Husky Football Starts Tonight At Boise State

The Broncos are ranked in the top 25 in both polls; the Huskies are not.  That’s pretty much what you need to know about the game tonight.

Not a lot of people very high on the Washington Husky football team this year.  I think too much is made of all the defensive studs who left after last year.  Yeah, Shaq and Kikaha and Peters and Shelton were all great, but that defense as a whole last year was pretty underwhelming.  If the 2015 Huskies are bad, it won’t necessarily be exclusively the fault of the defense.

As usual, it comes down to quarterback play.  This year, we’ll be without Cyler Miles.  Say what you will about him, but if he were healthy and in a football frame of mind, he’d be the clear best option.  Now, does that mean he’d be any good?  Or that he has very much upside?  I don’t think so.  If you feel like this Husky team is in more of a rebuilding mode for 2015 regardless of whether or not Miles was going to be here, then it’s probably for the best that he’s not.  Let’s see who else we have on the roster; let’s see if – by season’s end – we haven’t found a star in our midst.

The 3-way battle – between Junior, Jeff Lindquist; Redshirt Freshman, K.J. Carta-Samuels; and True Freshman, Jake Browning – has all boiled down to tonight.  The coaches haven’t named a starter, but it would appear Browning is going to get the first crack at it.  I still don’t fully believe the team is going to stick to just one quarterback, as I think at least two will get regular play.  Browning is probably the better passer and quarterback overall, but he’s straight out of high school.  Ultimately, the move to burn his redshirt will probably be a huge mistake.  I tend to agree with the concept that true freshmen should never play bigtime college football; ALL of them should be given a year to adapt to college life, and get bigger and stronger.  The concern is really twofold though, when you’re talking about a highly touted talent like Browning.  The most likely scenario is:  he struggles, he loses his confidence, he gets injured, or some combination of the three.  The flipside of that is:  maybe he succeeds and ends up as this team’s starting quarterback for 3-4 years, but maybe he’s not quite as great as he could be, and when we get to the end of his college career – right as he’d be about to explode as one of the best players in the conference – he’s forced into turning pro before we get a chance at having him play his very best ball.

Obviously, that second scenario is a good problem to have, because it likely means we’ve had a successful 3-4 years.  But, I think we can all agree – however this turns out – 5th Year Senior Jake Browning would be a much better player than 4th Year Senior Jake Browning.

If you want my prediction, I think Browning does start tonight, and I think he does struggle during his true freshman campaign.  I also think he gets hit with the injury bug, because there’s no way I’m ever going to trust a Husky offensive line until they finally prove it to me.  The O-Line has been an issue for at least a decade now, and while help should be on the horizon with some of the better recruits we’ve gotten under Coach Pete, I don’t anticipate the O-Line being much of a strength in 2015.  Even if Browning doesn’t get injured, I still believe Lindquist will have his share of reps.  Maybe he comes in for a drive or two per game.  Maybe he has a sub package where we can utilize his running ability and/or cannon arm.

Either way, though, I don’t expect 2015 to be a banner year for the quarterback position.  Which is why I tend to believe this Husky team is going to struggle.  A lot.

At the moment, the Huskies have six ranked teams on their schedule – Boise St., USC, Oregon, Stanford, Arizona, and Arizona St.  That doesn’t include a very tough Utah team, an improving California team, a road game against Oregon State, and an Apple Cup against what I feel will be an explosive Washington State team.  As it stands right now, the Huskies are favored to win 4 games, and two of those games are against non-conference duds.  Most of the betting public has the Huskies winning anywhere from 4-5 games; I think five wins might be pretty generous.  I can envision a scenario where the Huskies get beat by the entire Pac-12 and finish last in the conference (unfortunately, no Colorado on the schedule this year).

Did I mention John Ross is out for the year, and we haven’t even played a game?

