Huskies Continue To Roll In Easy First Half Schedule

Jake Browning threw for 293 yards and 3 touchdowns (and running for another), Dante Pettis caught 12 balls for 105 yards and 3 TDs, Myles Gaskin ran 15 times for 113 yards and a touchdown, and for good measure, Lavon Coleman returned from his concussion to run it 9 times for 70 yards, including an impressive 20-yard run on 4th and 10 early in the second half to set up a runaway touchdown.

Meanwhile, the defense held the Oregon State Beavers to 184 yards (only 74 through the air), 8 first downs, and a meaningless 4th quarter touchdown.  No sacks or INTs, but they did recover a couple fumbles.

All in all, it was a nice 42-7 victory on the road to push Washington’s record to 5-0.  With USC’s loss to Wazzu, the Huskies climbed to #5 in the Coaches Poll.  The stupid fucking AP allowed Georgia to leapfrog the Dawgs, leaving us at #6 (cue immediate Georgia defeat this week).  I mean, why even allow the AP to have a poll when half of them are just going to suck the dick of every SEC team?

Like just about all of our games this year, there wasn’t much to learn about the Huskies.  They started off shockingly slow, able to take just a 7-0 halftime lead before turning on the jets in the 3rd quarter.  Even our win in Colorado starts to lose some of its luster as the Buffaloes were narrowly defeated on the road to UCLA.  I’m also hard-pressed to find anything in the way of talking points the next two weeks.  This Saturday, we host Cal, who is already 0-2 in conference (and were just blown out by the Ducks); the following week we go to Arizona State, who has one of the worst defenses in all of college football.  The Huskies should sleepwalk to a 7-0 record by the time we get to the end of the month to host UCLA.

I can’t begin to tell you how much I love how this schedule shakes out.  Obviously, the huge, glaring drawback is having a creampuff non-conference slate.  But, let’s look at this thing here:  we start the season ranked in the Top 10.  That’s big.  We follow that up by steadily beating up on the first seven teams we face, while many teams ranked ahead of us, or right around us, lose at least a game.  Then, the meat of the schedule kicks in.  The final five games, we face UCLA, Oregon, Stanford, Utah, and Wazzu (all but Stanford at home); the class of the Pac-12 (minus USC).

And, yeah, I’m right there with you, I’m not too impressed with what I’ve seen out of the Bruins.  But, they’ve still got a Top 5 quarterback, they can put up points in bunches, and beating an L.A. school is always a good look.

And, sure, the Ducks are pretty far from where they once were.  But, not too long ago, they were the best team in the Pac-12 for a bunch of years.  They’ve still got a lot of talent, they too can score in bunches, and they were ranked in the Top 25 as recently as a week ago.  The AP is just ITCHING to put them back in the Top 25 if they can keep it to 2-3 losses this year.

Stanford has that dreadful defeat to San Diego State, but they’re still (somehow) tough to beat at home, in spite of their non-entity of a home crowd.  It wouldn’t take a lot for them to get back into the Top 25.

Utah is currently in the Top 20 in both polls, and they’ve been good ever since they joined the conference.  A win over Utah is never an easy venture, so this should be a quality game.

Finally, Wazzu appears to be the only team that stands in our way of a Pac-12 Championship.  They took down the mighty USC Trojans on Friday and looked GREAT on both sides of the ball.  The Cougs play a lot of road games going forward (they started out with 5 straight at home; they finish with 5 of 7 on the road), so it’s hard to believe that they won’t stumble at some point.  But, I don’t see more than 1 loss for them between now and the Apple Cup.  There’s a CHANCE they lose at Oregon this week (in which case, I’ll have concerns about how the nation sees the Pac-12, even more than I already do), but I think it’s more likely the Cougs lose at home to Stanford or on the road to Utah, both games in November.

Also, that’s a curious scheduling job there, with Washington State getting their BYE the week before the Apple Cup.  Very curious indeed.

Anyway, best case scenario has both Washington schools undefeated heading into the Apple Cup.  That would put both Washington schools in the Top 10 and give the Huskies a tremendous quality win heading into the Pac-12 Championship Game.

