“Don’t shoot yourself in the foot” certainly has more meaning for the Washington Huskies as they simply self- destructed in their quest to end a nine game losing streak to their feathered neighbors to the south, the Oregon Ducks. Prior to the game, Softy ask me what I thought were the keys to the game in order for the Huskies to win. My reply was that in order to beat a really good team like Oregon you have to play a “clean game”. That means not doing things that will hurt yourself like no fumbles, no interceptions, no missed tackles, no drops, and no stupid penalties. Those are a recipe for disaster especially when you are on the road and unfortunately they all happened and collectively eliminated any chance of the Huskies winning the game. I watched in horror as everything I said not to do, they did. Come on, it’s as though I condemned them to happen.
Washington threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball five times, losing three of them, including a dropped punt by a freshman, a fumble by another freshman after he had successfully ran a fake punt on fourth down, and a fumble by their quarterback after, he too, had successfully converted a first down. In all three cases the errant offender was simply trying too hard to make something happen and in doing so got careless by not securing the football in the process. All three fumbles resulted in Oregon scores and occurred because the players were trying to force the issue rather than letting the game come to them and in doing so exposed the football and eventually lost it. All three resulted in Oregon scores as did a careless interception which the intercepting Duck took to the house for touchdown and essentially signaled “game over” even though it was still the first quarter of the game.
Down 21-0, the Huskies had dug themselves a hole they simply couldn’t climb out of because while sitting in their duck-blind they had accidently shot themselves in the foot. Then to compound matters worse, they proceeded to commit 9 penalties for 102 yards and at least three were stupid 15 yard personal fouls that kept drives alive and further helped the Ducks to fly away. The Huskies had a 3rd and 1, jump offsides, and it becomes a third and 6. Come on guys. Along the way they also dropped at least 4 passes that hit them in a bad place, the hands. Each drop helped kill a drive and another chance to try and score and stay in the hunt regardless of their foot injury. Then on defense they repeatedly missed open field tackles that often resulted in Duck touchdowns and also lost contain on the Duck quarterback allowing him to scramble out of the pocket and find open receivers on at least 5 occasions. Those are fundamental breakdowns. That’s not even mentioning two critical coverage mistakes that left Duck receivers wide open. Wow, give yourself a chance Dawgs. You’re never going to beat a quality opponent on the road if you serve them the game on a platter.
Who knows what would have happened if Washington could have kept the game close. Everything changes when your own mistakes result directly in scores by your opponent. The Ducks are good enough to beat you on their own, they didn’t need the Huskies’ help.
So it is time to regroup, accept the past for what it is and move on because the USC Trojans are coming to town and they have just as much talent as do the Oregon Ducks. In fact, the two Trojan receivers, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, are probably the best one-two combo of any receivers there are in the nation. Then there is the Trojan quarterback, Matt Barkley, who is probably the best passer they will face this season and a certain NFL draft choice. Then just for kicks the Trojans raided Penn State for their best running back in Silas Redd. He was a work horse in their last game against Utah and the Huskies will have to stop the run first and foremost and then run the ball themselves in order to win. Regardless, if Washington is to upset the Trojans, who are a 2 touchdown favorite, they had best “clean up their act”.
Teams like Oregon and USC don’t need any help when they are obviously better on paper. Washington will have to play their best game of the season (including the Stanford victory) in order to beat the Men of Troy. Against the Ducks the Huskies did do some positive things including winning the kicking game, in spite of dropping two punts, and having a back, Bishop Sankey, run for 104 yards, and only giving up 1 sack by a young and inexperienced offensive line. Granted, that was probably because the Husky QB, Keith Price, was throwing quickly but considering they had given up 10 sacks going into the game, that was an area of improvement. Defensively, the Huskies were led by a group of three freshmen linebackers in Travis Feeney, Shaq Thompson, and Cory Littleton, who accounted for 26 tackles between the three of them. That is promising for the future but the NOW is what is most important and for right now the Huskies would do well to concentrate on not hurting themselves by eliminating their obvious mistakes
Bottom line on offense is the Huskies need to have a banner game out of their quarterback, Keith Price, if they are going to have any chance of beating USC. To this point Price has been hot and cold on the season but losing is never one man’s fault in football nor is it one side of the ball. When you lose, it’s everyone’s fault; the coaches, the players, the offense, the defense, and the kicking game. You can’t dwell on the past especially when an opponent like USC is coming to town. They might have to close down the board and play a little closer to the vest, but each possession is critical and mistakes are often the determiner of momentum and the Huskies learned that tough lesson last Saturday when they shot themselves in the foot while the ducks flew away for yet another year.
On offense it’s all about moving the chains and always gaining field position or scoring someway on each possession. On defense it’s simply about getting stops and getting the ball back for the offense and in the kicking game it’s all about being solid. No shanks, no bad snaps, no dropped kicks, and no stupid penalties. The Huskies can win this game but only if they can clean up their act.
The last time the Huskies beat the Oregon Ducks was 2003 under Keith Gilbertson in what might have been Gibby’s finest win as the Husky head coach. Of course that was before Chip Kelly arrived on the scene, but regardless, the Ducks have since run off eight straight. During that span the Ducks have averaged 42 points while the Dogs have averaged 17. Wow! It hasn’t even been close. But that was then and this is now. I think the Huskies can win this game but they will have to play their best game in order to do so. Both WSU and Arizona showed them things that had the Ducks had trouble with and the number one thing is to move the chains on offense and keep Oregon’s offense on the sideline. That means getting stops on defense be it punts, turnovers, or field goals and ball controlling on offense. I promise you Sark’s kids will be traveling into Eugene with full intentions of winning this game.
No question, Oregon is the premier football program in the west right now and they have sustained their success by winning the Rose Bowl last year and playing for the national championship the year before that. They have done it with flair and fashion and an association with the Nike Company that no other school enjoys. They have a personal benefactor in Nike president, Phil Knight, who has allowed and certainly enabled Coach Chip Kelly to recruit with the marketing skill and assistance from one of America’s leading athletic sportswear companies.
The Ducks are simply hot on the college sports scene right now and certainly Kelly has done magic with his up-tempo, peddle to the meddle offense. Oh, they are really solid on defense, but it is on offense where their speed is simply scary and they spread you out so you have to tackle that speed in open spaces. This is precisely where Washington can win this game. They simply can’t miss tackles and will help themselves tremendously to always know where De-Anthony Thomas, #6, is and always be stalking and gang tackling and wrapping him up. Hold him in check and win the game. The inability of Washington, or anyone for that matter, to figure out how to stop this attack is the dilemma.
After watching four of their games, most teams, including the Ducks themselves, employ an odd or 3 man front who always line up ready to go. Because of the up tempo, all the kids on defense must know the calls and immediately look to the bench for signals. It is an option offense run out of shotgun formation and they throw quickly or off of play action so it’s hard to pressure the quarterback. They spread you from sideline to sideline by aligning 2 wide receivers one way and one the other forcing you to cover them man to man which is another key for the Huskies.
To beat Oregon, the Huskies will need to flat out win the kicking game, control the ball with their offense and get as many stops as possible on defense. They would do well to win the turnover battle and keep their penalties to a minimum. The bottom line is Oregon hasn’t really played anyone with the exception of Arizona and WSU and neither of those teams appear to be in the elite of the conference, because the Arkansas State, Tennessee Tech, and Fresno State games were all played in Eugene and all three games were over by half time. Arizona squandered 4 scoring opportunities in the red-zone and WSU should have been leading at half. Oregon has been far from stellar in the kicking game averaging only 37.5 punting and have only made 3 of 5 field goals and also had one blocked. They have also fumbled the ball 14 times losing 6 and have thrown 6 interceptions. Should Washington win both the kicking game and the turnover ratio they could really help themselves to win this game.
As a team, the Huskies can’t afford to lose contact with the Ducks by allowing them to put together back to back scores. The Huskies need to get the lead and always answer every time Oregon scores. The Ducks have been really tough at home so Washington would also do well to take the crowd out early by taking the lead.
Holding Thomas in check will also be big in determining if Washington can win the biggest game of the Sarkisian era. There is no doubt this is a tall task but Washington can win this game if they can keep the Ducks from scoring in bunches. The Ducks show you when they are blitzing on defense and are predictable with what they do out of their various personnel grouping on offense. It will take the best game of the season out of Keith Price and the Husky offense and another effort like their last one against Stanford on defense, but this Duck team is beatable if the Dawgs can avoid mistakes.
OK, I confess, I went to WSU in the mid-60’s where I played football and graduated with a degree in Communications and Drama. Even with this Cougar background, I consider myself a Husky based largely upon close to 30 year of working for the Purple and Gold. Confused, conflicted, and complicated it is not for I have been a Husky ever since Don James hired me in 1984. My part on the Husky Honks has continued my involvement in Husky Football but I have never forgotten my collegiate roots and my five years as a Cougar where I was elected captain my senior year and started my coaching career under Jim Sweeney.
This past weekend, because the Huskies had a bye, I decided to make the trek to Pullman with my old college roommate and take in the WSU/Colorado game as well as the festivities of Homecoming weekend. It was to be my one weekend to be root for my school and they were playing the weakest team in the conference so naturally we were expecting a victory. What I didn’t realize is that “We were also on a mission from God”. When I picked up Al, whose nickname is Oilcan, he arranged all his Cougar memorabilia in the backseat along with a baggy of what appeared to be ashes. He immediately told me it was his father and Dad was going to the game with us and we were going to spread his ashes at the Vet School where he had graduated in 1939 before going on to deliver thousands of cows and horses for 70 years in Skagit County. I looked at Oilcan and asked if that meant we were going to be the Blues Brothers and the backseat gave me the answer. Orv (for my middle name Orval) and Oilcan became Jake and Elwood on a mission that only a Cougar would understand.
We had done this same trip two years ago (without ashes) but this time we had an extra passenger even though he didn’t say anything the whole way over. Oilcan tried to put his dad on the dashboard but I told him no way and headed out for Ellensburg where my daughter and her family as well as Oilcan’s mother both live. We got up early Saturday to make the 3 hour trip with a hope of beating the traffic, which we succeeded in doing. As college kids the same trip often had taken 10 to 12 hours with frequent stops at every watering hole along the way in picturesque little farming towns like Washtucna, Dusty, Vantage, and Colfax. We went by these same haunts but decided not to stop because we were on a Mission from God.
Those of you who know Cougars realize that going to that school leaves you with a little distorted view of life. You literally have to be a Coug to understand the true meaning. One part is of it is understood and that is you hate the Huskies and always root for whoever the Dawgs are playing against. To a real true-crimson Cougar, there is nothing redeemable about the Huskies. Consequently, I was intent on playing an undercover low profile, because nobody is considered lower than a Cougar who becomes a Husky. I’m a modern day Benedict Arnold in that neck of the woods, er wheat fields.
Most of my ex-team mates fully understand my professional choice but to the average Cougar fan I’m lower than whale poop. It really wasn’t until Bill Moos, who had worked at Oregon, came along that I found anyone in the Palouse who would even begin to understand my conversion. Having been born and raised in Seattle I had always dreamed of playing for the Huskies but they didn’t offer me coming out of high school so my decision was easy, I went where I was wanted and always had an extra incentive to beat the Huskies.
The ash in the car matched the smoke in the air and once you cross Snoqualmie Pass it was like being in Los Angeles. The smoke was with us all the way to Pullman and it should have been an indication that the game was going be Hell.
Upon arrival we parked and snuck our way across the lawn of the Vet School looking for an appropriate burial site. I walked right up to the entrance of the building and while standing on the steps located a spot right next to the front door and immediately Elwood began spreading the ashes. Feeling it was appropriate and acting upon my ministerial credentials (which I had purchased on the internet for $15) I proceeded to commend the ashes of Robert Lester Clinton, born 1925 and diseased 2012, back to the hollowed grounds of the WSU Vet School from which he had graduated in 1939. I took a couple of pictures of Oilcan and the ashes and it was mission accomplished. