Cal Must REALLY Hate The Huskies Right Now

So, there’s been quite a bit of shakeup with the Dawgs since the end of the Alamo Bowl.  Nick Holt and a couple other defensive coaches were fired.  We brought in a hot-shot co-ordinator from Tennessee with ties to the west coast (and his little buddy).  Nick Montana transferred to go to a junior college for a year so he can actually play some football.  And now we just straight-up jacked a couple of coaches from the Cal Bears staff.

There was some cause for concern going into this offseason.  What with the disruption along our own coaching ranks – not only ridding ourselves of Holt, but also losing our secondary coach to UCLA – there was thought that our recruitment for 2012 would be looking pretty scary.  As it turns out, the Huskies went the Sour Grapes route on that notion:  if we can’t make ourselves better, then we might as well make other teams worse.

And, make no mistake, the Huskies made the Cal Bears worse.  First of all, they’ve got guys left and right re-thinking their committments to the Bay Area school.  Even if they DON’T come north to Seattle, maybe they decide to go elsewhere (hopefully out of conference), weakening Cal’s overall class ranking.  Secondly, we pretty much bitch-slapped their entire program.  We found two guys who had no intention of leaving and we made them offers they couldn’t refuse.  As in:  an assload of cash and prizes (a boat?  Seriously?  Who is going to turn down a free boat?).

The funny thing is, Cal TOTALLY could’ve matched us.  They got the same amount of “TV Money” that every other school in the Pac-12 got, they easily could’ve whipped out their dong and matched us inch for inch.  But, instead of re-working their entire coaching staff pay structure, they opted to hide at home with their tail between their legs.

I like this.  Scratch that, I LOVE this.  My team, my school, going above and beyond with the pocketbook to ensure that we’ve got the best guys on staff (to go out and get the best guys for the field).  That’s what WINNERS do.  This is akin to having your girlfriend die in a fire, then going out and stealing another man’s wife with promises of furs and diamonds and trips to Greece.  Is it honorable?  I don’t think so, but it’s getting the fucking job done at a time in this program’s history where we’re on the cusp of something truly great.

So, fuck Cal!  As far as the middle-of-the-road teams in the Pac-12 are concerned, they were the biggest threat to the Huskies moving up in this world.  Now, they’ve been weakened considerably.  Just in time for us to ascend to the top of the mountain.

Huskies Are 6-5, Losing Grip On An Erstwhile Great Season

All right, now I’m pissed.

I’m not pissed at any specific person; I’m just pissed in general.  Remember how I was talking last week about not really giving a shit about this Oregon State game until I heard that Nick Montana was getting the start?  Because we have our bowl eligibility and all that already wrapped up?  About how it might even be a struggle to care about the Apple Cup?

Yeah, forget all of that now.  That’s what happens when you lose a game you’re supposed to win.  Now, every single game hereafter I’m going into with the rabid ferocity I had going into that Nebraska game earlier in the season when we were hoping to go 3-0.

I want blood.

I want to take out every last one of our frustrations on a Cougar team that has no business doing anything other than sniffing our jock straps.  I want this seventh win like it’s a freshly baked apple pie and I’ve been starving in a desert for the past week.  I want to crush them by 50; I want to run up the score even after the game is well in hand.  I want to sprain the ankle of their third string quarterback.  I want Paul Wulff’s head on a stake in my front yard.

I want them to suffer for what I had to witness two days ago.

And, like I said, I’m not really mad at any one person.  There were mistakes to go around, on all fronts.  Austin Seferian-Jenkins dropping what would’ve been the go-ahead touchdown; dropping the easiest, most wide open go-ahead touchdown I’ve ever seen.  Sark seemingly abandoning the run (or, at the very least, not calling the right running plays – if I never see a handoff from a shotgun ever again, it’ll be too soon).  Keith Price trying to jam a pass into the endzone on first down after we’d just recovered a kickoff return fumble when there was still plenty of time on the clock while we were down only ten points.

And, of course, the defense.  Nick Holt’s defense.  I’ve been defending the guy all year, pleading for the university to give him another year or two to get the ship righted with his guys.  That’s not going to change.  There’s a talent deficiency on this team that isn’t his fault.  He’s starting to get some more talented players in here, but it’s still going to take time.  As I’ve said before, it’s much easier to throw a bunch of freshmen on offense at the skill positions and start paying dividends right away.  You can’t necessarily do that on defense and expect to get away with it.  You need depth, you need leadership, and most of all you need experience on defense.  We don’t have any of it.  That’s not Nick Holt’s fault.  And this loss shouldn’t be his final straw.  I want him back next year and I’m willing to stake my entire reputation as a sports fan on him turning things around.