From there, the best case scenario is obviously facing a 1-loss USC team.  The 1-loss part shouldn’t be a problem, because the rest of the way the Trojans’ only difficult games are at home against Utah and on the road to Notre Dame (which isn’t even a conference game anyway, but is still one they will need to win to climb back into the Top 10).

The Trojans right now are only 14th in the AP and 15th in the Coaches; if they keep it to the lone defeat, on the road, against a Top 10 Cougars team, I see no reason why they couldn’t climb back into the Top 10.  That would put a whopping THREE Pac-12 teams in the Top 10, at which point you wouldn’t be able to deny an undefeated Huskies team a slot in the College Football Playoffs.

The only concern is if the Trojans drop another one, and a team like Utah wins the Pac-12 South, while at the same time Wazzu Cougs it up a couple times before the Apple Cup.  That’s why, I think, we had a lot of Husky fans who were rooting for USC last Friday in Pullman.  Not just because we hate the Cougars, but because beating an undefeated USC team in the Pac-12 Championship Game looks A LOT better than beating a 2-loss WSU followed by possibly a 1- or 2-loss Utah for a second time.

But, you know, that’s how it breaks sometimes.  It’s as much luck as it is talent, unless you’re Alabama, and then you don’t NEED luck because you HAVE so much talent.

God I love College Football!

The Huskies Kicked Off Conference Play With A Resounding Road Victory Over The Buffaloes

There’s a point in every football game where you start to wonder if the slow start your team is experiencing is more than just a slow start.  Panic sets in.  If this thing keeps dragging on the way it’s going, we could fucking lose this thing!

For me, that happened early in the second quarter.  Colorado got the ball first and pulled out a very methodical drive for a touchdown.  The Huskies took their opening possession to around midfield before Browning threw an ill-advised interception.  Then, once again, the Buffaloes were able to march down the field on an 11-play drive, which stalled at the Husky 40-yard line.  Washington took the next possession into the Colorado red zone, but whiffed on the field goal, and I felt like just enough bad shit was happening to make this One Of Those Games.

Colorado was obviously hungry for revenge after falling on their asses in the Pac-12 Championship Game last year, and with the game being on their home field, with the pounding rain, pre-game injury announcements, and everything else, it just felt like the game could get away from us if we weren’t careful.

But, then the defense clamped down, and the tide overwhelmingly shifted to the Huskies’ favor.  We forced a 3 & Out, blocked the punt, punched the ball in over the goalline to tie it up, picked off a couple passes, and were able to take a 10-7 lead into halftime.

The Huskies blew it open in the second half.  A Browning to Quinten Pounds 43-yard touchdown made the game 17-7 on the opening drive.  Colorado would hit a field goal to make it 17-10, and that’s as close as it ever got.  Myles Bryant brought an interception back to the house, Salvon Ahmed got his first in-conference touchdown, Myles Gaskin busted one 57 yards for his second score of the evening, and then it was time for the reserves.  An impressive 37-10 road victory over what I believe will be a very good Colorado team when all is said and done.

Gaskin was the man in this one.  Before the game, it was announced that Lavon Coleman had a concussion and would miss at least this week, so the entire rushing load was put on Gaskin’s shoulders and he rose to the challenge.  27 carries, 202 yards, 2 TDs.  Ahmed, as I noted, got some run with the first unit as well, and finished with 6 carries for 27 yards and a score.  I can see why everyone likes him; he’s got a burst.  It’s only a matter of time before he really makes a big impact.

The other big news of the pre-game was Byron Murphy breaking his foot and being out for six weeks.  He’s our best cornerback, which obviously hurts, but we’re still really deep there (punctuated by the 3 picks in this one, including two by Jordan Miller), so hopefully we can weather the storm.  It’ll be good to have him back for the stretch run, when the games get really tough at the end of the season.

Azeem Victor had a huge game, with 10 tackles, a sack, and a TFL.  The receivers had a relatively quiet game, given how much we pounded it on the ground, and given Browning’s non-descript outing (11/21 for 160 yards, 1 TD & 1 INT).

Things could hardly have gone better for the Huskies this weekend.  I think that will prove to be a big win for us.  Oklahoma State lost, so we reclaimed our #6 ranking in both polls.  We go to Oregon State this Saturday and they look like the worst team in the conference, so that should be another easy victory.  After THAT, five of our final seven games are at home, with a BYE week also tucked in there for good measure.