I don’t see much of any hope for this team making a bowl game, but if they do, it starts tonight.  The Huskies will have to run the table in the non-conference schedule, and follow that up with a home win against the Bears.  That puts us at 4-0, which is where we’ll need to be, because I guarantee we’re going to lose at least the next three games (@ USC, home vs. Oregon, @ Stanford).  We follow that stretch with two home games against Arizona and Utah; we have to win 1 of those 2.  That should give us 2 quality wins, which sets us up for getting pounded down at Arizona State, followed by winning the last two, at Oregon State and vs. Washington State.  That gets us to 7 wins, and 7 wins probably gets us a bowl.  If these Huskies are like the Husky teams of the last five years, that’s exactly what they’ll do and it’ll be like Sark never left (except, I guess there’s now more booze for the rest of us to share).

But, I hardly see that happening.  For this team to be reasonably good, we’re going to need steady play from our receivers.  Mickens is going to have to be a true #1 receiver, and Pettis will need to take a step up after a promising Freshman season.

We’re going to need to lean HEAVILY on our running game.  One of Coleman, Cooper, or Washington will have to step up and be a huge force for this team.

The defense will need to not be a wet paper bag.  Gonna have to find a way to bend & not break.  The secondary has a lot of talent, but who knows if the front seven is going to get enough push to let them do their thing?

And the quarterback is going to need to be more than just a game manager who avoids turnovers.  Make no mistake, he will NEED to avoid turnovers, but he also better be someone who’s got that clutchness gene.  This isn’t going to be a Husky team that rampages through the conference.  If this team is going to win games, it’s going to win CLOSE games.

Gun to my head:  I’m going with the majority and saying the Huskies win 4 games.  I think we’re for sure going to lose tonight, and I have a bad feeling it’s going to be by a lot of points.  I think half our wins come from the non-conference duds, our third win probably comes from either Cal or Utah, and our last win happens at Oregon State (here’s to hoping they’re a total trainwreck and keep us from being last).  For what it’s worth, I think the Cougars beat us in the Apple Cup and I think Luke Falk ends up being the next Ryan Leaf (in other words, a good thing for the Cougs, and a very bad thing for whoever drafts him #2 overall in the NFL).

In Coach Pete We Trust?  Maybe in 2016.

YOUR Washington Huskies Shit The Bed In The Cactus Bowl

I don’t know what to say.  I was as confident as you can be going into this game – going so far as making Washington my top choice in this year’s college bowls pool – and I was rewarded with the hottest mess imaginable.

One of my themes on the year has been:  we’re wasting all this great defensive talent with this mediocre offense.  That’s no less true now, and guys like Shelton, Kikaha, and Thompson will all be greatly missed.  But, for what it’s worth, what did those guys or anyone else do on defense last night?  I mean, what’s the deal?  We’re talking about no less than three All Americans on the same side of the ball; yet a team like Oklahoma State is able to shred us at will?  It’s not like those three guys are surrounded by total scrubs; this defense should be better than it is!

A lot of people are calling for the head of the offensive coordinator, but you know what?  This coaching staff failed across the board this year.  Part of the blame should rightly be placed on a difficult transition from one coaching staff to another; I’m willing to concede that.  But, I’ll tell you what:  I’m not giving this coaching staff FOREVER.  In fact, I’m less inclined to give this staff a long leash compared to Sark and his crew when they took over in 2009.  Because the expectations are higher right now, and quite frankly, the cupboards aren’t NEARLY as bare as they were six years ago.

Should Coach Pete and Co. get some time to have their guys mature and see what they can do?  Of course.  But, in the meantime, we shouldn’t be THIS FUCKING BAD with the players brought in by the former regime, because these are still some good players.

One of those players is absolutely not Cyler Miles.  He’s awful.  He needs to go.  This coaching staff can regain a lot of credibility in my mind by benching him and going with literally anyone else.  If Coach Pete wants to start a redshirt freshman next year and go through a zillion growing pains with a future possible star?  BE MY GUEST!  But, if I have to endure another year of Noodle-Arm Miles, just because he’s the most experienced, I’m going to flip the fuck out.