I also, for the record, want to go as Nick Holt for Halloween next year, so we’re going to need that costume idea to be somewhat relevant.

This game really could’ve been something.  If just a few things go our way:  the drop, for instance; or the interception in the endzone.  If just a FEW things go our way, we make a brilliant comeback and head into the Apple Cup 7-4.

Now, we’re 6-5.  My God sir, I will not abide another toe!

Nick Montana Starts!

There’s an intrigue to this game where before there was none.

I hope I see a lot of this on Saturday ...

That’s not entirely fair, but let’s face it:  this isn’t last year.  Last year, at this time, the Huskies were 4-6 and in desperation mode to win their final two to make a bowl for the first time in forever.  This year, that record is flipped and the Huskies are all but guaranteed to crack some kind of bowl game.  OK, so it’s not exactly a SURE thing, but look at it this way:  we’ve already beaten Cal and Utah, two of the other 6-win teams right now, so we’ve got a bit of a tie-breaking edge on our hands.

Anyway, I’ll just come out and say it:  I wasn’t entirely looking forward to hauling my ass out of bed on Saturday morning to watch the Huskies play football.  After the USC, Oregon, and Stanford games, I’m a LITTLE burned out by all the pisspoor performances.  The only thing I had to look forward to was stopping the skid against one of the worst teams in the conference.

But really, this is a no-win kind of situation!  If we win, yeah, we beat a 2-win team in their home stadium.  BFD.  But, if we LOSE, well by God, that’s a frightening concept worse than death!  And yet, with the way we’ve been playing, it’s VERY MUCH on the table!  We lose to Oregon State, and you might as well pen us in for 6-6 because what would lead you to believe we’d win that Apple Cup?

These are the kinds of games where the marginally better team comes out tight, makes mistakes, has a few untimely drops, and before you know it you’re in a dogfight with a pack of poodles!

So, I’m glad that Nick Montana is getting the start.  Not just because I’m tired of watching a hobbled Keith Price limp his way toward ineffectiveness, but because I genuinely want to see what Montana can do.  I’m not expecting a whole lot, but against Oregon State, I don’t think we NEED a whole lot.  Manage the game, feed it to Chris Polk about 40 or 50 times, and this should be an ugly yet hardfought win.

Nick Montana takes all the pressure off this team.  The game story going in switches from, “Will The Huskies’ Slide Continue?” to:  “Hey, Joe Montana’s Son Is Playing Big Time College Football!”  This single-handedly takes all the pressure off of the team and puts it squarely on one player.  I don’t know what’s worse, when that one player is the quarterback, but it’ll certainly be interesting if he can live up to the billing his father set.

And it means I went from ambivalent to excited to see a nothing Husky game at the end of the season.  Montana!  Be good!  Start a quarterback controversy!  Don’t cost us the game!

The Huskies Are The Best Of The Second-Tier In The Pac-12

That’s pretty much all we learned this weekend.  There’s Oregon, Stanford, USC, and that’s it.  In the Second-Tier, we have the Huskies, Arizona State, Cal, & Utah.  And the bottom tier has UCLA (not buying their 4-3 conference record for one second), Wazzu, Oregon State, Arizona, and Colorado.

It’s just a shame we don’t get to face ASU this year, because I know we could beat their asses.  Who loses to UCLA and Wazzu back to back???

Other than that, I don’t have a whole lot to say about Saturday afternoon.  Just another game against a clearly-superior football team where we came out flat and never recovered.  And, I’m sorry, but for as bad as the defense has been in these games, the offense has REALLY let me down!  I don’t know if the schools are figuring out Sark’s playcalling or if the players aren’t executing, but I didn’t see a whole lot out of the coaching staff this weekend.  USC is a school we’ve clearly proven (under Sark) that we can handle.  To look the way we looked on Saturday, it’s a total fucking disgrace!  Football is a game of adjustments, and thus far in these Big Games, the Huskies have been completely unable to adjust to what the other team is throwing at us.

On the plus side, I think we can put to rest this nonsense of Matt Barkley being better than Andrew Luck.  Consider me elated that the Seahawks are playing their way out of a Top 10 pick, because if that’s where Barkley is destined to land, I don’t want ANY part of him on my professional football team!

As for the Huskies, it’s time to finish the season strong.  There’s no shame in beating the teams you’re supposed to beat (so long as you beat ALL the teams you’re supposed to beat).  The Huskies are SUPPOSED to beat Oregon State and Washington State.  Anything short of 8-4 (when we started the season 6-2) will have to be considered a failure.  Sure, at the beginning of the season, I think everyone would’ve been glad to just go back to a bowl game; but after the start this team had, just being 6-6 or 7-5 would be a huge disappointment.

By the way, can we PLEASE start Nick Montana now?  I’m not calling for a quarterback change the way most people do; I’m not dissatisfied with Keith Price’s play.  I’m just tired of watching a hobbled quarterback get tossed around like a fucking ragdoll when he’s CLEARLY not fit to be playing bigtime college football right now!

The Buffaloes Were No Match

I don’t think there was a way you could’ve spread out the offense more evenly.  This game was an absolute dismantling!  It was like when you first teach your (five years’ younger) brother how to play basketball, then play him one-on-one for the first time.  At first, you just want to show off how much bigger and stronger you are, mostly by repeatedly backing him down and muscling up baby hooks for easy baskets.  Then, when things are firmly in hand, you mess around with some long-range shots, some bounce-passes-to-yourself off of the backboard for lay-ins, dribbling over his head and behind his back as you taunt him, “Try to take the ball from me!”

Yeah, Colorado’s defense was that bad.  I can’t remember the last time the Huskies scored 52 points seemingly without needing to try all that hard.  It was 38-10 at halftime, and with the Huskies coasting for the rest of the game (Nick Montana received significant playing time starting early in the third quarter), we still managed to get another two touchdowns to put the exclamation point at the end of this contest.

But, like I alluded to at the top, we scored 7 touchdowns in this game, by 7 different guys (Callier, Sankey & Kevin Smith on the ground; Polk, Kearse, Aguilar & Seferian-Jenkins through the air).  Four more touchdowns for Keith Price (more on him later this week) gave him 21 on the season (tied for 2nd in all of college football) to go against only 4 interceptions.  Hell, our kicker even got into the fray with a field goal & 7 extra points!

On the flipside, not much to discuss in the way of turnovers or sacks, but we held them to 269 total yards, which is pretty impressive.  The 207 in the air HAS to be a season-low for Nick Holt’s brigade.  Everything came too easy in this game.  You could practically count Colorado as a 2nd BYE week for us in anticipation of the showdown at Stanford next week.

I don’t know if we’re going to win that contest of Pac-12 North Unbeatens, but I do know this:  an automatic loss isn’t as certain as it was even three weeks ago.  I don’t think I will advocate selling off assets to bet the farm on a Husky win, but I will say one thing:  the Huskies are clicking at the right time.

I’ve been pretty confident all along that the Huskies would get better as the season went along, especially with the defense.  That’s partly in reference to last season when, with our backs against the wall, we won three consecutive games and capped the season off with an improbable win against Nebraska where we superbly shut them down.  I don’t know how much weight we should put on 2010 though, because you could say that our schedule got a whole lot easier in those last three games (and, really, by the 4th quarter of the Apple Cup we couldn’t stop the Cougs on offense to save our lives).

Nevertheless, this year the defense IS getting better.  It HAS responded to the challenge set forth by the coaching staff (and the expectations of the fans).  We had two subpar showings the first two games, an outright disaster in Nebraska, but then we followed that up by gamely stopping Cal on their final drive, and we’ve looked pretty great against Utah and Colorado here this weekend.  Is that indicative of our schedule easing up, or of us actually improving to the point where we can be somewhat confident in this defense no matter who we play?

I guess we’ll find out this Saturday, but like I said before, we’re clicking at the exact right time.  I feel that defense is about being confident just as much as it is about talent and scheme.  With the way we’ve been playing of late, that confidence HAS to be there.  I’m sure we’re not so over-confident that we think we’re going to roll into Stanford and shut them down.  But, there needs to be a healthy amount of ego if we have even the slightest hope of winning this game.

If the team goes in there thinking that they have to score 50 points to win, then they’ve already lost.  Now, that’s not to say 50 points won’t be necessary (it very well might), but THEY have to think that they’re going to keep Stanford under 30.  Because it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

I’m going to be a wreck for this game.  Good thing I’ll be there at Stanford Stadium, hopped up on alcohol and talking enough shit to fill Paul Bunyan’s toilet.  Is it ironic or idiotic for a Seattle liberal to go down to Stanford badmouthing their “liberal elite” fanbase?