It’s all setting up as it should, now we just have to go out there and win the games.

The Huskies Completed A Perfect Non-Conference Schedule

The Huskies jumped out to a 48-7 lead over Fresno State early in the third quarter and cruised to an easy victory, 48-16.

We went 3-0 against a pillowy soft non-conference schedule, beating up on the likes of Rutgers, Montana, and Fresno State by a combined score of 141-37.

Jake Browning was once again ridiculously efficient, hitting 19 of 22 for 255 yards and 4 touchdowns.  The running game didn’t get going all that great, but Myles Gaskin looked good and elusive on his 8 carries for 56 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Dante Pettis was the real star of the show, though.  Of the 5 balls he caught, 3 were for touchdowns (on 92 total yards).  On top of that, he had his third straight game with a punt return, taking over the lead for all-time punt returns in the Pac-12, and tying the overall NCAA record.  That guy is gonna KILL IT at the next level.

Defensively, the Huskies look like the real deal.  They look every bit as good as they did last year, and they also look like they could be even BETTER than they are now.  As the season goes along, this unit could morph into something really special.

But, as has been the case for the last three weeks, there’s nothing really to glean from a win over a crap team like Fresno State.  This Saturday, the first real test takes place, on the road, against a good Colorado team.  Not great, likely not as great as they were last season, but with a lot of the same pieces as last year, and they get the luxury of being at home.  They also have the luxury of being the most difficult team we will have faced this season, so it could be a real Punch To The Mouth situation.  The Huskies just need to withstand the initial storm, settle into a groove and they should be fine.

Make no mistake, this is a game the Huskies very much SHOULD win, and the line (-10) reflects that.  But, it’s no guarantee, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Dawgs don’t cover that spread.  Ideally, you come away with a victory any way you can get it, don’t get anyone of import injured, and Colorado ends up being on the list of Quality Wins by season’s end.  They have a very reasonable schedule, with a tough road slate, so if they can steal some wins against the likes of UCLA, Wazzu, or USC at home, we could be talking about a ranked team come bowl time.

Now the REAL fun begins.  I’m gonna be in a lather come Saturday night.

The Huskies Beat The Shit Out Of Montana

The Huskies beat the Grizzlies 63-7.  It was the cotton candy of football games:  light, colorful, melts in your mouth – so easy to consume it doesn’t even require chewing – and after ingesting too much of it you get a tummyache.

I don’t think there’s even a point in getting into the numbers.  The Grizzlies are simply out of our league.  They may be bigger potatoes in the Big Sky Conference, but against one of the very best teams in the Pac-12, they’re dogfood.

Ahem:  DAWGFOOD.

Jake Browning looked good, very efficient, and even got to bring out his own rushing attack to the tune of 50 yards on 5 carries.  The rest of the rushing attack, however, was great as well.  No one person really broke out, but 5 different runners scored a touchdown on the ground, and the team racked up 213 yards on 37 carries.

But, again, this was like a scrimmage against children.  Even the 7 points they scored was on a Pick Six where their defender was mauling Dante Pettis, causing the ball to bounce off of his one free hand and into the waiting arms of a lucky Grizzly to take back to the house.

I’m not gonna dwell on this too much.  The Huskies got to play a lot of their backups and spread the love around.  Next week, Fresno State comes to town, and thus will end our cupcake non-conference schedule.

The Washington Huskies Looked Sloppy As All Get-Out In Their Win Over Rutgers

Gotta love a little Friday night college football season kickoff!

If you follow me on Twitter, then you already know I had a lot of problems with how the Huskies looked yesterday.  I thought our offensive line got their asses WHUPPED, I thought Jake Browning – while brilliant at times – looked a little off, I thought the defense looked just sort of okay in the first half, and I thought no one outside of Dante Pettis, Myles Gaskin, and Drew Sample really stepped up and asserted themselves on offense.

The Huskies, more than anything, looked rusty and unprepared!  In the end, the 30-14 outcome might be the best thing to happen to them this season, as I definitely got the vibe that the Dawgs were maybe drinking a little too much of their own Kool Aid.  Like they could just show up and blow out Rutgers by 50 points or something.  Not so fast.

