The Huskies Defeated 11th-Ranked Michigan State!

To be fair, the Spartans are no longer ranked – while the Huskies made the leap to #18 in the A.P. Poll – but who cares? We beat a team many considered to be good-to-great, and when was the last time you could say that?

The line started out more or less with the Huskies favored by 2.5. It moved by gametime to the Huskies being favored by 3.5. As I discussed last week, that’s fishy as hell. That led me to believe something was up. That Vegas had cracked the code and figured out we were better than the world realized (predictably, the bulk of the money was placed on Michigan State, which means – yet again – Vegas crushed the public).

It was pretty quickly made clear that they were right, as the Huskies marched right down the field on the Spartans, scoring a touchdown on the opening drive. We took the next drive all the way down to the 1 yard line before being stuffed on downs, but that just led to our defense getting a safety, followed by another touchdown drive (this time successfully getting it in from the 1). After another punt by the Spartans, the Huskies scored again to make it 22-0 (missing the extra point). It looked like the rout was on from there, though Michigan State finally orchestrated a TD drive to make it 22-8. If you were worried, fret not, because with less than 2 minutes to go, we put up another TD before halftime to head into the break up 29-8, an insurmountable lead.

We traded touchdowns immediately after halftime to make it 36-14, but then things started to get sloppy for the Huskies. They chipped into our lead and got it to 39-28 – with the ball – late in the game. Another cheap touchdown and they might’ve executed the back-door cover! But, thankfully, the Huskies ended things on downs and were able to run out the final three minutes.

Michael Penix once again looked like a stud, completing 24/40 for 397 yards and 4 TDs to 0 INTs. The running game took a backseat once again, but Cameron Davis did carry it 17 times for 69 yards and a TD.

Ja’Lynn Polk had the biggest receiving day (6 for 153 and 3 TDs), but Jalen McMillan had another very nice game (7 for 94).

Defensively, when the game mattered most, we were able to get stops when we needed to. I’m going to chock up the second half surge by the Spartans to us taking the foot off the gas while holding a considerable lead. They really only had one easy scoring drive, every other one required lots of plays and time off the clock. I can’t ask for much more than that.

That’s a statement victory for a team that hasn’t had one since the Chris Petersen era. I would argue we haven’t had a win that huge since 2016. Now, we’re on the map, and I think it’s only fair for expectations to take a jump.

More importantly, we’re a fun team to watch. God bless ’em, I just don’t know what to do with myself! Penix is the best quarterback we’ve had since … I dunno? Marques Tuiasosopo? I’m not joking. I know we won a lot of games with Jake Browning, but has he ever performed at this kind of clip? Through three games, he has 1,079 yards and 10 TDs to 1 INT. I know it’s early, and we haven’t had a clunker yet, but I’m just so impressed with how well he’s been playing. It’s some kind of magic that he’s so good in this very particular offensive system, under this particular head coach.

We’ll see what this means going forward, but we have back-to-back late night games (at home vs. Stanford and on the road – on a Friday night – against UCLA). Either one could be a loss (I’m obviously more worried about the Bruins, but this Stanford game could be a trap as everyone looks ahead), but then things start to open up. ASU just fired their coach, Arizona just barely beat North Dakota State, Cal and Oregon State are middling, Oregon doesn’t look as good as their ranking might suggest, Colorado might be one of the worst teams in college football, and the Cougs are the Cougs.

I dunno. I think it’s safe to get a little excited for this year. I think we have more than a fighting chance in all of these games. We needed the offense to make a huge leap forward, and so far they’ve done just that. Now, I think we can compete, especially with the likes of some of these other high-scoring teams in our conference.

What a pleasant surprise!

The Huskies Giveth & The Huskies Taketh Away

You don’t get to see games like the one against the Utes last Saturday very often. It takes a special confluence of circumstances that necessitates having an elite defense … that just so happens to shit the bed for an entire half of football. Now, just saying that – without knowing any of the details of the game – you might think the Huskies got off to a great start, and then blew it. But, that’s what makes this such a rare occurrence! This was the exact opposite!

Defenses don’t normally get stronger as the game goes along. Having to react to the play-calling and tempo of an offense alone is exhausting, let alone all of the actual effort it takes to try to prevent them from scoring (when, not for nothing, almost all the rules are tilted in the offense’s favor). That’s why you often see teams scoring at a higher rate in the final two minutes of a close game; that’s when defenses are most gassed.

It takes a special sort of fortitude to bow up like that after looking so bad for an entire half of football. Utah took a 21-0 lead at the break, and they REALLY dictated everything to the Huskies. I thought the most uncharacteristic thing about this game was how many tackles the Dawgs missed in the first half.

The Utah running game was especially stout, finishing the day with 215 yards on 41 carries and 2 touchdowns. The Huskies didn’t have an answer for it in the first half, forcing a fumble (off a sack) on the very first drive of the game and a punt early in the second quarter. But, otherwise, the Utes marched at will, and it was a little embarrassing!

On top of which, the Husky offense seemed to sleepwalk throughout. Dylan Morris was far from great in this one, throwing 3 picks (albeit, one of them was a hail mary at the end of the first half). The first one was particularly Carson Wentz-esque! Just RIGHT to the defender, like he was the one running the route. And, to make matters worse, the running game never got going (only 88 yards on 26 carries, with a TD).

I fully expected – with all the stars they lost to graduation and the NFL last year – that the Utes would be pushovers. But, that’s a solid program, and they are VERY physical along both their offensive and defensive lines. If there was ever a blueprint on how to beat the Huskies, the Utes unlocked it: run the ball physically on offense and stack the box against us and force our inexperienced quarterback to try and beat you with his arm.

What I never would’ve expected – in just his third college start – was Morris doing just that. While the interceptions were unfortunate (and hopefully an anomaly), he did finish 23/38 for 272 yards and 2 TDs. Tight end Cade Otton was the best player on either offense, catching 8 balls for 108 yards and both of the airborne touchdowns (including the game winner with 36 seconds remaining). Puka Nacua also had some big catches in this one to keep drives alive (finishing with 6 for 67).

I’m sure Jake Browning had a few come-from-behind victories in his 4-year career as a Husky, but he’s certainly not known as someone who regularly pulled our asses out of the fire. Indeed, I would argue we haven’t had a quarterback like that since Marques Tuiasosopo. I’m not saying Morris is the second coming in that regard, but it’s a good sign that this early on in his college career, the moment wasn’t too big for him.

For as bad as the first half was, the second half was a trip! The Huskies got the ball and drove right down the field to cut the lead to two scores. Then, Elijah Molden picked off Jake Bentley, which led to the Huskies getting a short field. Unfortunately, we couldn’t convert – having to settle for a field goal – but by then you could sort of feel something special starting to build. The Utes were stuffed on fourth down on the Husky-side of midfield, and three plays later it was 21-17 (and we were still in the third quarter at that point!).

Things got straight up weird after that. The Utes finally figured out how to move the ball, driving it deep into Husky territory. Then, Kyler Gordon forced a fumble that was recovered by Zion Tupuola-Fetui, and we all thought this was it! Not only would the Huskies complete the comeback, but perhaps the rout would be on from here!

Not so fast, though. The teams traded punts, then what appeared to be a back-breaking third interception by Morris gave the ball to the Utes at the 50 with just under 7 minutes remaining. This could’ve ended things, but the defense stepped up once again to force a 3 & Out and a punt down to the Washington 12 yard line. With four and a half minutes to go, that’s when Morris stepped up for the biggest drive of his life. 88 yards on 12 plays, with a couple of huge third down conversions (including a 3rd & 10 play that went for 14 yards to Nacua), methodically marching down the field, culminating in a 16-yard TD to Otton. Three plays later, Trent McDuffie picked off Bentley for a second time to end it.

What else can you say about ZTF, by the way? He had all three Husky sacks in this one, to win his THIRD consecutive Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week Award (yes, that’s 3 for 3 on the season). He just looks like a total fucking beast along the defensive line; absolutely unstoppable! Also, that Death Row secondary held the Utes to 144 yards passing (not that they needed to do a whole lot, with the way they were able to run the ball, but still); you could tell that as soon as they NEEDED to throw the ball, they wouldn’t be able to.

That’s going to be the key going forward: keeping opposing running games in check to the point where they have to throw, and then absolutely crushing their spirits.

At 3-0, the Huskies are FINALLY ranked, hitting 22 in the College Football Playoff rankings. The Ducks lost to the Beavers, which has them 23rd now (*giggle*), but we’re somehow behind USC, who is holding steady at 20. I still contend the Huskies are the most complete – and therefore BEST – team in the Pac-12. What this game showed me is that the Utes are a lot better than I originally thought. Clearly, the Huskies have the conference’s best defense, and we might’ve just finished playing the second-best unit.

This Saturday, we’re set to host Stanford at 1pm (our fourth consecutive home game). The Cardinal apparently give up the most rushing yards in the world, so I would expect it’ll be easier to get our running backs going in this one. They sit 1-2 on the year (after having their game against WSU canceled), having just barely beaten Cal (in what will probably be the final college football game in the Bay Area in 2020 thanks to their new insane COVID restrictions). Stanford lost to Oregon and Colorado, who are two of the better-looking teams in the Pac-12, so they’ve really gotten the unlucky end of the scheduling stick this season. We’ll see if they’re really as bad as the numbers indicate, or if it’s a matter of playing really tough teams.

Either way, I expect the Huskies to win, and in much easier fashion than against Utah. Maybe that was a wake-up call. We weren’t able to do what we wanted to do, and really took a shot to the face in the first half. But, we rallied and showed what we’re made of, and I think that speaks well to the character of our players and the preparedness of our coaching staff.

Now, if we can just NOT ice our own kicker and take a horrific Delay of Game penalty before he pushes a 40-yard kick wide right, maybe we won’t have to lose our fucking minds!

A New Era Of Husky Football

This spot is where I would normally have my Seahawks diatribe, but the Huskies had their bowl game, it was Chris Petersen’s final game, and we’ve got even MORE great news that came out yesterday. Why dwell on the Seahawks (when they’re going to lose to the 49ers, then lose to the Eagles or Cowboys in the first round anyway) when we can focus on happier, more hopeful things?

First and foremost, the Huskies throttled the Boise State Broncos, 38-7. We got off to our usual hot start – jumping out to a 24-0 lead early in the second half – and pretty much coasted from there. The defense continued its impressive finish to the season after back-to-back home losses to Oregon and Utah. In our final four games, we gave up a total of 47 points (11.75 per game) and more or less looked like the Husky defenses of the last few years. It was nice to see as we head into 2020 under new leadership.

Jacob Eason had a pretty good game, showing better touch out of a couple of his deep balls than I’d seen since the non-conference slate. He finished with 210 yards and a touchdown on 22/32 passing.

The game got a little frustrating in the second half, as we came out passing WAY more than we probably should have. When you’re up 24-0 (it turned into 24-7 on the very next Broncos drive, but it took them 11 plays and five and a half minutes to do it), you should be pounding the rock and draining as much clock as possible. Instead, I dunno, there were a couple of frustrating drives where the offense couldn’t do anything and it looked like Boise State might make a comeback. But, things settled down towards the end and we were finally able to get back on track and run out the clock.

I really liked what I saw out of Richard Newton, who had a nice 69 yards on the ground, one rushing touchdown, and another passing touchdown on a nifty trick play in the fourth quarter. I also thought Salvon Ahmed had a gutty performance, playing through some injury stuff, scoring twice. I could’ve even used more Kamari Pleasant, who looked explosive on his two carries for 14 yards.

It was a nice final game for Andre Baccellia, who caught 3 for 34 and a touchdown. I think a lot of us expected more out of his Husky career, but it was cool to at least get him a score on his way out. Terrell Bynum really led the way in receiving, catching 5 balls for 67 yards and a TD. Not really much else to get into from the receivers.

Defensively, Elijah Molden led the way in tackles, and REALLY came on late in the season. I hope he returns for his Senior year, because we could really showcase a guy with his talents. There was a good amount of pressure up front, but while it didn’t necessarily translate into a high sack number, we were able to force their quarterbacks into plenty of mistakes. Molden and Myles Bryant each had interceptions on the first two plays Boise State had in Husky territory (cool to see Bryant get one more – giving him 4 picks of his career (I thought he had more for some reason) – as he heads to the NFL next year).

Chris Petersen ends his Husky career with a record of 55-26; his .679 winning percentage is good for seventh all time (if you count Marques Tuiasosopo’s 1-0 record as interim head coach for the one bowl game he coached). If you count only the Huskies who coached 20+ games, Petersen is fourth all time (interestingly enough, just one spot ahead of Rick Neuheisel.

Coach Pete’s teams won two Pac-12 championships in six years, and played in three major bowl games (including one College Football Playoff game). Three straight years in major bowls is nothing to sneeze at; unfortunately we went 0-3 in those games, and only went 2-4 total in bowl games. These were GOOD Husky teams under Coach Pete, but they could never quite get over the hump on a national stage. Close, but of course, no cigar.

That’s unfortunately the legacy for him right now. Things could change, assuming all the talking points are correct: that Coach Pete laid the foundation for greater things to come and all that. If Jimmy Lake can keep it up with his recruiting, if he can develop those players, if he can turn them into wins on the field, championships in the conference, and wins in major bowl games, then I think we can paint Coach Pete’s tenure a little more rosy than we do right now. I won’t say he was a disappointment, but I will say that I kinda hoped for more.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask. It’s bigtime college football, if your goal isn’t conference titles, Rose Bowls, and National Championships, then what’s the point? Why should we continue to settle for less than the SEC and Big-10 and all the other conferences out there who have success? We should hold our revered head coaches to the same standard any other bigtime fanbase would hold theirs. You think Alabama fans are happy to be playing Michigan this year? You think they’re settling for a “good” season? No, they’re probably pissed off and hungrier than ever for next year!

That’s where we need to be, and I’m hopeful that Jimmy Lake is the guy to take us there. He already made me a fan for life by firing Bush Hamdan yesterday. I honestly have no idea why Hamdan was ever hired in the first place, other than he was a “Chris Petersen Guy”. I mean, he was a low-level assistant for Washington early in his tenure, then he was Quarterbacks Coach for the Atlanta Falcons, and that makes him qualified to call plays and design an offense for a major college program?

Washington’s offense was TOTAL SHIT under Hamdan, who was in over his head from Day 1, and I’m fucking glad he’s gone. He’s been the bane of my existence for the last two years, and I’m so happy that Lake’s first change was to rid this program of that bum. This gives Washington the entire rest of the bowl season to look for his replacement – as well as, interestingly enough, Jimmy Lake’s own replacement as the defensive coordinator. Do we make Pete Kwiatkowski the regular, full-time defensive coordinator again? That was his job before Jimmy Lake assumed control as co-coordinator and head defensive playcaller. If you want to talk about continuity within the program, that’s probably the best way to go. Offensively, on the other hand, I think we have to bring in someone from the outside. Preferably a more veteran coordinator who won’t be an immediate head coaching candidate for every other school in the conference.

I’ll admit, though, Saturday’s game was a little emotional. More than anything, I’m happy the Huskies could send Coach Pete off as a winner. There weren’t a ton of people expecting a Husky victory over a previously 12-1 Boise State team, but they hadn’t played anyone all year, and this just felt like the perfect opportunity to show why Chris Petersen made the change in the first place.

He could’ve stayed at Boise State his whole career; hell, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’d still be chugging along for the next decade or longer if he’d just stayed where the conference is small and the expectations are relatively low (a la Mark Few at Gonzaga). Unlike the Zags, however, you REALLY need to be in one of the Big 5 conferences to compete for a championship. Mid-majors in basketball go to the Final Four all the time; unless the NCAA Football side of things expands to an 8-team playoff, I just don’t see a mid-major football program cracking through. Indeed, even if it does go to an 8-team playoff system, and you find the occasional Boise State or TCU or Baylor or whatever in there, 8 teams means 3 games you have to win to win the National Championship; that’s going to weed out pretty much every single mid-major program who’s lucky enough to sneak in there.

Petersen knew that, and that’s why he came to Washington. Unfortunately, with all the good that comes with college football at this level (access to better recruits, better facilities, better stadia, etc.), there’s also tons of bad. All the recruiting games and bullshit, dealing with other schools poaching your players, all the nonsense with Pac-12 scheduling and our inept commissioner, and of course, the NCAA itself and the inherent bias towards programs east of the Rockies. Then, there’s all the media obligations, the ass-kissing of the high-level donors, the non-stop, 24/7/365 nature of the game and the news cycle and social media … I mean, it’s a SHIT-TON of bullshit to wade through, when all you really want to do is coach your players and play the game of football.

I can see why he wanted to at least take a break, if not retire for good. If he gets the itch again, I’m sure there’s a small school he can go to where the limelight won’t be quite so insane.

It was a pleasure having Coach Pete here. There were a lot of highlights in such a brief span of seasons. And, the University of Washington is definitely better having had him here.

Now, it’s time to look ahead to a new and exciting brand of football.

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.

Pretty Crazy About Sark, Huh?

When Steve Sarkisian bolted from the University of Washington for USC, I’ll admit I was pretty damn bitter.  That’s not totally unexpected, but what’s a little shocking is the level of naiveté I was working with.  As far as Husky fans are concerned, I’m something of a n00b.  I was never into college football, whatsoever, when I was growing up.  I attended the University of Washington because it was close to home, and because it accepted me.  Had I not made the cut, I was well on my way to being a Washington State Cougar, and my whole life would be radically different right now.

