The passing of Don James made a lot of us check our hole cards. He was indeed the Dawgfather and probably one of the greatest sports figures in the history of the Pacific Northwest. The thousands of players, coaches, and fans who knew and respected him were all impacted by his role in their lives and equally sorrowed by his passing at the age of 80. He was a giant in a small package.
I had the privilege of working directly with him for about a decade and then enjoyed another two decades of just being his friend. He was my mentor, my role model, and a spiritual guide for me and my whole family. That’s because he took my family into his family as soon as I went to work with him. We were all members of the James Gang.
That’s what the James era was all about. It was about family and there was never any doubt who the patriarch was. His presence could be felt whenever he entered a room and his quiet humble personality could immediately turn into a no-nonsense, “you better sit up, shut up, and pay attention”. Needless to say, he was a man who was firmly in command and garnered your attention as soon as he started talking.
Grieving is such a weird emotional rollercoaster. One minute you have control and the next it has control of you. It’s all so sad but it’s all so real. For me, his passing took the identical route as when my own father passed. He had that kind of impact on me. I knew it was coming but somehow he just seemed bigger than life and was going to beat it. A deeply religious man, Coach James is now with his Lord and Savior. He leaves us with all the lessons and guidance from just being in his organization.
You can start with being on time, being loyal to each other, and having your priorities in order; God, your family, your education, and your team. Faith, Family, and Football were how he lived his life and you could throw in Golf just to keep his interest. His attention to detail was over whelming. His messages were subtle in delivery but you always got his intent.
He was a stoic in that he acted the same no matter what was happening. Win or lose, he was always under control. Oh he might have been mad on the inside but he was always so direct that you’d better not make him repeat himself. He was distant but he was right inside you. He made everyone who worked for him know they had a part and he expected you to give it your best effort.
There was never any talk on the bus on the way to the game. There were no head-sets playing music, there was no unnecessary laughter and it you weren’t on time when the bus left, it left without you. In fact, being on time meant being 5-minutes early. For team or staff meeting, everyone was in their seat well before the meeting was scheduled to begin. That was called “DJ Time”. To this day all the clocks in our house are set 5 minutes fast.
Don James will always be part of Husky Football. He was the greatest modern day coach ever and firmly put the Huskies on the national stage of college football. His legacy will live on forever. He was a giant in a small package. He was the Dawgfather and he was my friend. God bless him, may he rest in peace.
Nine straight losses by an average margin of 26 points is enough incentive for the Washington Huskies to try and get a win this week when they face the high flying Ducks of Oregon. It will be a major feat but it is possible if they can just keep pace.
Part of the reason why Husky coach Steve Sarkisian switched offenses is to better prepare his defense to keep up with the Duck offense. The Ducks are the masters of the hurry up, no huddle, spread option offense and have perfected it to the point where nobody has even come close to stopping them much less winning the game. They are number 2 in the nation in scoring averaging just a shade under 60 points per game while only giving up a little under 12. They are the number two ranked team in the country and are led by a quarterback, Marcus Mariota, who can run as well as he can throw. They have no less than three runners in the top 10 of rushing in the conference and average 330 yards per game rushing. They have created more fumbles by their opponents and have been a BCS participant almost every year the BCS has existed.
So, do the Huskies even stand a chance of winning? I guess that will depend on whether or not they can keep up with the scoring and get their defense off the field. I know this, the Huskies think they can win and after watching them practice this week it looks like they are preparing exactly the way they do every week. Staying within their system, doing things the same way, and preparing with the same intensity no matter who they are playing has been their approach but nobody needs to tell them this is a really big game and I personally believe they sincerely expect to win.
The Ducks are stingy with the football. They rarely punt but rather prefer to go for it on fourth down. They don’t like to kick field goals so will go for the endzone whenever in the red-zone. Washington would do well to consider approaching the game the same way. Don’t give them the football and they can’t score. Keep the Duck defense on the field and their offense on the sidelines. Washington would do well to keep feeding the rock to Bishop Sankey but when they do pass they will need to give quarterback, Keith Price, enough protection to give him time. On film the Ducks don’t appear to be as good defensively as they were last year but the level of their competition has made it tough to analyze. One of the keys is simply to use speed against speed.