I thought Rutgers had a good offensive gameplan early.  Pound the ball and follow that up with quick, short passes.  Don’t hold the ball too long to let UW’s D-Line get home, and don’t throw the ball too deep to let UW’s athletic secondary make plays.  The problem for the Scarlet Knights was that while the Huskies made adjustments (and started to tackle better, though our tackling throughout the night was hit-or-miss … literally), they never changed their gameplan, when it was painfully obvious the Huskies were never too concerned about Rutgers stretching the field.  By that point, in the second half, it was a game of attrition and running out the clock.

Not for nothing, but as a huge underdog, Rutgers probably could’ve been a little more aggressive on 4th & short.  But, given the spread was somewhere around 27.5 in favor of Washington, losing by only 16 points was probably a victory for a good chunk of people (gamblers) in the world.

Pettis hauled in 3 passes for 85 yards, and tacked on a punt return for TD late in the first half to give the Huskies their first lead.  Without a second wide-out to take away some of the pressure, it might be tough sledding this season for Pettis, so I REALLY hope someone starts to step up soon.

Drew Sample had 3 catches for 63 yards, as he occasionally found himself wide open with lots of green in front of him.  I thought he looked too quickly to go out of bounds on his first reception, so it was nice to see him barrel through some people later in the game.

Myles Gaskin was the star of the show, though.  He caught 5 balls for 79 yards and a TD, making some brilliant diving/over-the-shoulder catches all over the field, really having the look of a true wide receiver.  He would also rush for 59 yards on only 7 carries (mostly in the second half, when we finally got some running lanes going).  If Gaskin can truly be this type of duel threat player for the Huskies, he’s going to REALLY help out this offense (and REALLY make himself a lot of money in the NFL as a LeVeon Bell-type player).

On defense, the Huskies could only muster the 1 sack (at the end of the game), because Rutgers was so focused on getting the ball out quickly.  That did translate into 2 interceptions for Byron Murphy, redshirt Freshman.  I thought our entire secondary showed up well in this one.  Taylor Rapp was all over the place, cleaning up the front seven’s missed tackles.  That Rutgers TD in the 4th quarter was almost another INT, our guy (don’t remember his name off-hand) just mis-timed his jump, but he had perfect position to make the play.

What’s most important about UW’s defensive play last night was, after a first, disasterous TD drive for Rutgers in the first quarter, they put the clamps down and nearly shut them out the rest of the way.  That’s the UW football I came here to see!

I guess, for my part, I’ll say that it was probably unreasonable to expect the Huskies to fly all the way across the country and put a pounding on a team that would surely look vastly different than they did last year in Husky Stadium.  Lots of transfer students, new coaching staff, new scheme.  Plus, being at home always helps.  I don’t know if Rutgers will be a bowl team like the dopey color guy was talking about, but I do agree that they look a lot better than they did last year.  I think they’ll have more than 2 wins, but I think they’ll fall just short of the necessary 6 wins.

That having been said, I’m going to be rooting like crazy for Rutgers the rest of the way.  If there’s one thing this Husky schedule needs, it’s a quality non-conference victory.  So, if we can squeeze Rutgers into the Baha Men “Who Let The Dogs Out” Bowl come December, I’ll be one happy Dawg fan.

Next Saturday, we get Montana at home.  Let’s do to them what I wanted to do to Rutgers.

Looking Ahead To The Washington Huskies’ 2017 Football Schedule

The 2014 Huskies were largely a Sark-based team in Coach Pete’s first season; we enjoyed a Sark-esque record when all was said and done.  The 2015 Huskies were a real transition team, as more of Coach Pete’s players got on the field and the team as a whole became further acclimated to his way of doing things.  In a lot of ways, 2015 looked like a bit of a step back, but it was entirely necessary to get the program to where it was in 2016, which was a huge step forward.

I can’t say enough good things about the 2016 Huskies, it was the most fun I’ve had following this team since 2000, and was almost certainly the best Husky team I’ve ever seen (keeping in mind that I was never a fan of the university during the Don James glory years).  The 2016 Huskies were truly one of the best four football teams of the year and were rewarded as such with an invite to the College Football Playoff.  Sadly, we were turned away by the buzzsaw that was the Alabama Crimson Tide, which only goes to reinforce the fact that we need to build up this program to become that type of buzzsaw.

So, what do we have to look forward to in 2017?  Will the Huskies become that buzzsaw?  Probably a little early in the process to say yes, but I think more than anything you just want to see them continue to take steps forward.

You can look at what we lost and have sort of a Glass Half Empty outlook.  John Ross was drafted 9th overall.  Sure, we’ve still got Dante Pettis, who looks ready to ascend to the #1 receiver spot on this team, but he’s no John Ross.  That’s no knock against him, necessarily, because NOBODY is John Ross.  That kind of speed is once in a generation.  When you tack on Ross’ route running, versatility, and ability to make a catch in traffic, he was really the total package and may be the best receiver we’ve ever had in the program.  So, you can look at the wide receiver position and say, “Yeah, there’s a decline there compared to last year.”

Then, obviously, you’ve got Kevin King, Budda Baker, and Sidney Jones all snapped up before the end of the second round.  Our two starting cornerbacks and our starting safety, gone.  I know the Huskies recruited the secondary pretty well, with lots of highly-rated guys set to step into starting roles, but we just won’t know how good those players are until we see them in game action.

Go on and on down the list of guys we graduated.  Just a ton of talent walking out the door.  In many ways, 2017 will be yet another transitional season.  But, obviously different from how 2015 was a transitional year.  This isn’t going from one head coach to another; this is essentially an evaluation of Coach Pete’s ability to constantly refurbish the depth of this team on the fly.  Guys are going to graduate, guys are going to leave for the NFL after their Junior years; the mark of a truly great head coach is how he’s able to recruit guys who can jump in there and replace those former starters.  I’m talking about recruiting Freshmen who are good enough to play right away, as well as guys who grow into starting-calibre players within a year or two at the most.  It’s about always having the next wave of superstars champing at the bit.  It’s about allowing the linemen and other undersized guys to grow and mature in the program so eventually they can be impact players.  And so on and so forth.

Coach Sark and his team of recruiters were able to land some real whales for this school, but I don’t know if they were on the same level as Coach Pete and Co.  Sark seemed to be more interested in recruiting the glamour positions; Coach Pete seems to be more interested in building up all positions, eliminating as many weaknesses as possible.

In that respect, yes, the 2017 Huskies might have fewer studs than they did in 2016, but it’s entirely possible that the overall quality of the team is improved, from 1 to 90, or however many players you’re allowed to have in college.

All of this comes with the caveat that injury luck is always the most important factor with any sports team.

The offensive line should be a real strength for the Huskies, more than any other year I can remember.  The Huskies return the most experienced line in the conference, which should help our stud running backs – Coleman and Gaskin, among many of the younger guys looking to make names for themselves – as well as, obviously, our quarterback.

If there’s a questionmark, it’s Jake Browning.  Is he healthy?  Will he BE healthy when the season starts?  I’ll never question his ability to study and work on his craft, but given his relative lack of size, can he STAY healthy for the long haul?  He’s obviously a tough kid, playing on a shoulder that required surgery, but I don’t know if he’ll grow into a Heisman contender if he can’t stay on the field and at close to 100%.

If Browning isn’t healthy, how good are the guys behind him?  The Huskies have recruited some pretty highly-rated quarterbacks recently, but are they too raw to step in this early into their careers?  Will our season be totally derailed if Browning is limited?

Wide receiver is the position I’m most excited about.  Obviously, I love Pettis and Chico McClatcher.  But, I’ve also been hearing rumblings about some of these receivers who haven’t had a lot of playing time thus far.  Recent recruits ready to make their marks.  Should be interesting; hope they’ll get a lot of time to work with Browning on their timing and whatnot.

Along the D-Line, in spite of the loss of Elijah Qualls, there is still a significant amount of returning talent.  Indeed, this unit should prove to be the strongest of the entire defense, and will likely have to get home with even more regularity than they did in 2016 (which they did at a pretty high clip) to help compensate for potential challenges in the back end.