I enrolled as a Husky in 1999, the same year Rick Neuheisel was hired.  Neuheisel was a dramatic shift away from past Husky leaders, Don James (the immortal, from 1975-1992) and James’ defensive coordinator, Jim Lambright (1993-1998).  Lambo took over under the harsh scrutiny and penalties of the NCAA, and for the most part held the program together through some pretty dark times.  But, the university was looking for a change, and made a big splash in wooing Neuheisel away from Colorado after some successful years.

So, for all intents and purposes, Rick Neuheisel was my first Husky coach.  Of course, history hasn’t been kind to the Neuheisel regime.  Many argue he had his greatest successes with Lambo’s players (particularly superstar quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo), finishing 3rd in the nation in his second season as the Husky head coach, followed by another Top 20 finish the very next year.  Neuheisel’s fourth and final year was something of a disappointment, and as it turned out, 2002 was just the beginning of a long, slow death of a football program.

At the time, I thought Neuheisel got a raw deal with his termination – I mean, come on, a football coach can’t participate in a friendly NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket contest?  But, who knows?  Maybe it was for the best.  If he didn’t destroy this program with shoddy recruiting, he either would’ve left for a better-paying gig, or even possibly gotten us saddled with more sanctions than we ended up getting.  Much like the mighty oak tree, Rick Neuheisel was shady as all get-out.

But, that didn’t help things from a football perspective on the field.  Keith Gilbertson was hired as Neuheisel’s replacement.  He was a throwback to the Don James days, and he should be commended for taking a no-win situation.  As one might expect, he struggled to get us to .500 in his first year, before totally collapsing with a 1-10 record in 2004 (including going 0-8 in conference play).  After that, in an attempt to clean up our reputation, we hired Tyrone Willingham – recently fired from Notre Dame after having great success in Stanford years prior – and thus began our final bottoming out.

Throughout that whole decade, from 1999 through 2008, I followed the program, but I wouldn’t say I followed it as ardently as I do now.  I’m sure I didn’t watch all the games, for instance.  I certainly didn’t go to all the games, or even a high percentage of games.  In fact, if I had any memory at all, I may have gone to MAYBE 10 games total in that time period.  Part of that had to do with not having a ton of money, part of that had to do with spending a year and a half out of state, but the Husky football program was more of an excuse to hang out with friends and party than it was actually appreciating the product on the field.

In 2009, all of that started to change.  We hired Sark with the express purpose of getting back to winning football games.  Fuck graduation rates, fuck our reputation in the NCAA, now it was time to produce on the field.  In a lot of ways, my Husky fandom was reborn with the hire of Sark.  And, in his first couple of years, Sark didn’t disappoint.

  • In his first game, the Huskies fought hard & lost a close one at home to LSU
  • In his third game, we beat 3rd-ranked USC at home
  • In his sixth game, we beat Arizona in a thriller, 36-33, which still stands as the best football game I’ve ever seen in person
  • In his first Apple Cup, we shut out the Cougs 30-0
  • In his first season finale, we destroyed 19th-ranked Cal 42-10
  • In Year 2, we went down to 18th-ranked USC and beat them again
  • In the final three regular season games of 2010, we swept UCLA, Cal, and Wazzu to earn our first bowl game since 2002 with Rick Neuheisel
  • In that Holiday Bowl, we beat 16th-ranked Nebraska, who had slaughtered us earlier that same season

After those first two years, Sark was our adopted heir apparent to Don James.  The Dawgfather Part II.  While we all knew there was a great possibility that he’d eventually leave us for USC whenever they came calling, many of us couldn’t help but dream of a scenario where Sark brought us back to the Don James glory days of contending for national championships, building an empire in the northwest for the next quarter century.

That naiveté I talked about earlier.  It was there in spades.  I mean, why WOULD you trust anyone who played at BYU, who was from Southern Cal and who got his first coordinating experience with USC, when he said that the Washington Husky Football head coaching job was his “dream job”?  It’s ludicrous!  Those are empty words that you hear from practically every single head coach upon being hired by a new team!

Nevertheless, when he left, it stung.  It stung worse than when we lost Neuheisel.  I just had the feeling that he’d go on to USC, bring them back to national prominence, and we’d be up here looking like the fools who gave away the golden goose.

Sark’s first year at USC was pretty solid.  9-4 record, 2nd place finish in the Pac-12 South, important wins over ranked Stanford & Arizona teams, and a Holiday Bowl win over 25th-ranked Nebraska.  They finished in the Top 25 in both polls; all in all, not a bad start to a tenure.  Meanwhile, Chris Petersen struggled in his first year as Sark’s replacement.  We finished the regular season 8-5, losing to all five ranked opponents, including an unforgivable botch job in that Arizona game; then we lost our bowl game to a not-very-good Oklahoma State team.  We had four players on defense get drafted in the first two rounds, yet as a unit, our defense couldn’t have looked more mediocre.  There were definitely some growing pains as holdovers from the Sark regime tried to adjust to Coach Pete’s expectations, and in the end it all resulted in one of the more unsatisfying seasons we’ve had around here since our winless 2008.

2015 didn’t appear to be trending much better, with the Huskies going with a true freshman at quarterback, while trying to patch together a defense that lost a lot of starters.  Through four games, the Huskies were 2-2 and things were as expected.  We’d coast through the rest of a losing season and PRAY some of the young guys showed real, tangible improvement.  On the flipside, USC looked pretty ordinary in their own right through four weeks.  Starting the year as a pre-season Top 10 program, the Trojans let one slip away against an unranked Stanford team.  On top of that, there was the pre-season flap where Sark had too much to drink and made an ass out of himself at a school function.  A lot of Husky fans had a lot of fun at his expense, not realizing the full extent of the problem.

Were there rumors that Sark was something of a partyboy when he was head coach of the Huskies?  For sure!  But, we’re talking about a relatively young guy, promoting a youthful, fun atmosphere.  And, you can say what you want about his on-field playcalling, but he certainly got the job done in the recruiting department (maybe not in the offensive line, but you don’t get a player like Shaq Thompson to come here if you’re not a guy who knows how to recruit – players, and fellow coaches/recruiters).  Does he like to have a good time, and occasionally allow himself to consume too much?  Sure, but who doesn’t?