The Huskies will need to play sound option responsibilities and tackle well in space. Mariota is a slick ball handler and they really like to run outside a lot because of the quickness of their backs so the Husky defense really needs to be disciplined in their approach. Their line basically tells you where they are going and what kind of play to expect. The Husky defense needs to be honest with their reads and know that if they have a good play they will line up immediately and try to get off another play before the defense can regroup. The Ducks have had 48 plays this year of over 20 yards so taking the big play off the board will also be a key and that means great tackling is a priority.
Anyone who watched the last Husky game against Stanford knows that the Huskies lost the game in the kicking game. Well they better have worked on that because the Ducks are great in both punt returns and kickoff returns. They lead the nation in punt returns so the Husky punter, Travis Coons, will be a key factor especially if he can continue to directionally kick the ball out of bounds. I think Coons is better at both phases of kicking than either the Duck punter or the Duck field goal kicker so if he has a great day that will be another key to winning. Best not to punt the ball to them but rather punt it out of bounds.
The bottom line is this is a great football team the Huskies will be facing and to win the game they must play almost error free football with again having great tackling as the key. The Huskies are easily the best team the Ducks have faced so far this year and it really doesn’t matter what we think, it’s all about what they think. They think they can win and with going to the same sort of offense the Ducks run, Husky defense at least has a clue of what to expect from both the schematic standpoint but especially from the pace standpoint. We will have to see on game day but from my vantage I think they are better prepared to beat Oregon than any time in the last decade. Make them play into the fourth quarter and see how their defense holds up against the Husky offense. Nobody has challenged them to do that this whole year so if the Huskies can just keep it close then they have a chance to win it at the end with a Travis Coons field goal.
Don’t look away now because the Washington Huskies are heading for a big-time showdown this coming Saturday. Back on the road to play the Stanford Cardinal, a team many consider to be one of the best in the nation. A Cardinal team that was also upset last year by these same Huskies in what proved to be the Dogs best performance of the whole season. Had Stanford not lost to Washington they would probably have played for the national championship. The Dogs could be on the other side of pay-back here and are facing the best defense they have seen so far this year.
Stanford was number 8 in the country last year and is now number 5. Are they better than the Cardinal team that beat UCLA twice at the end of the season before going to and winning the Rose Bowl? On defense, I’d say yes simply because they have great depth and lots of veterans. On offense though I think the Husky defense has a chance to hang in there. Most significantly, they will be without running back Stefan Taylor and tight end Zach Erst, who are both now playing professionally. Stanford is unique because they are just so “old-school”. They have great lines and they will run the ball right down your throat if you let them. They like run the ball down hill out of the I formation with “power” off tackle to the strong side, and “counter” back to the weak side. In both plays there is usually a backside guard who “pulls” and becomes an extra blocker along with the fullback at the point of attack. They will also run a bootleg pass off both these plays. The Huskies must stop these plays to win the game. This year the Cardinal have also added a shotgun spread attack and have been taking shots deep in each of their first four games. The Husky defenders will need to eliminate any ‘bombs ’ if they stand a chance of winning another close one.
Last year the Huskies won the turnover battle 2 to 1 and in a slugfest low scoring game ( like last year’s 17-13), turnovers can often be the deciding factor. Likewise getting a big play out of the kicking game could be the difference and right now Travis Coons, the Huskies’ punter/kicker, is having a good season as both the kicker and the punter. I think he kicks the decider in this one and the Huskies leave town with another narrow upset victory.
Here is a simple formula for victory when playing against a bully type team; Be prepared to slug it out with them. Tighten up your chin straps and Hit them right in the mouth. Don’t make mistakes that result in turnovers. Win the kicking game and the running game and you will THE game. Allow no long plays by them and don’t back down. The Huskies have a great opportunity to take a major step by beating such a veteran team. Expect it to be close and expect it to be physical.