Why The Huskies Will Be Better Than Expected

That title is kinda ridiculous, when you think about it, because I have a feeling expectations are all over the map on this team.  I’m sure there are some who will see a team minus Jake Locker, minus a couple of quality linebackers in Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa, and they’ll say, “This team is going nowhere but the bottom of the Pac-12.”  And, I’m sure there are sycophants out there who will point to all the talent at skill positions and say, “This is a team that can contend for the Rose Bowl!”

I’m not going to go quite that far, but I do think we have a chance to win anywhere from 6 to 8 games, depending on how things shake out.

I’m not gonna lie to you, losing Jake Locker is a step back.  But, I don’t know how BIG a step back this will be.  Keith Price has the luxury of having started a game against the Number 1 team in college football (on the road!).  He’s been put through the trial of an offseason competition with Nick Montana and come out on top.  He’s got the wheels of a quality running quarterback – maybe not as fast or as powerful as Locker, but then again, who is?  What we’ve yet to find out about Keith Price is:  can he drive us down field in a 2-minute offense using solely (or primarily) his arm?  Because Locker was great at that.  Maybe he had to improvise a little bit, but he would almost always get the job done.

But, when you think about it, this SHOULD be a team that leans heavily on the run.  When were we at our best last season?  When all thoughts of a Heisman Trophy went out the window and we decided it was best for this team to pound the ball.  QB draws and Chris Polk.  A LOT of Chris Polk.  I would expect more of the same this year.  Polk will be our horse, we still have Jesse Callier, and I’m pretty sure we have a freshman coming in who might end up being more talented than both!

The studs don’t stop there, though.  We have receivers out the ying-yang, starting with incoming beast Austin Seferian-Jenkins at tight end.  Our other superstar freshman – receiver Kasen Williams – should also demand some heavy playing time.  Coming back, we have D’Andre Goodwin and Jermaine Kearse, and I’m sure a few other guys who are primed to step up into the spotlight (or, in the case of James Johnson, BACK into the spotlight).

If we’re going to be a running team, what are we going to do with all this talent at receiver?

Well, I’m sure they’re not going to be neglected – I’m sure we’ll be able to feature them heavily in our first two non-conference games – but when it gets down to crunch time, when we need a couple yards to convert on third down, I have no doubt it’ll be a steady dose of the running back off tackle.

A lot of people, when they look at this year’s Husky team, will point to the defense as a huge question mark.  After all, we lost our two best players to the draft.  And that was from a defense that wasn’t all that great to begin with! 

Well, if you give any creedence whatsoever to spring practices, then you’ll have confidence in our defensive line, because apparently it was a non-stop killing machine!  Josh Shirley – transfer from UCLA – can get after the quarterback like nobody’s business.  Now, can he do that in a real game?  That’ll be the question.  One guy we know can wreak havoc is Alameda Ta’amu.  He’ll be a senior, the unquestioned leader of that line, and should make running the ball against us a non-factor.

As far as our linebacking is concerned, it seems like every year we lose an all-world linebacker, only to have the next guy in line step up and make an impact.  This year should be no different as long as Cort Dennison is around.  He moves up to become the leader of the defense, and I have no doubt he’ll be able to keep the other linebackers in check.

My main concern is the secondary.  I just don’t think we have the talent to prevent the good teams from moving the ball up and down the field (that Stanford game should prove to be a God-damned massacre once again).  Hopefully, if our D-Line is as good as advertised, the other teams’ quarterbacks won’t have enough time to launch ball after ball down field.

My other big concern is our schedule.  It’s not necessarily a bear because of our non-conference foes – although, Eastern Washington and Hawaii are no slouches – but because the Pac-12 (as usual) is fucking loaded at the top.  Oregon, Stanford, USC, and Oregon State will all be awesome (according to what I’ve read, anyway).  We play all of those teams (except Oregon) on the road; so that’s cool.

First thing’s first:  we have to go into Nebraska 2-0.  Losing to either EWU or Hawaii is not an option.  I actually like the way this shakes out, to tell you the truth.  We start out with a team in a lower college division (albeit the BEST team in that lower division), then we take a step up to a mid-major type university, then we take the big leap to the Big-10.

Now, in my fantasy world, I’m not saying we’re DEFINITELY going to march into Nebraska and make them our bitches like we did in the Holiday Bowl.  But, I don’t see why we COULDN’T do that.