I mean, WHAT HAPPENED?  Washington is supposed to be a school that’s capable of attracting quality quarterbacks!  Even in our leanest times post-Tui and pre-Locker, we had quarterbacks who could do SOMETHING well.  They either had strong arms, or they were able to run fast.  Ol’ Noodle-Arm can’t do EITHER!

The Washington Huskies easily had the worst starting quarterback in the entire state of Washington, and that’s including Wazzu’s backup-turned-starter AND Eastern’s capable signal caller.  Hell, I’m thinking even the Bellevue high school kid’s got some tools Ol’ Noodle-Arm will never DREAM of having.

There really couldn’t be a grosser taste in my mouth after this season.  The only thing I have to possibly look forward to next year is the fact that we never have to see this starting offensive line group ever again.  But, really, no.  I’m NOT looking forward to next season.  At all.  Maybe if they bench Ol’ Noodle-Arm, but I doubt they’re even capable of doing that.  Zero expectations of anything good.  So, who knows?  Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised, but I dunno.

I can’t even sit here and expect to make a bowl game next year.  6-6 seems to be our highest upside, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Huskies at the bottom of the conference.

I’ll leave you with this:  the combined record of the seven FBS teams the Huskies beat in 2014:  26-60.  And this:  the combined conference record of the four Pac-12 teams the Huskies beat in 2014:  7-29.

2014:  total disaster for the Washington Huskies.

Neutered Huskies Can’t Get Much Going Against ASU

Oh, did the Huskies play a football game on Saturday?  You’ll have to forgive me if eight straight hours of tailgating left me a little browned out for the majority of the first half.

The defense is doing the lord’s work!  What else can you say?  They scored our only touchdown and gave us every opportunity to take control of this game.  This has to be, without question, the best defensive line since the turn of the century, and it has to rival some of the best D-Lines in Husky football history.  Absolutely unreal.  Hau’oli Kikaha would look MIGHTY good as the Seahawks’ LEO defensive end next year, that’s all I’m gonna say.

This game boils down to pretty much what our team has been about all season:  we don’t have a quarterback.  Troy Williams got his shot on Saturday, because honestly, why the hell not?  Can he be any worse than Cyler Miles has looked at times, and than how Jeff Lindquist looked in the game against Hawaii?  The answer, of course, is yes.  He can be worse.  And on Saturday, he was.  139 yards on 26 attempts for a pathetic 5.3-yard average, to go along with two picks (one of them returned for the game-clinching touchdown).

I want to say that the Huskies would be SO GOOD if we just had a quarterback capable of running the offense, but I’m not sure that’s the case.  At least in the last 5-6 years, we’ve had a dominant running game to take the pressure off.  But, without our top two running backs (Coleman and Washington out with injuries), we were left with Cooper and Shaq Thompson carrying the mail.

Indeed, Shaq led the way with 21 carries and 98 yards, which is pretty impressive considering he hasn’t had a ton of play on the offensive side of the ball this year.  To the Huskies’ credit, they didn’t bring Shaq out to make him a decoy.  When he was in the game, he usually got the ball, and did his best to make the most of it.  The only problem was, the Huskies tended to be a little predictable whenever Shaq was on the field.  It felt like everyone in the stadium knew exactly what was going to happen when they saw #7 back there.

I’ll pick up the action in the fourth quarter, when I finally started sobering up enough to remember what the fuck was going on.  The Huskies had one good drive all day and it happened when we were down 10-7.  We managed to chew up almost six minutes of clock on 15 plays, driving deep into ASU territory.  The bulk of the drive consisted of being in something of a hurry-up mode, with lots of short runs and lots of third down conversions.  We got it to 3rd & Goal at the 2 yard line and ran some dumb bullshit sweep play that ended up losing us yards.  We’d been shoving it down their throats up the gut the whole drive!  Just pound it two more times and get that touchdown!