Taylor Rapp, at safety, figures to be a force, and maybe the defensive MVP in 2017.  We’ll need him to make that next step to superstar status if we want to maintain our defensive dominance in the Pac-12.  He looked every bit as good as anyone I’ve seen towards the end of last season, so I’m pretty confident he’ll get the job done.

Bottom line is, the 2017 Huskies will be very good.  Where they end up will largely depend on the schedule they play.

Last year, the Huskies were continuously killed for their weak schedule.  It was the primary reason why people felt they had legitimate arguments against them making the College Football Playoff.  I never bought into that, and if you’re like me – and wanted to throw your remote through the television every time some national pundit knocked the Huskies for this – GET READY FOR MORE OF THE SAME.  Because, holy Jesus, does the 2017 schedule look like the creamiest cream puff wrapped in a cloud of cotton candy.

For the second year in a row, we kick off our season against Rutgers.  It was a Home & Home series that was scheduled way back when Rutgers had a good football team, and you can’t very well just chop them off the schedule without facing a huge penalty.  So, here we are.  This time, on the road, which I suppose makes the game marginally more difficult, but my guess is Rutgers is once again going to be one of the worst teams in the Big 10.

The Huskies round out their non-conference schedule with home games against Montana (an FBS school) and Fresno State (who had all of 1 win in 2016).  The Huskies could sit Browning for all three of those games and still easily walk away 3-0.

Every year, every Pac-12 school plays 9 conference games.  I don’t know if this still sets us apart or not (I believe the SEC only plays 8 conference games, but they might be moving up to 9 or at least talking about it), but I think it’s a great argument when it comes to comparing our schools to those conferences who play 8 or less.  I mean, let’s face it, every conference has their duds.  And you can talk about Washington’s weak non-conference schedule all you want, but every power school schedules their share of powderpuffs.  Regardless of how good or bad your in-conference opponent is, it’s still an in-conference opponent, and those games are more difficult and ultimately mean more.

Anyway, this year, the Huskies catch 5 home conference games and 4 road conference games (it alternates every year).  Their conference schedule kicks off with 2 road games, though – at Colorado and at Oregon State – which means we get 5 of our final 7 games at home.  Colorado should be a lot worse than they were last year, as the 2016 Buffaloes were very senior-heavy, and I highly doubt they recruit nearly as well as we do, so I can’t imagine the guys they’ve got coming up through the ranks are going to be as good as the guys they had last year.  Oregon State is still in rebuilding mode (as they are seemingly every year), so I can’t imagine it’ll take much of an effort to get to 5-0 with this schedule.

Then, there’s a home game against Cal, who is working in a new head coach and ostensibly a new offensive system, so I can’t imagine that’s going to be a very close game.  We follow that up with a road game against ASU, who I’m pretty sure we haven’t beaten on their home turf in over a decade.  They were pretty sorry last year, and figure to be better this year; this could be a sneaky-tough game for the Huskies (who will have played 3 of 4 on the road when they’re finished with this one).  I could see the Huskies winning this one in ugly fashion to get to 7-0.

That leads us to the real heart of the 2017 schedule.  This year, we avoid USC and Arizona.  By all accounts, USC is poised to be the top ranked Pac-12 team, at least going into the season.  They might have the next #1 overall draft pick at the quarterback position in Sam Darnold, which is moderately terrifying.  Obviously, that means even our conference schedule sees a huge downgrade in the eyes of the national pundits, by virtue of not playing the so-called best team in the Pac-12.  And, say what you want about Arizona, but they’ve notoriously been a tricky team for us to play most years, and they return one of the more experienced offensive lines to boot.  I wouldn’t be shocked to see them as a “surprise” team in the conference.

Getting back to the heart of the schedule, we follow up all those road games (and a BYE week tacked onto the end of it) with back-to-back home contests against UCLA and Oregon.  UCLA is up there with Utah among the second tier teams in the Pac-12 South.  They strike me as very much of an unknown, as they seem to recruit well every year, but ultimately produce poor results on the field.  I’m sure they’ll give the Huskies everything they can, and I’d be seriously disappointed if we lost this one.  Ditto Oregon, although they’re in something of a rebuild mode as well (albeit, starting with a much stronger base than OSU).  I just think Washington has more talent than Oregon, period.  As such, I see no reason why we won’t be 9-0 heading into what will likely be the most important game of the regular season.