What we MUST do is win a minimum of 6 games at home.  This year, we have a 7-game home schedule.  Something tells me we won’t topple the Ducks; so that means we have to beat:  EWU, Hawaii, Cal, Colorado, Arizona, and WSU.  Win those:  go to a bowl.

On the road, like I said before, it’s pretty nasty.  @ Nebraska, @ Utah, @ Stanford, @ USC, @ Oregon State.  I don’t like ANY of those games!  I think IF we’re going to win a game, it’s going to be either Nebraska or Utah.  I can’t imagine we strike gold a third consecutive year against USC, not with Barkley running the show and likely looking at Heisman contention.

I dunno, I could be wrong.  Maybe these teams I fear won’t be worth a damn by the time we face ’em.  If we can find a way to steal a couple of those road games, while still maintaining our 6 wins at home, I would say 8-4 is better than most people expect.  Either way, just GOING to a bowl could shatter a lot of expectations for how this Pac-12 is going to shake out.  I believe they’re going to do it.  And, for the record, I believe the Dawgs are going to steal at least one road game.

If I had my druthers, I’d make it the Stanford game and really shock the world.

Price vs. Montana

Spring practices!  How about it!

Yeah, I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s next to impossible to get excited for college spring practices.  Unless I can stand out in the parking lot of Husky Stadium drinking beer all day beforehand, I don’t think caring is in the cards.

Of course, if there EVER was a year to care – even a little bit – this might be the year.  Which seems a little backward, because we’re not supposed to contend for the Pac-12 championship.  We don’t have a Heisman candidate.  Yeah, we’re coming off of a marginally successful season capped by a late-season run against mediocre teams … but the 2011 Huskies will look nothing like the 2010 Huskies.

The reason to be excited is simple.  This is the first real test of Sarkisian’s ability to recruit.  Granted, in the last two seasons, we managed to expunge most of the guys from the previous regime simply by merit (or lack thereof) alone.  But now, even the quality guys have moved on.  No more Jake Locker to kick around.  No more Mason Foster.

We’ve got position battles, people!  We get to see how ALL these Freshmen – who’ve been getting extended opportunities the last couple years – progress and mature and grow.  Will they turn out to be studs?  Will we have to cycle in ever more Freshmen?

One of the major stories of the spring thus far is how much better the Defense is compared to the Offense.  I think that’s one of the most overrated stories of any offseason program.  Oh, you’re telling me the defense is dominating?  Well, what does that really MEAN?  Is our offense just so craptacular that we’ll be lucky to average 10 points a game this year?  I’m not gonna lie to you, I’m leaning more on that side of the spectrum.  Although, if what I’m hearing about our defensive line is true, we could all be pleasantly surprised come September.

The most important position battle, of course, is that for our Starting Quarterback.  Nick Montana vs. Keith Price.  Nick Montana, who red-shirted last season; and Keith Price, who started and played fairly well at Oregon.

I don’t have much of an opinion on this, because I’ve never seen Montana play and I only remember Price running for his life as the Ducks ran up the score in the 4th quarter.  It sounds like the race is too close to call, but it also sounds like Price has an edge in this race.

If I had it my way, I’d make this Montana’s job to lose.  Very simply put:  there’s a ceiling on all “running quarterbacks” where there’s not for a pure pocket passer.  Now, I don’t know where Montana’s head is at, if he’s making dumb mistakes, or if he’s got the field smarts of his father; but it seems to me that this was the biggest “Get” of Sark’s early recruiting run with the Huskies.  He’s got a year under his belt where he watched a legend lead his team to a Holiday Bowl victory, he’s got four years of eligibility left, and quite frankly he’s got some of the best running backs in the conference to lighten his load!

I’d rather have Montana get the chance and let this team grow around him for the next four years.

And, not for nothing, I’d really like to thumb my nose at BYU and Jake Heaps.  After all, Montana is the guy we settled on when Heaps spurned us in favor of the Mormons.  Heaps had his chance last year and ran away with it; I’d like to see Montana get that same opportunity.

I think I read somewhere that Sark doesn’t like going with dual quarterbacks; he likes to have a clearly defined starter and backup.  If they’re so close in ability right now, I kinda wish he’d back off that stance a little bit and give both a chance to play this year.  ONE of them is going to have to become a star.  I’d hate to see Montana’s growth stunted for another year based on one man’s personal preference.