Once we had to settle for the field goal, the game was pretty much decided.  ASU immediately marched right down the field and scored a TD to take the lead for good.  As soon as we were down seven, it was all over.  With only three minutes to go in the game, there wasn’t enough time for another pound-it-out rushing drive.  We had to rely on the arm of Troy Williams, and that just wasn’t happening.  Not in those nasty weather conditions.  Not with a quarterback making his first college start.  Not against a very good ASU defense.

The Huskies put up a good fight, but in the end this game boiled down to quarterback play.  It’s going to continue coming down to quarterback play until someone finally steps up.  Here’s to hoping whoever is red-shirting this year ends up being the savior this program needs.

Quick & Dirty: Going To The UW/Cal Game

So, from the start of last week through the second week of December, I won’t be able to use any more vacation days.  In achieving this, I will unlock the elusive 11-day Christmas vacation (where Christmas and New Years fall on Thursdays – I get these as paid days off – and I only need 5 vacation days to pad it out for the full 11), where I plan to do nothing but watch college football and be a huge waste of space.  It’s going to be glorious.

That makes travel between now and then … limited.  And yet, for the last four years (including 2014), I’ve gone down to San Francisco to attend a Husky football game against whichever Bay Area opponent happens to be hosting that particular year.  The two Stanford games have been demoralizing in very different ways.  But, the two Cal games have been revelations of fun and excitement!

Since I was unable to use any vacation days for this trip, I had to schedule my flights around work.  As such, I didn’t fly out of SeaTac until around 6pm on Friday.  I purchased this reservation with credit card points, so it was sort of free (but, as an added bonus, I opted to pay for a first class upgrade).  Essentially, it boiled down to $125 for a comfortable seat, the opportunity to board and leave the plane first, and all the red wine I could drink in around 2 hours.  It may have been a needless extravagance, but you don’t know how much wine I can take down in a short period of time.  Besides, I had to kickstart the party into high gear, considering a couple of my friends had flown down earlier in the day.

I was picked up and whisked away to dinner at a Sushi place.  Sushi and sake and beer; not a bad way to close up a Friday evening.

And a GREAT way to pack on a hangover for Saturday morning!  Every year, without fail, I’m stuck in the backseat of a car, keeping my head down and my eyes closed for the longest ride of my life, WILLING myself to refrain from puking.  Last year, we had to stop the drive to Palo Alto before we even left the city so I could throw up on the side of the road.  This year’s drive to Berkeley went much more smoothly.  I managed to keep down my breakfast and whatever pill I was handed to keep the nausea at bay.  From there, I was a mimosa and a Coors Light away from recovery.

So, we got a couple laughs from Cal fans when they noticed our flag was backwards.  "Tailgating, how quaint!  Come, Bob, take a picture of the yokels!"

So, we got a couple laughs from Cal fans when they noticed our flag was backwards. “Tailgating, how quaint! Come, Bob, take a picture of the yokels!”

Apparently, they don’t tailgate at Cal.  Nerds, amirite?  Luckily, my Frisco friends were able to find this public parking lot where we could pay a fee, park our cars, and set up a beer pong table and a mini-grill for some games and food and such.  Thankfully, the Dawg fans dominated the parking lot tailgate scene.  Doubly thankfully, we got pretty much the only shady spot so we didn’t all die under the oppressive heat.

My beer ponging skills were severely lacking on this day; certainly well below my own expectations of myself.  Gonna have to go back to the film room and watch the tape on what went wrong, followed by some early mornings on the practice table (#NoTimeForSleep).

We were, like, a mile from the stadium.  I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a game at California Memorial Stadium, but it’s a long walk up a low-grade hill.  We arrived on the scene at around 10am and started heading over to the field at about 2:30pm, so there was That Many drinking hours in between.  Did I mention the oppressive heat?  There was oppressive heat.