Everything seemed to come to a head last Thursday, as the Huskies made their way down to USC.  No one gave us a chance in Hell.  Yet, our defense was as good as I’ve seen it since the Neuheisel days, and our offense did just enough to get us the W.  Husky fans rejoiced, we poked more fun at Sark, and this season has since taken a wonderful turn towards the positive.  Maybe we’ll beat Oregon at home this week, for the first time in ages!  MAYBE, we’ll even win enough games to get into a bowl game, thereby giving our true freshman quarterback some extra practices to hone his craft!  Limitless possibilities!

Not so, down in Trojanland.  Apparently, Sark came into practice last Sunday while still drunk, or at the very least at the end of a long bender.  He was placed on leave, and later terminated for cause, because having an erratic lush as your head coach will NOT do wonders for your recruiting it turns out.

When I wrote that post above, in the days/hours following Sark’s abandonment of the Husky program, as I said before I was pretty bitter.  I wished him ill will.  I wished he’d be ridden out of Southern Cal on the rails like Lane Kiffin had before him.  This moment, this happening, SHOULD bring me great joy!  I should be wallowing in the succulence of sour grapes like a pig in shit.  But, honestly, I can’t help but feel bad for the guy.

It wasn’t supposed to end like this.  He was supposed to be crushed under the impossible weight of USC expectations, and watch miserably as his teams faltered on the football field.  He wasn’t supposed to let that misery affect his personal life and drink himself out of a job!  I mean, I’m not a monster, after all.  I am capable of having sympathy, apparently (who knew?).

I have a different take on quote/unquote alcoholism than I think most others.  I think the textbook definition – and most people’s definitions – of alcoholism is greatly exaggerated.  It dates back to this country’s puritanical origins for all things “sinful”.  Sex out of wedlock is naughty, marijuana is a gateway drug that will ruin your life, and more than four beers makes you an alcoholic.  It’s insane!  Before I learned all these stories about Sark being drunk on the job – at practice and even during games – when we only had the story from that pre-season USC function, and some bar tabs from recruiting trips and such while he was head coach of the Huskies, I thought that Sark was no different than myself.  I like to tie one on during the weekends.  I work all week in an office, I should be allowed to have as many fucking beers as I want on Friday and/or Saturday nights!  As long as I’m not driving while drunk, getting into fights, or otherwise being an asshole while drunk, then who cares?

My take on alcoholism is this:  when it starts infringing on your regular, everyday life, then you’ve got a problem.  Like, when you’re drinking a fifth of vodka every single day, just to get through the day.  Like, when you’ve got so many DUIs that you lose your license and need to be chauffeured everywhere by family or friends.  Like, when you turn into a raging dickhead when you’re drunk and start alienating everyone around you.  Or, when your drunkenness starts affecting your ability to hold down a job.  Among, I’m sure, other reasons I can’t think of right now.

I think the term Functioning Alcoholic, or High-Functioning Alcoholic, is dismissive and patronizing.  Alcoholism shouldn’t be reduced to how many drinks you have in a day, or how many you have in a week.  If you drink to unwind after work, and you’re not hurting anybody, then who cares?  You’re not a High-Functioning Alcoholic, you’re just a person, making it through what can be – at times – a long and shitty life.

Sark, it appears, went off the deep end, though.  In almost any job, you have to be aware of your abilities and limitations.  I don’t know of any employer who’s going to tolerate you coming into work while sauced.  But, that dynamic increases 100-fold when you’re in a public position like head coach of a major college football program.  Without knowing him personally, or even the intimate details of his private life, Sark strikes me as someone who needs help.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of; we all need help at one point or another.  It’s good that he’s finally at a point where he’s willing and able to get that help.

As a Husky fan, more than anything I feel sorry for the guy.  Yes, he brought it upon himself.  Yes, he’s a famous, white millionaire with the epitome of First World Problems.  But, he’s still going through a lot of emotional shit right now, and as much as I want to enjoy him falling on his face for leaving the Washington program, I just can’t do it.

The stark truth is, Sark did have his dream job, when he was hired by USC.  He’s since lost that job, in a painfully embarrassing and premature way.  And, he’ll never have that opportunity again.  He can go to rehab, he can get his addiction under control, and he can be in a position to be entrusted with another bigtime college football program.  He can do almost anything he wants with the rest of his life, and he can live that life in comfort and financial security.  But, he’ll never have his dream job again.

Is it better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all?  I tend to have my doubts, especially in cases like this, where that love was ripped away all too soon.  So, if you’re looking for a reason to feel bad for a guy you may have resented for leaving the Huskies, I’ll present exhibit A.

Huskies Shut Out Inferior Opponent It Paid Nearly Half A Million Dollars To Play Here

49-0.  After a scoreless first quarter, the result was never really in doubt.  One could argue this game was decided before it was even played – given the discrepancy in talent between the two teams – but upsets are known to rear their ugly heads from time to time.

I don’t know what you really take away from a game like this.  It counts as a win in the record books, so that brings us one game closer to a bowl game, I guess.  Maybe it gives the kids on the Huskies some confidence – or some relief, at getting the first win out of the way.  For a true freshman quarterback, I’m sure this is fabulous.  Say what you will about Sacramento State, but it’s still a step up from high school ball.

Jake Browning looked a lot better today.  326 yards, 2 TDs (one of which probably should’ve been picked off) and 0 interceptions.  He was more than a struggling newb throwing balls towards or beyond the sidelines; he dissected the middle of the field and looked confident doing so.  Again, the level of competition demands you pull back on calls that this kid is the next Brock Huard or Marques Tuiasosopo – surely we’ll find what he’s made of once we reach conference play – but nevertheless this beats a poor performance any day of the week.  I think we can all rest easier knowing that he has some semblance of greatness in him.  How great he’ll be remains to be seen.

Where in the holiest of fucks has Myles Gaskin been all my life?  Well, considering he’s a freshman, having just concluded his second college game ever, I’d say Myles Gaskin originated from some sort of Badass Running Backs Factory, subsisting on a steady diet of Gatorade and the bones of his vanquished enemies.  14 carries, 146 yards, 3 touchdowns, showing the vision and burst of a superstar in waiting.  Coach Pete has struck me thus far in his Husky career as a man most willing to spread the touches around.  But, if Gaskin keeps dominating the way we all saw today, I don’t think he’ll have much choice (if he wants to keep his job) but to give Gaskin the lion’s share of the carries and get the God damn fuck ass out of the way.

Joshua Perkins is a senior tight end I know relatively little about.  Quite frankly, I came into this season the way I go into most seasons where Austin Seferian-Jenkins isn’t on the college roster, believing the same thing:  the Huskies simply don’t have a tight end this year.  He had 25 receptions last year, and 5 the year before that.  But, he’s 6’4, and it looks like he’s going to be a prominent weapon for us down the seams and in the red zone.  I don’t know what his 40 time is, or what he’s got going for him in a 3-cone, but if he manages to ball out at the combine (and/or the Husky Pro Day, depending on if he’s invited to the combine or not), he could see himself on an NFL roster this time next year.

Today was a drubbing for the Hornets, plain and simple.  In the second and third quarters, the Huskies moved the ball at will.  And, for the most part, throughout the game, the defense held them in check.  Over 300 yards passing and 200 yards rushing will always look good on the stat sheet, but who knows if this is real or make believe?  Last week, against a top 25 ranked opponent, the Huskies could only muster 150 yards passing and under 30 yards rushing.  I’d say the true talent level of the 2015 Husky offense resides somewhere in the middle.  Where we find them on that spectrum will dictate if this is another bowl team, or simply a step-back in the rebuilding of this roster under Coach Pete.  As he continues to secure top-flight recruits, and as today’s game featured far more inspired play-calling than last week’s game in Boise, I’m encouraged by the direction this team is taking.

Next week, we face a moderately more fierce opponent in the form of Utah State.  The Mountain West is certainly a step up from the Big Sky, but nevertheless the talent gap still resides in Washington’s favor.  All in all, you have to like the way the Huskies have been tested thus far, as we prepare for Cal to come to town in two weeks.  God Awgs.

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.

Seattle Sports Hell 2014 NFL Power Rankings – Week 5

I can’t say that I’m all that wild and crazy about the defense this year.  How about you?

We’ve played Green Bay, at San Diego, Denver, and at Washington.  By my accounts, that’s two great teams, one good team, and one bad team.  To those teams, we’ve given up 20.75 points per game.  That’s up from 14.44 points per game last year, when we led the league.  So, what gives?

Maybe it’s nothing.  After all, with last year’s team, it wasn’t all 43-8 beatdowns.  There were a lot of tense moments!  The Houston, Tampa, and St. Louis games come immediately to mind.  This last one against the Redskins reminds me almost exactly of last year’s home game against the Titans.  Probably should’ve been a huge blowout, but Seahawks mistakes kept it close and made more than a few people uncomfortable.

So, what can we look at?  Well, for starters, let’s look at 4th quarter scoring.  We’re giving up, on average, 8 points per game in the 4th quarter.  Doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s usually the difference between a comfortable blowout and a closer, 1-score game.

Let’s also look at third down conversions.  The Seahawks are allowing teams to convert 25/57, or around 44% of the time.  You probably want that percentage somewhere in the mid-30s.  That’ll help explain a lot of these longer drives.  The more plays run, the more time they burn, the more time our defense is on the field, the more opportunities for mistakes.

Now, look at turnovers.  We’ve got a total of three.  Two interceptions (Maxwell & Chancellor) and one fumble recovery (Wright).  How do we explain this?  Well, the Seahawks have been unlucky in the fact that there have been 5 other fumbles that we DIDN’T recover.  But, what about the interceptions?  Where has the L.O.B. been in all of this?

Surely, teams aren’t testing Richard Sherman as much as they did last year (which in and of itself was a mystery to me).  I’m sure they’re being somewhat more cautious, knowing what we all know about the studs in our secondary.  You could argue that the pass rush has been down compared to last year.  We’ve only got 6 sacks in 4 games.  We’ve got 18 hits on the quarterback, which makes it look a LITTLE better.  I don’t know what the count is on hurries, but it doesn’t feel to me like we’ve taken a huge step back in this department.

If you want my opinion, I think teams have just gotten smarter.  I think they watched all the tape on us that they could from last year, they figured out what our defense does well and where it struggles.  I think they’re throwing a lot of quicker passes to avoid the pass rush, and I think they’re taking smart chances down the field when they have their opportunities.  Don’t throw a fade to Richard Sherman’s side.  At best, he’ll just tip the ball away for an incompletion (at worst, we’re taking it back to the house).  Instead, work some double-moves.  Force our DBs to switch and make decisions on the fly.  Yes, we have the most intelligent and well-studied secondary in football, but they’re not going to be perfect.  Every once in a while, they’ll take a bad angle, or leave someone uncovered.  And, if you’ve got a Desean Jackson running the route, or a Peyton Manning throwing the ball, you’re going to get beat once in a while.

Part of it is, yeah, shit happens.  It IS a small, 4-game sample size.  The Seahawks ARE 3-1, so let’s not start jumping off of buildings.  We’ve still got plenty of games against teams that match up well against us.  The Raiders, Giants, and Cowboys should all be pushovers.  If we really ratchet up the firestorm in these next few weeks, all of these numbers will normalize.  We’ll get our turnovers back up to par, we’ll hold teams down at the end of games, and we’ll get off the field on third down more regularly.

But, the other part of it is:  we’ve got to adjust.  The rest of the league has – I don’t want to say “figured us out”, but they’ve certainly changed their schemes against us.  I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily working, but it’s a lot better than what they managed against us last year.  So, we’ve got to counter.  We’ve got to figure out what they’re doing that’s working and shut that down.

While, at the same time, keeping what works for us.  Namely, the run defense.  If this thing is real, then we’ve got a real ace up our sleeves.  All Dallas does now is run the ball!  The Panthers, Giants, and Chiefs are all in the run-first mold.  We can take advantage of all of these teams if we’re able to shut down their running games; none of those quarterbacks should put the fear of God into you.  And, as for all the NFC West teams?  Well, I’m going to withhold judgment on the Rams until I see more out of Austin Davis, but the 49ers and Cardinals can’t get out of their own way at the quarterback position.  If we shut their running games down, they’re powerless against us!

So, I’ll be interested to see how the Seahawks do over the next month.  Will the defense be an ongoing concern?  I sure hope not.  I think we all sort of planned on the offense being improved (and maybe picking up some slack), but I enjoy this team much more when we’re stomping other teams into the ground on defense.

***

  1. Seattle Seahawks (3-1) – Never a doubt.
  2. Denver Broncos (3-1) – Ditto.
  3. San Diego Chargers (4-1) – The Chargers are for real.  If that defense proves it’s worthy of a top 10 ranking, watch out.
  4. Cincinnati Bengals (3-1) – They were doomed from the start.  A pissed off Patriots team at home, during primetime for the second straight week?  That had rout written all over it.
  5. Detroit Lions (3-2) – Now that they’ve got a kicker, prepare for a nice run on wins.
  6. Indianapolis Colts (3-2) – Must be nice playing in the worst division in football three years running.
  7. San Francisco 49ers (3-2) – Not the easiest next two games leading into their BYE as they go to St. Louis on Monday night, followed by going to Denver on Sunday night.  Prepare yourself to watch A LOT of 49ers football the next two weeks.  Probably more 49ers football than you ever cared to see.
  8. Philadelphia Eagles (4-1) – They better figure out how to get Shady McCoy going if they ever want to seriously contend this year.
  9. New Orleans Saints (2-3) – It took overtime at home to beat the Bucs?  I don’t know what I’m doing keeping this team in the top 10.
  10. Green Bay Packers (3-2) – Are you smelling an upset this week down in Miami?  Because, I kinda sorta am.  These Packers are going DOWN!
  11. Kansas City Chiefs (2-3) – Good, not great.
  12. Dallas Cowboys (4-1) – Ditto.
  13. Baltimore Ravens (3-2) – Look, I was flying back from Anaheim on Sunday, so I didn’t see a lot of football, all right?  Justin Forsett got me some solid points in Fantasy while Lamar Miller was on BYE though, so that’s cool.
  14. New England Patriots (3-2) – Imagine that:  you take the bubble wrap off of Gronk and your offense is actually able to move the football.  WEIRD!
  15. Arizona Cardinals (3-1) – Perfect no more, and now they’ve lost their best defender for at least a few weeks.
  16. New York Giants (3-2) – With a bullet!
  17. Atlanta Falcons (2-3) – Good GOD is this team shitty on the road!  They catch the Bears at home, though, so bank on them being 3-3 this time next week.
  18. Chicago Bears (2-3) – You heard me.
  19. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2) – It’s like, every week the Steelers find a new way to troll football fans!
  20. Carolina Panthers (3-2) – Starting to really regret not drafting their tight end this year.
  21. Houston Texans (3-2) – How about that J.J. Watt, huh?  He’s like a million times better than that J.J. Watt commercial, I’ll tell you that much.
  22. Miami Dolphins (2-2) – This is the week where the Dolphins get you to believe they’re worthy of being in the playoffs.  It won’t last long.
  23. Cleveland Browns (2-2) – I like this Browns team!  Mostly because Hoyer is keeping Johnny Football on the sidelines.
  24. Washington Redskins (2-3) – That’s some great defense you got there in D.C.
  25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-4) – This team is going to start stealing wins it shouldn’t have.  Mark it this week, my upset special:  Tampa over Baltimore.
  26. Buffalo Bills (3-2) – What is it with the Bills and beating NFC North teams on the road this year?
  27. New York Jets (1-4) – The Chargers’ defense got me a shutout last week in a losing effort in fantasy.  Thank you, Jets!
  28. Minnesota Vikings (2-3) – Well, if you can’t figure out how to get Cordarrelle Patterson the football, then I’m afraid he’s not long for my fantasy team.
  29. St. Louis Rams (1-3) – Wouldn’t it be nice if they went out and beat up on the 49ers this week?  I promise if you do, I’ll put you in the Top 25!
  30. Tennessee Titans (1-4) – Is Jake Locker the next Marques Tuiasosopo?  The guy who might be great, but we’ll never know because he’s always injured?  Hey guys, welcome to Steve Emtman’s world.
  31. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5) – I’m beginning to think this isn’t the fringe-playoff team I’d once predicted them to be.
  32. Oakland Raiders (0-4) – Not only do they lose a home game to playing in fucking London, but they gotta spend their BYE week getting over jetlag.

Tui Gets His First Win As A Head Coach

There was a lot to feel good about in this feel-good 31-16 win over the BYU Cougars.  Keith Price – while getting dinged up towards the end of the game – still had a solid, Keith Price-esque game.  Bishop Sankey ran for a couple touchdowns and had an overall solid game.  ASJ – who declared after the game that he will turn pro in 2014 – added another touchdown to the pile.  While Sankey said he’s still undecided, you have to figure that all three of our studs from 2013 will be gone, so it was nice that they all played well and went out on top.

That BYU quarterback did a lot of things well, running for 133 yards, throwing for 293 yards, and just generally being a pain in the ass all game long.  But, to our credit, we mostly held BYU to field goals, and that was the difference in the game.

Just as this was the swan song for our Big 3, it was also the swan song for Justin Wilcox, who nailed down some righteous adjustments in the second half to hold BYU scoreless over the final two quarters.  I’m disappointed to see him go, and I’m even more disappointed to see him go to USC, but I take solace in the fact that in a few years, he will defect from USC to be a head coach somewhere else.  Ahh, the circle of life.

Mostly, I just feel happy for Tui.  I don’t know if there is a place for him on Coach Pete’s new staff, but I’ve got the sinking feeling that there isn’t.  We may eventually see him return sometime down the line, because I have no doubt that Tui will be an amazing head coach.  Who knows, maybe after he gets his feet wet coaching some small school like Idaho State or something, we bring in Tui to replace Coach Pete a decade or so down the line.

This is a weird, scary time to be a Husky fan.  A lot of unknowns out there surrounding the program.  A lot for us to learn about the new staff, the new offensive scheme, the new players stepping up for legendary departing ones.  It was nice, just for a night, to forget about all of that horseshit and just sit back and celebrate what has turned out to be a remarkable 2013 season.  9-4!  It feels weird to say that We’re Back!  But, doesn’t it kind of feel like we’re back?  Or, at the very least, much closer to being “Back” than being “The Worthless Pile Of Crap” on the college football spectrum?  Yeah.

2014 Will Be The Most Important Season In A Generation For Huskies

We’re jumping the gun here a bit, but that makes it no less a pressing concern.

As the Huskies prepare for their bowl game next week – the primetime, post-Christmas, Friday night spot against BYU – know that we’re seeing the end of an era.  An era that beat the hell out of the previous era, for sure!

It’s interesting to look at the ebbs and flows of the history of the University of Washington football team.  If you go all the way back to the Jim Owens era, you see a team in the late 50s and early 60s that was one of the best in the nation.  His first seven years brought with it three Rose Bowl appearances (two victories), before a long descent into mediocrity.  The Huskies of the mid-60s to the mid-70s weren’t terrible, but they weren’t all that good either.  Just sort of okay.

Then, Don James came in, and the mediocrity continued for the first two years.  His third year was probably the most important season in Husky football history, and we were all rewarded with a Rose Bowl victory.  Thus began the next great era of Husky football, lasting through the early 90s.

Once Don James left, the team fell back to the pack again.  Part of that was losing a legend, but most of it was due to the sanctions that really wiped out our ability to recruit the proper talent we needed to maintain our stay as one of the nation’s premiere football programs.  Just as we were starting to recruit, Lambright was replaced by Rick Neuheisel, who reaped the rewards and took this program back to the Rose Bowl in 2000.

Ever since then, it was a long, slow, brutal decline, culminating in the 2008 winless season.

So, if you’re keeping track, the Jim Owens era started off great, then went mediocre.  Then, greatness returned with Don James, and immediately went mediocre once he left.  Greatness returned briefly under Neuheisel, then the program plummeted to its nadir.  Sark came in here and brought us back to mediocrity, and that’s where we sit today.

Coach Pete’s first year will be the most important year for the program since Don James’ third season.  Any regime change is going to automatically see a hit in recruiting; that just comes with the territory.  How bad we’ll have it largely depends on where the assistant coaches end up.  If we’ve got Wilcox and Lupoi going to USC, that really puts us in a bind.  If they end up at Boise State, it’s not AS bad, but they’ll still be going after a number of the same players they recruited to Washington.  If they left the west coast, it would be ideal (but that’s probably not going to happen).  Just figure, this recruiting class won’t be as highly rated as some of Sark’s last classes.

Which, fine.  Long term, it could be a problem, but we can also make up for it by redoubling our efforts in our 2015 class.  However, that 2015 class will hinge on how well we do in 2014.  Of course, you can say that about literally every year, but the importance of this year outweighs any other.

You always want to put a good product on the field to show kids that if they choose Washington, they’re choosing to play for a winner.  No one wants to come to college and get their shit kicked in.  However, kids are going to be watching this team to get a sense of Coach Pete’s style and how they might fit.  We all know that Coach Pete is great when it comes to getting the best out of the talent he’s able to bring in.  Will that translate with a program that currently houses a number of blue-chip prospects – kids who never seriously considered playing for a “lesser” school like Boise State?  It’s one thing to coach up some kids who are just happy to be there; but does he have the ability to coach up kids who already expect to be great?

The Huskies, right now, are a team on the rise.  Sark brought us Top 25 & Top 30 recruiting classes the last few years.  We have A LOT of talent on this team.  But, we’re also losing some critical pieces.  Keith Price, Sean Parker, most likely Bishop Sankey & ASJ, maybe even Danny Shelton (among others, who I can’t remember off-hand right now). 

Whenever you’re looking at a quarterback change of this magnitude, you can’t help but think that the next year will be a year of transition.  Fortunately, Cyler Miles had a chance to get some meaningful reps this year, so we won’t TOTALLY throw a greenhorn into the fire.  Still, there will be growing pains.

And, on top of that, Coach Pete doesn’t get to work with the kids right now.  That’s falling on Tui and the rest of our M*A*S*H unit of interim coaches.  Just as Miles and the rest of our quarterbacks are fighting for the starting job in spring, they’ll also have to contend with learning a new offensive scheme.  That’s BOUND to set us back, especially when you consider this will be the third scheme-change in three years (from traditional pro style, to the HUNH-hybrid, to whatever Coach Pete installs).

Even under normal circumstances, with Sark and the rest of our coaches returning, I wouldn’t have been shocked to see this team to take a bit of a step back.  But, under these freak circumstances, a step back is almost expected!

And yet, we can’t have it.  If we want this program to be one of the elites not just in the conference, but in the nation, we need to continue with the momentum we built under Sark.  And THAT means:  not having two or three down recruiting years in a row.  2014 will already be down, because Coach Pete won’t have the time he normally would as an incumbent head coach, saying nothing of the players who will be poached.  To avoid a repeat down recruiting class, though, we’re going to have to show people we not only have the best head coach in the conference, but we’re already surrounded by the best talent in the conference.

There are a lot of reasons to come to Washington.  New stadium & facilities, located in a major city, most beautiful gametime setting in the nation, a premiere head coach, lots of player talent already here, we’re in a major conference and play against some of the best teams in the nation.  Now, we just need to win.  That’s it.  Sure, it starts with this bowl game next week, but there’s going to be a major asterisk next to this game.  The real fight will be next season.  If we’re able to show the kind of improvement I know we’re capable of, then it’s off to the races after that.  We should have kids banging down our door to come to UW.