At Stanford, Friday, November 10th, at 7:30pm on Fox Sports 1.  The Cardinal fell from their perch as one of the top teams in the conference last year, and they obviously lost a lot of talent to graduation/the NFL Draft, so they’ll be breaking in a lot of key positions heading into 2017.  They have a real bugger of a schedule through their own first 9 games of the season, with road games against USC, Utah, and Washington State, as well as home games against UCLA and Oregon.  So, when I call this game on November 10th the “most important”, I really mean it’s the most important to the Washington Huskies, as it’s the one true landmine in an otherwise reasonable slate of football games.

I fully anticipate Stanford to have anywhere from 1-3 losses by the time they host the Huskies, but this is also a well-coached football team, who recruits like gangbusters.  What does that mean?  Well, even if they’re not competing for a Rose Bowl berth (which, for the record, I’m not necessarily taking off the table, as it’s entirely possible they are up there fighting for the Pac-12 North yet again), this is still a team that notoriously gets better as the season goes along.  When you play Stanford, I think you’d much rather face them early in the season.  Facing them in mid-November is sort of my worst nightmare, particularly with a schedule like this, where there doesn’t appear to be many tough games leading into this one.  On paper, I think the Huskies are better than the Cardinal, but with this game being on the road, against a quality team, anything can happen.  Let’s face it, I never would’ve thought the Huskies could’ve lost at home to USC last year, and look at what happened.

There’s a very reasonable chance that the game against Stanford is our last chance to make a big positive impression on the College Football Playoff Committee.  Hell, it might be our ONLY chance, but that’s neither here nor there.  After that, we wrap up the season with home games against Utah and Washington State.  I think everyone is really sleeping on these two teams.  Utah is always tough and really makes you earn every win against them.  They could easily upset a team like USC and find themselves in the thick of things by the time they come to Seattle.  And, as for the Cougs, they’ve definitely been written off after last year, losing two bullshit games early in the season, followed by their final three games (including the Holiday Bowl).  While I agree that the Huskies very much SHOULD beat the Cougars, it’s still the Apple Cup, and weird things can always crop up.  The Cougs obviously have Falk back, and if he can stay healthy, he’ll always give them a chance to win.  And, their defense has always been underrated while over-producing under Mike Leach.  So, you know, while these last two games aren’t necessarily as flashy as the road game against Stanford, we could still be talking about a couple of ranked teams when all is said and done.

The bottom line is, this is a 12-game schedule in which the Huskies could very easily run the table.  There will obviously be challenges along the way, but I’ll just say that it wouldn’t necessarily be a shock to the system like it was last year.  Odds are, the Huskies will likely lose 1 game.  I’d say the odds are equal that they’d lose 2 games as they are to the Huskies winning them all, if that makes any sense.  1 loss SHOULD mean that the Huskies play in the Pac-12 Championship Game.  And, assuming the Huskies face the Trojans in that game, we’re looking at a game that would not only get us into the Rose Bowl, but would get us back to the College Football Playoff.

I’ll say this, just to get it out of the way:  any combination of scenarios where the Huskies finish with 1 loss, and that 1 loss is in the Pac-12 Championship Game, the Huskies absolutely will not make the College Football Playoff – even if the Pac-12 South champion has more losses, and ultimately gets passed over as well.  I’m a firm believer that the only way the Huskies are able to compensate for that schedule is if they beat an awesome team in the conference title game, a la last year.  And even then, who knows?

A lot of this depends on what happens in the other conferences.  What happens if there are two 1-loss teams in the SEC?  Or an undefeated team and a 1-loss Alabama team?  On top of whatever the Big 10 throws in there, Clemson, and the Oklahoma schools.

One thing the Huskies really have going for them is that they should start the season highly ranked.  Top 10 or Top 15 at the worst.  Now, imagine that team running the table through the regular season, then beating USC in the conference championship game!  We might get to pick where we play in the College Football Playoff!

All of that is a long way off, of course.  But, it’s still fun to think about as this baseball season drags on.  I very much need football back in my life.

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!