plays, take care of business on special teams, and hit them deep through the air.  But, I’m sure that’s what most teams aimed to do against Alabama, and look at where it got them.

The Ole Miss game proves they’re vulnerable.  That’s what we’ve got to keep in mind here.  It’s up to the offense!  And, if they’re up to the task, we should hang with ’em.  Had Ole Miss protected the football better, they likely would’ve escaped with a win.  You’re not going to score against Bama every time; there will be plenty of punts by the Huskies.  So, you’ve got to take advantage of the scoring opportunities that you create.

And, as the Huskies are one of the best teams at forcing turnovers, just know that those are at your disposal as well.  For as solid as Bama is offensively, they still fumbled a ball against Ole Miss that led directly to points for the other team.  If we can force Jalen Hurts into lots of passing situations, we should hopefully force him into some ill-advised decisions.

For anyone who’s interested, the game is on YouTube.  In under 41 minutes to boot!

Self-Scouting The Washington Huskies

I don’t know a lot about Alabama yet.  I haven’t really gotten that far.  I know they’re the best team in college football.  I know their offense is pretty good (run > pass).  I know their defense might be the best of all time (front seven > secondary).  They’re big and strong and fast and do most everything well.  They get after the quarterback, they stop the run, and if there’s any weakness whatsoever, it might be in the deep passing game.

But, before we really dig in, I think it’s just as important to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the Washington Huskies.  To get an idea of our strengths and weaknesses and take a look at how Alabama might attack us.

The Huskies have played in 13 games this year, winning 12 outright, winning 10 of those pretty handily.  Unfortunately, the one game I missed was the USC game.  I think that one is going to tell us more about how Alabama might attack us than any of the other 12.  You could argue that by the time we played USC, they were simply the better, more talented team, and call it a day.  If USC on November 12th was just better than us, and there’s no way we ever could’ve won that game, then Alabama on December 31st is sure as shit better than us, so we might as well not show up!

Let’s try to move past that defeatist attitude, though.  I have to believe there’s at least a CHANCE the Huskies can beat Alabama on New Years Eve, otherwise I wouldn’t have blown upwards of $2,000 on this trip!

Here’s the thing – and I know this is going to sound totally obvious – but the Huskies are only going to go as far as Jake Browning can take them.  Duh, right?  But, where I’m going with this is:  Jake Browning is the greatest weakness on this Husky football team.

Blasphemy!  I know!  I sound like a poor man’s Skip Bayless right now, and I’m sorry, but it’s the truth.  Every week, the Brady Quinn’s of the world who call these Husky games make the same points about Browning over and over again.  And we get annoyed by them, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t true.  Which ones are the games where the Huskies struggled, where they DIDN’T beat their opponents by 30 points?

  • At Arizona (win by 7 in overtime)
  • At Utah (win by 7)
  • USC (lost by 13)

What’s the common thread?  Jake Browning’s passing numbers in those games:

  • At Arizona:  14/21, 160 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
  • At Utah:  12/20, 186 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
  • USC:  17/36, 259 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs

Browning’s numbers are phenomenal in every other game except the one against Colorado, and we won’t see a secondary that good the rest of the season.  He also started off pretty ragged against ASU – possible hangover from the USC game – before pouring it on after the first quarter.  All year, he had 7 interceptions, but 4 of them happened in his three worst games of the year.

So, yeah, I’d say Browning is the key.

The Huskies were able to enforce their will against the Buffaloes because we had the strong running game.  We could do no wrong.  Our offensive line absolutely had their way with Colorado.  That obviously won’t be the same against Bama.  The thinking is, Bama is going to do what the Trojans did:  hold our running game in check.  In that game, Gaskin and Coleman combined for 57 yards on 17 carries for a 3.3 yards per carry average.  Falling behind in the first half, necessitating our abandoning the run, is ultimately what did us in.  If the running game can’t get going, and our pass protection breaks down, will we have it in us to throw our way out of it?

My ultimate fear is that we’ll try to counter their front seven by leaning on the quick passing game.  Lots of wide receiver/bubble screens and whatnot.  I envision their secondary sitting on these routes, waiting for them, and crushing us when we follow through on them.  We’ve got to loosen them up down field and do it early, or their defense will put the screws to us and it’ll be a LONG day for any Husky fans.

So, it’ll boil down to:  will the Huskies have enough time to throw?  Our O-Line is good, but they’re REALLY going to have to sack up in this game, at least to start.  If that works out, and we can get John Ross in some favorable matchups, then it’s going to come down to how accurate Jake Browning is.

And, we’ve seen it all year:  the under-thrown deep balls.  Every game, multiple times per game.  Browning is late on these throws time and time again.  If he’d properly anticipate and throw his speediest-receiver-in-all-of-college-football open up the seam or down the sidelines, he’d have a LOT more touchdowns than he already does.  It’s a testament to how amazing Ross and Dante Pettis are that they’re able to out-muscle these defenders for these jump balls.  I hope they also bring their big-boy pants in this game, because they’re going to need ’em.

I don’t want to pick on Browning exclusively; he does a lot of things really well.  He’s generally smart with the football, he’s very accurate on the short and intermediate throws.  He’s dynamite in the red zone, he knows when to run when he has to, and move around in the pocket to buy time.  We wouldn’t be where we are right now without Browning, and that’s the cold hard truth.  When Jake is on fire, this team is unbeatable.  He’s just got to take that next step in his development:  he’s got to step up in the big games, against the great teams, when the opponent is taking away all our other options and it’s all on his shoulders.  If he can achieve that against Alabama, then he’ll have mastered the game of college football.  And, once Jake has this game mastered, the sky is the limit for this team.

One thing that’s never really failed us is our defense.  Alabama’s obviously got the best rushing defense in the game at 63.4 yards allowed per game, but we’re 17th at 123.5.  Alabama bests us in passing defense as well, at 15th in the game with 184.5 yards per game, but we’re 22nd with 192.6, and we played an unquestionably tougher schedule from an opposing offense standpoint.  The SEC passing games have nothing on the Pac-12 this year.

We’re going to need our defense to play to the standard it’s set and I think we’ll stay pretty close in this game.  If our offense can put up points and move the ball on a consistent basis, we’ll win this game.  But, if Browning struggles, and the run game is non-existent, and we turn the ball over, then our defense might keep us in it for a half, but Bama will just shove it down our throats in the second half and that’ll be all she wrote.

So, again, this game is all on Jake Browning.  He needs to play the game of his life if we’re to contend for the National Championship.  He’s got the O-Line, he’s got some talented running backs, and he’s got all the weapons he could ever need in the passing game.  Now, he just needs to be on point and let’s go shock the world!

The 2016 Washington Huskies Are In The Playoffs!

I couldn’t sleep Saturday night.  Literally, tossing and turning, all night, my mind abuzz with the possibilities that would come Sunday morning.  Not since I was a child grappling with a Christmas Eve night have I suffered such anticipation for what might happen the next day!  I finally just had to pop a Benadryl to zonk myself out for a few hours.  And, I mean, I was up late!  I watched the whole episode of Saturday Night Live for crying out loud!

Yet, there I was, 8am, wide awake.  Fuck.

Got out of bed and sat with my laptop on and the TV off.  Caught up on the previous evening’s Tweets, checked some e-mails, read the funnies, killed an hour.  9am.  ESPN’s College Football Playoff Selection Show or some damn thing.  Still, I kept the TV off.  I haven’t watched any of those rankings shows on Tuesday nights for the last month, and I wasn’t about to jinx it now.  These are the FINAL rankings!  The deciding rankings.  Stick to Twitter.

Wait a half-hour.

Washington’s in.  Turn on the TV!  Listen to the babies whine and cry about a 2-loss Penn State team.  Whine and cry about a Big 10 champion not making the playoffs even though it’s the best conference in college football this year.  Blah blah blah.

Within minutes, I’m back on my computer.  I’m in a text chat with my friends.  I’m confirming a Peach Bowl ticket with someone.  I’m looking for hotels near the Georgia Dome.  I’m on another site looking for plane tickets.  I’m going to Atlanta to watch the Huskies play the number one team in the nation in the College Football Playoffs!  It’s my first-ever bowl game, so I decided to make it count.  It’s a FUCKING arm and a leg, but you only live once, and with me, you gotta figure I’m on borrowed time!