We had seats in the Husky section, which was nice.  They shoe-horned a Cal alumni band in between us and the Husky band, which was less nice.  Those old fucks were good sports, though.  We even got to sing along to Separate Ways and Basket Case as our football team was crushing their shit in.

Being as plastered as I was, there aren’t a whole lot of specifics I remember about the game.  As I’d written before, I didn’t have the best feeling about this one going in.  I thought we were in for a shoot-out, which was (what I thought was) the best-case scenario.  Turns out there was an even BETTER case scenario than the best, and that was total domination.

The not-quite Victory Formation; final play of the game ...

The not-quite Victory Formation; final play of the game …

I remember the first touchdown we scored, which was a 100-yard fumble return for a touchdown from Shaq Thompson (which is, like, his 12th return touchdown of the year?  40th?  1,033rd?), because we were at the exact opposite end of the field, and all we could say to one another was, “No fucking way!  Is that Shaq?!?  No fucking WAY!  OH MY GOD IT IS!!!”  Followed by a bunch of waiting around as they reviewed the fumble, followed by more rapturous cheering when it was confirmed.

For the record, the John Ross 86-yard touchdown was another one of those exact same moments.  Because he caught the ball around the line of scrimmage, it looked like he was going to be tackled for a minor/modest gain, and then he just kept making people miss, weaving in and out of traffic, all the way to the endzone, with less than two minutes left to go before half.  In fact, I think that one was ALSO reviewed!

A lot of delayed gratification in this game.  We had our usual bouts of Pac-12 referee ineptitude, which is always never fun.  Once we got past halftime and our defense continued to be very stout against what had been – up until this game – a totally dynamic offense, it was nothing but a party for the Husky fans in attendance.  The party was made all the more relieving as the sun started to set and we got some shade in our section.

Other than the few details I drunkenly (and hungoverly) recall, I got a good sense that Cyler Miles took a big step forward in this game.  He looked more confident, more decisive, and more willing to throw the ball DOWN field and not just towards the sidelines.  Granted, Cal wasn’t known to have the best defense in the nation, but after the first few starts out of Miles, I will take this in a heartbeat.

The Husky defense was superb.  We forced three turnovers – all fumble recoveries – and held Cal to 368 yards of offense.  That’s a team that averages over 500 yards per game, and a team that racked up 589 yards and 60 points against the Cougars in Pullman the week before.  Jared Goff – their quarterback who has taken a real step forward in this Bear-Raid offense this year – managed less than six yards per attempt through the air.  Our defensive line harassed him all day, with Hau’oli Kikaha taking over the national lead in sacks with (I think) something like 10.5 in six games.

It’s funny how one game can really alter your outlook.  People need to realize this defense is legit and has no less than four guys who should be drafted in the first couple of rounds.  Appreciate it now, while you still can!  And hope that our current coaching staff can refill the coffers once they all mass-exodus on us at season’s end.  Kikaha, with Danny Shelton, Marcus Peters, and of course the immortal Shaq Thompson, are all going to be excellent pros in the very near future.  We’ll get to say we knew them way back when.

Also, not for nothing, but I couldn’t help but praise Tosh Lupoi to anyone wearing Cal colors as we walked out of the stadium, triumphant.  That is, when I wasn’t berating them for all being such huge nerds (I’m actually really fun to be around when I’m drunk, I promise).

After a long day of drinking (including two hangovers – one before and one after the tailgate), it was time to drive back to the city for some fireworks off in the distance and some Chinese food.  I tried spicy pork intestine; BETTER than you’d think.  Then, we watched a bunch of New Girl on Hulu before passing out.

I had just enough time for breakfast and an hour’s worth of morning NFL games before I had to take an UberX to the airport.  My flight took off sometime after 1pm and I didn’t get back to my apartment until the Seahawks game ended.  It wasn’t quite the perfect weekend, but it’ll do.  Until next October, and next year’s Stanford game.  One of these times, I’m going to witness the Huskies beating them.  And BOY will the Cardinal fans not hear the end of it.