I’m thinking about the sights I want to see.  I’ll be flying in Thursday, December 29th; I’ll have the entire Friday to be a tourist.  Coca-Cola Museum.  Sweetwater Brewery Tour.  College Football Hall Of Fame.  The aquarium, the zoo, CNN, MLK’s boyhood home, the Natural History Museum.  Centennial Olympic Park.  So much to do, so little time.

I know I’m terribly biased about the whole thing, but I honestly think the committee got it right.  I probably would’ve kept Ohio State at #2, with Clemson at #3, but that’s a nothing little detail.  Maybe the better team should be choosing before the coin toss anyway.

But, seriously though, you couldn’t put a 2-loss Penn State team in there over a 1-loss Washington team.  Obviously, had UW gotten screwed, I’d be much more passionate about this issue, but let’s be real here.  Penn State lost to a 4-loss Pitt team, and got absolutely destroyed by Michigan.  All they did all damn year was luck into a win over Ohio State and storm back against an overrated Wisconsin team.  Washington had a bad loss against USC, but it wasn’t the absolute drubbing Michigan put on Penn State.  And we throttled Colorado (legitimate top 10 team), Stanford, and Wazzu (on the road in the Apple Cup), as well as beat a ranked Utah team on the road.  You can rail against Washington’s non-conference schedule all you want, but going 3-0 against three scrubs is NOT the reason why we made the playoffs.  We were consistently the better of the two teams all year long, in just about every stat you can come up with.

If it were up to me, I probably would’ve had Michigan ranked ahead of Penn State, but I guess you’ve gotta throw them a bone somewhere.  Now watch them get destroyed by USC in the Rose Bowl.

So, that leaves the Huskies playing Alabama.  I plan on writing about the game another time, but I’ll say again what I’ve been saying repeatedly over the weekend:  I’d rather play Alabama in the semifinals – when I’ve got a month to prepare for them – than have to play them in the Championship Game when I’ve got a little over a week (and really, much less than that, considering all the media hoopla that comes with the National Championship Game).  Of course, the flipside of that is Alabama has a month to prepare for us, but who knows?  Maybe they overlook us.  Maybe they come out over-confident because we’re just this nothing team from this nothing conference way out on the West Coast.

We’ll see.  I’ll try to do some digging and see if the numbers indicate any potential weakness.  In the meantime, here’s some interesting reading from The Ringer.

The 2016 Washington Huskies Are Pac-12 Champions!!!

Honestly, I didn’t know if I’d ever see this day come.  Part of that is from being a heavy drinker and liking to run around in traffic, but most of that is just looking at how far the program had fallen, and the landscape in college football.

Washington’s not a power school.  We like to think it is, as we look back at the good ol’ days of Don James and whatnot, but we’re not Alabama.  We’re not Ohio State or USC or Texas.  Ours is not a destination school; we’re not going to draw coaches like Urban Meyer or Nick Saban.  We can pull from smaller schools, or we can elevate up-and-coming coordinators to their first head coaching gigs, but ours is just a stepping stone school.  Come here, turn the program around, get a better job somewhere else, as Sark did.  Or, come here, make the program worse, and never coach in college football ever again, as Tyrone Willingham did.  Oh sure, you might get lucky and have everything click for a season, but that’s when you strike!  When the iron’s hot!  You parlay that to your dream job where you can compete for national championships every year, as opposed to once in a blue moon!

I would try to console myself from this line of thinking, by pointing to Oregon.  They rose from the ashes of nothingness to be a perennial college football powerhouse!  That’s true, but they also had a head coach with a gimmick system that it took the rest of college football too long to adjust to.  And a benefactor in Phil Knight who doesn’t mind pouring all of his riches into the school.  What are we talking about here, a one in a million confluence of wealth and genius?  Unlikely to be in the cards for a school like Washington.

And yet, here we are.  In Chris Petersen’s third year since coming over from Boise State.  He doesn’t strike me as a guy who would cut and run for a bigger job at a bigger school (but, then again, I suppose Boise State fans thought the same way).  In Washington, he’ll be able to earn the same as anywhere else; he’ll be the highest-paid coach in the conference at a minimum.  And, it’s so early in his run, he can really build a dominant program over the next decade and really bolster his resume!  He’s done it without a billionaire putting his name on the stadium and paying for recruits (allegedly).  He’s done it without a gimmicky offense that – oh by the way – won’t help you one bit in raising your NFL draft stock, because they’d rather go with guys who’ve run a pro-style offense.  I mean, this is as old school as it gets!  Solid recruiting on a foundation of recent success, building your team up in all areas, and then going out there and beating the snot out of everyone you play.  This is how Alabama stays so good every year!

WE’RE PAC-12 CHAMPS!!!

I just can’t say enough how cool that is.  Started from the bottom in 2008; now we’re here in 2016.  I couldn’t be more proud and more happy that I was so wrong about all of that I wrote above.

Last night, we beat Colorado 41-10, in spite of the fact that Jake Browning had a God-awful game.  Nevertheless, we were able to run the ball at will, gobbling up 265 yards on the ground, including 100-yard games for both Gaskin and Coleman.  Sheer domination up front, with some smart, powerful running by those two backs.

John Ross had one of the most impressive TD catches I’ve ever seen.  Browning was about to be sacked, trying to throw the ball away, and Ross ended up jumping as high as he could, snagging it with one hand, breaking a tackle, and scampering for 19 yards to paydirt.  Darrell Daniels had the other receiving TD on a nifty little catch inside the 10 yard line, breaking a bunch of tackles on the way to the endzone.

Game MVP Taylor Rapp had two interceptions right after halftime, one returned to the house.  The rest of our secondary played to their usual brilliance as we held Colorado’s QBs to a combined 81 yards passing.  Our guys up front were just as good, as we held their ground game to 82 yards and a 2.9 yards per carry average.  Just a totally dominating performance from a world-class defense.

The Huskies are 12-1, 12-game winners for the first time since our national championship in 1991.  I just want to sit here and bask in this for a while, as we only have until tomorrow morning at 9am before we know our fate.  Playoffs or Rose Bowl.  The Huskies are back!

Huskies Are In Top 4 With 1 Week To Go

It’s Alabama #1, Ohio State #2, Clemson #3, and Washington #4; with Michigan #5, Wisconsin #6, Penn State #7, and Colorado #8.

Those are the teams we’re tangling with as we get ready for the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday against Colorado.  As always, first thing’s first:  Washington needs to win.

From there, things get pretty simple.  Alabama is the only undefeated team in that clump; most people believe they’ll still be ranked #1 even if they lose to 15th-ranked Florida on Saturday.  Regardless, consider Bama a lock.

Ohio State has concluded its regular season schedule.  By virtue of them beating Michigan last week, and Penn State beating Michigan State (just like in the presidential election, the state of Michigan continues to fuck over the entire country), and by virtue of Penn State having previously beaten Ohio State, it’s the Nittany Lions who advance to the Big 10 championship game against Wisconsin.  More on them in a bit.

Clemson easily secured their spot in the ACC championship game and will play 23rd-ranked Virginia Tech on Saturday.  They’re an interesting case, and I’ll get to them in a bit as well.

Michigan, by virtue of losing to Ohio State, finished their season with 2 losses in conference, and are thus on the outside looking in regarding the Big 10 championship game.  Had they won, they would’ve had the tie-breaker over Penn State, and all would be right with the world.  As it stands now, they’re 5th, ahead of both Wisconsin and Penn State; that feels huge to me.  Part of me expected them to fall behind one or both of those teams; this gives me a little more hope that the Big 10 champion might be iced out of the playoffs if Washington and Clemson win this weekend.

Sticking with Michigan for a bit, let’s not forget they beat both Penn State and Wisconsin.  They also handled Colorado (another Top 10 team at the moment) and gave Ohio State all they could handle (really, Michigan should’ve won that game, but their quarterback’s two interceptions – leading directly to two touchdowns – sealed their fate).  If we’re going to have Michigan outside of the playoffs, can you really put Wisconsin or Penn State ahead of them, even though one of those teams will technically be conference champs?

Wisconsin doesn’t impress me at all.  They have a win over 21st-ranked LSU (who is ONLY ranked – while having 4 losses – because they’re in the SEC and everyone sucks the SEC’s dick on the reg), and a win over now-unranked Nebraska (who fell out of the Top 25 thanks to their loss to 4-loss Iowa over the weekend).  The Badgers lost to both Michigan and Ohio State, so a piddling win over Penn State should hardly impress the committee enough to put them ahead of Michigan, let alone Washington.

On the flipside, Wisconsin has steadily, all along, been ranked higher than they should’ve, and higher than Penn State (even though the Nittany Lions are the only team to have beaten the Buckeyes).  There’s something about this Wisconsin team the committee likes, but when push comes to shove, I don’t think there’s enough there.

As for Penn State, they have a couple of piddling non-conference wins against Temple and Kent State, as well as a non-conference loss to Pitt.  In conference, they lost to Michigan, but aside from their home victory over Ohio State, they haven’t beaten anyone CLOSE to being ranked!  Shit, they didn’t even play Nebraska this year, who had been ranked the whole way until this week.

Granted, their victory over Ohio State trumps ANY victory on our schedule, but let’s be real here!  We have wins over two teams in the Top 20 right now, and with a win over Colorado, there’s a Top 10 win, with our only loss to a surging USC team that might be playing the best football of anyone outside of Alabama right now (yes, including Ohio State).  Penn State is probably the only team that can muddy the waters a little bit.

I’m firmly in the camp that Ohio State has done enough to deserve a Top 4 spot.  They have wins over Oklahoma, Michigan, Wisconsin and a big one over Nebraska that looked a lot better a week ago, with their only loss on the road to Penn State in a nailbiter.  So, there go two spots right off the bat when you toss in Bama.

Assuming Clemson, Washington, and Penn State all win, I think that puts Penn State over Michigan simply due to the tiebreaker of having the conference championship.  Penn State beat Ohio State, who beat Michigan, who beat Penn State.  That triad of games cancels one another out, with the resumes as they are, I think you gotta go tie-breaker on that one.  So, we’ve got three teams, three conference champions, and only two spots to put them in.  Who gets left out?

I’d like to point out that everyone and their mothers believe a 1-loss Washington team trumps a 2-loss Penn State team, but everyone and their mothers aren’t on the playoff committee.  Let’s, again, really quickly, compare UW to PSU:

  • UW – Beat Colorado, Stanford, & Utah; loss to USC
  • PSU – Beat Ohio State & Wisconsin; loss to Michigan & Pitt

Penn State has had a marginally tougher schedule, and will have won the consensus “Best Conference In 2016”.  They will also have the chip of having beaten a team in the Buckeyes who are already in the playoffs.  Can you leave that team out, in place of a team from the Pacific Northwest, in a conference that’s allegedly having a down year, with that eyesore of a non-conference schedule?

Let’s leave that floating out in space for a minute.  I told you I was going to come back to Clemson.  They’ve been consistently rated ahead of us all year, they’re coming off of a season where they played in the National Championship Game and gave Alabama all they could handle, and they’re at least as good as they were last year in spite of losing a bunch of guys to the NFL.  In other words, they have something we don’t:  a recent track record of success.  Is a rematch of Clemson and Alabama in the National Championship Game something people would be interested in?  I have no idea, but I’m guessing probably YES.  My question is:  do they deserve to be ranked ahead of Washington?

For starters, in the ACC, they only play 8 conference games.  At the moment, the ACC is getting a lot of love from the committee, by having five teams ranked, including a 4-loss Pitt team (who has somehow beaten both Clemson and Penn State, but lost to the likes of VA Tech, North Carolina, and Miami).  Clemson has notable wins over 12th-ranked Florida State, 13th-ranked Louisville, and 14th-ranked Auburn, while their only loss is against that aforementioned Pitt team.  However, their championship game loses a lot of luster when you figure Virgina Tech is only ranked 23rd.

Again, Washington has those two Top 20 wins, and their only loss is to 11th-ranked USC (as opposed to Clemson’s loss to 25th-ranked Pitt).  Our loss is only going to look better as USC gets into the Top 10 after this week, as you figure one or more teams currently in the Top 10 will likely fall out.  Maybe that team that falls out will be Colorado if we beat them badly enough; but I can’t see Colorado falling any farther than 11th, which is still a better victory than anything Clemson has put up.  Virginia Tech likely won’t even BE ranked after this week when they lose to the Tigers!

So, that’s 3 ranked teams beaten per school, with the Huskies having both the more impressive win and the more impressive defeat.  Clemson might still have us on strength of schedule, but they only play 8 conference games to our 9; and their conference is 2 teams bigger, which just means the bottom of their league is MUCH worse than the bottom of ours.

I dunno.  When it’s all said and done, I dunno.  This Sunday at 9am it will be announced.  I have a hard time wrapping my brain around a Penn State team climbing three spots in the playoff rankings just because they lucked into a victory over Ohio State, and lucked even more into a championship game appearance against Wisconsin.  But, in all my days, I’ve come to expect the worst out of people.

I’m trying to see if there’s any solace in looking at prior seasons.  Last year, Clemson and Bama were ranked 1 & 2 going into their conference championship games and both teams took care of business.  Oklahoma was 3rd going into the final week, but the Big 12 doesn’t have a championship game (they will again, starting in 2017), so they were idle.  Iowa and Michigan State were 4 & 5 and playing one another in the Big 10 title game; Michigan State would go on to win.  Ohio State, for what it’s worth, had 1 loss but was ranked 6th going into the final week; they ended up getting jumped by Stanford, who won the Pac-12 title, but neither team could crack the top 4.  The Spartans ended up jumping over Oklahoma, who managed to keep their spot in the playoffs in spite of being idle.

In 2014, Bama and Oregon were ranked 1 & 2 going into their conference championship games and both teams took care of business.  TCU was ranked 3rd, but again they’re a Big 12 team without a conference title game; they whupped up on Iowa State in their final game, but would nevertheless fall to 6th in the final playoff rankings.  They were passed by Florida State and Ohio State, who both had more impressive conference championship wins; as well as Baylor, who were co-Big 12 champs with TCU, but still beat a more formidable opponent in their final game.

On the one hand, there’s some relief in knowing that having a huge matchup in your last game wins you some brownie points.  On the other hand, TCU’s schedule in 2014 was pretty shitty.  Aside from Baylor, Kansas State was the only other ranked team in the Big 12 (including neither of the Oklahoma teams, nor Texas).  As such, TCU’s only significant win was over K-State.  So, they got bitten pretty hard by the lax schedule and the down conference.

Fortunately for Washington, USC and Stanford turned their seasons around in the second half.  Those are two established programs who are currently in the Top 20.  Yes, Oregon laid an egg this year, and UCLA was probably the conference’s biggest disappointment, but with wins over Colorado and Utah, I would HOPE that’s enough.

Anyway, I’m rambling.  It’s in our hands in one sense – beat Colorado and we SHOULD be in – but it’s out of our hands in the biggest sense – a committee of fallible human beings with biases and potential grudges ultimately have final say.  Pretty fucked, but I still think I’d rather have the smallish committee over a nation of media types with their flagrant east coast bias, or coaches who don’t know their heads from their asses.

We’ll see if I’m singing a different tune come Monday.

Huskies Dominate In Apple Cup, Win Pac-12 North

I’m going to save my insanity about the College Football Playoffs until after they announce the updated rankings.  In the meantime, let’s just enjoy this, huh?  The Huskies are BACK, baby!

What an incredible feeling.  I know it’s not over yet, and we’ve got one more major hurdle before we win the conference title, but for all intents and purposes we’re at least co-champions in the regular season, which is a far cry from where we were just 8 years ago.

That 2008 season, where the Huskies went 0-9 in conference (including losing the worst Apple Cup I’ve ever seen in my life) and 0-12 overall, was a big part of the reason for this blog even existing.  Then, we brought Sark in, he got us going on the right track, and we built upon that tenfold with Coach Pete.  It’s been quite the journey, but now here we are, hopefully around for an extended run of greatness.

Of course, if we lose to Colorado on Friday, we’ll probably get saddled with an inferior opponent in the Alamo Bowl, leaving nothing but regret in our wake, so let’s try real hard to win this conference championship!

The Cuogs, last Friday, posed no challenge.  We jumped out to a 28-3 lead after one quarter, and from that point, it was just one long game of keep-away en route to a 45-17 victory.  Browning got back on track, completing 21/29 for 292 yards and 3 TDs (vs. 0 picks).  Lavon Coleman was the rushing star, even though he only ran for 82 yards on 10 carries, he was able to plunge a couple across the goalline.  Gaskin had 50 yards and a TD of his own.  Dante Pettis caught 3 balls for 86 yards and 2 TDs, and John Ross chipped in 8 catches for 80 yards, a TD, and 37 yards rushing on 2 carries.  Don’t forget Chico McClatcher’s 6 catches for 80 yards.  And, big ups to Pettis for completing another pass for 50 yards on a trick play (the fact that we went to that well a second time, and it didn’t work, sure drew the ire of the announcers for some reason; as if there can be TOO MANY trick plays in a football game!).

On the flipside, we held Luke Falk to 269 yards and 1 TD against 3 INTs.  As a team, they ran for 65 yards.  Budda Baker had another outstanding game (including 2 tackles for loss and a pick); D.J. Beavers had a monster game in his own right with a pick of his own, as well as a fumble recovery.  We weren’t able to get a ton of pressure – only 2 sacks on the day – but we were sound in every other aspect of the game.  When you’re up 25 after one quarter, it’s not like you need to send blitzes every other down.

As noted above, we play Colorado this Friday in Santa Clara for the Pac-12 Championship.  The Buffaloes also went 8-1 in conference, with their only loss coming to USC during their resurgence, so consider both of us pretty lucky we don’t have to face the Trojans again this year.  Colorado’s other loss came in their non-conference schedule, when they went to Michigan and got pounded.  The Buffaloes run and pass the ball pretty well, but they might actually be better on defense than they are on offense.

This will be a game of the two best secondaries in the conference, and among the two best secondaries in all of college football.  Overall, though, I don’t think we’re talking about a defense that’s anywhere near as good as what USC is packing, so it would be a bit of a surprise if we weren’t able to move the ball on them.  The question here is:  will the big play be available to us?  I’d like to go back and see how many of our scoring drives featured a play of at least 35 yards, because I have a feeling the percentage is pretty high compared to the national average.  Fortunately, Browning is one of the more accurate passers, so if we have to play the dink & dunk game, we can do that.  He did just pull himself out of a 2-week funk though, so let’s hope he comes out on fire like he did against Wazzu.

Of course, I don’t have to tell you what’s on the line if we win this game.  Rose Bowl at the VERY worst.  You might not be able to tell just from reading this post, but I’m trying to pump myself up and not be disappointed if the Huskies are iced out of the College Football Playoffs.  The Rose Bowl is a helluva consolation prize!  And, if I can swing it, I plan on going there to see it all in person.

But, that doesn’t mean we can’t hope for more.  Let’s go Dawgs.  One more win and then let the chips fall where they may.

The Huskies Are 5th, Turn Their Attention To Wazzu As I Turn My Attention To The Big 10

Not surprisingly, with Louisville losing to Houston last week, the Huskies had no one in their way to get to the 5th spot.  And so here we are, the week before the week before.

As always, understand that what I talk about below all hinges upon the Huskies winning on Friday, and then winning again in the Pac-12 Championship Game.  It’s officially down to four teams now in the Pac-12:  the winner of the Apple Cup in the North vs. either Colorado or USC in the South.  Colorado hosts Utah on Saturday; if they win, they’re in.  If they lose, USC is in, because USC has completed their conference schedule (they host Notre Dame this weekend).

As I also predicted, it was more important for Colorado to beat Washington State than the other way around.  Had Wazzu won, they might have jumped into the Top 15, but it would’ve also forced us into a rematch with USC, and right now, I’m all about trying to avoid the Trojans at all costs.  This way, Colorado jumps into the Top 10 (they’re currently 9th, and may get higher if they beat Utah, depending upon how the rest of the Top 10 shakes out this weekend), making a potential showdown between us and them a juicy affair on December 2nd.

Now, obviously, I’m well aware that this could be a Beware What You Wish For situation, as my over-confidence could be devastating if the Buffaloes beat us.  But, I see two teams in Washington and Colorado who have both lost to USC this year, and I can’t help but worry that those Trojans are some sort of juggernaut and we’re just lucky it took them so long to find their quarterback earlier this season.

Anyway, that’s that.  More on the Pac-12 after this weekend.

I’m here to talk about the Big 10, and how it’s VERY possible that we’ll be royally fucked even if we do win out.

Alabama is in the top spot; they play Auburn this weekend, and most certainly they will win that game.  Even if they lose, they’ll still be in the Top 4, and they’ll still get to play Florida in the SEC Championship Game.  The only way Alabama falls out of the Top 4 is if they somehow lose their next two games, but that would be utter chaos and is hardly even worth writing about.  Alabama is going to win the SEC, period.

Clemson is currently in the 4-hole.  They host an okay South Carolina team, are already in the ACC Championship Game, and will go on to play either Virginia Tech (most likely) or North Carolina (less likely).  Clemson only falls out of the Top 4 if they lose one of these games, but I can’t imagine that happening.

That leaves the Big 10, currently hogging the 2-hole and 3-hole (Ohio State & Michigan, respectively).  The Big 10 is also hogging the 6-hole and 7-hole (Wisconsin & Penn State, respectively).  Here’s how crazy the Big 10 is:

Ohio State hosts Michigan this weekend.  If they win, and Penn State beats the hapless Michigan State team, Penn State plays for the Big 10 Championship against either Wisconsin (if they beat Minnesota) or Nebraska (if they beat Iowa and Wisconsin loses).

Now, let’s say all the teams who are SUPPOSED to win actually win.  That means Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin all win.  Obviously, that knocks Michigan out of the Top 4.  But, if you think Ohio State is going anywhere, you’re crazy, because they will have only 1 loss, and how are you going to punish a team that’s ranked 2nd in the nation, just because they weren’t involved in their conference’s championship game?

By the same token, if it’s Penn State vs. Wisconsin for the Big 10 title, the winner of that game will only have 2 losses on the year (Penn State lost to Michigan and the sometimes-frisky Pitt; Wisconsin lost to Michigan and Ohio State).  The committee is on record as saying they prefer conference champions over all their other criteria, so how do you keep out a 2-loss conference champ (especially if it’s Penn State, who has a regular season win over Ohio State on their resume)?  Wisconsin has less of a stake in that race, because they lost to Ohio State, but you have to wonder if the committee would choose a 1-loss Pac-12 champ over a 2-loss Big 10 champ?  Really, Wisconsin’s only legitimate win (aside from a hypothetical Big 10 championship win) is over Nebraska, as LSU and Michigan State are both unranked now.

It’s my belief that if Penn State wins the Big 10, the committee will choose both them and Ohio State, meaning it will come down to either Washington or Clemson.  At that point, what do you do?  Clemson would have wins over Louisville, Auburn, and Florida State (currently 11th, 13th, and 14th respectively), but their ACC Championship Game opponent would be pretty weak.  Washington would have wins over either Colorado or USC (currently 9th & 12th, respectively), Utah, Wazzu, and Stanford (22nd, 23rd, & 24th, respectively).  Of course, if both Washington and Colorado win out, Utah and Wazzu would likely fall out of the Top 25 entirely, which would take away at least two of those wins against ranked opponents.

I dunno.  My hunch – if all this came to pass – is that it would be Alabama at 1, Ohio State at 2, Clemson at 3, and Penn State at 4, with Washington at 5 and playing Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.  Ugh.  After ALL that.

Of course, if you want a simple rooting guide for the weekend, I’ll dumb it down for you:

If Michigan wins, all our troubles are over.  A Michigan win over Ohio State knocks the Buckeyes out of the Top 4.  That also prevents Penn State from playing for the Big 10 championship, because Michigan holds the tiebreaker over them by beating them earlier this year.  That puts Michigan against Wisconsin in the title game, and at that point, I’m secure enough to go out on a limb and say that the loser of that game will be knocked out of the Top 4.

That’s the easiest and clearest path for Washington to make the playoffs:  Michigan needs to beat Ohio State.  That game starts at 9am on Saturday.  Get up early and root root root for Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines!  Yeah, I know, I’m sick about it too, but what are you gonna do?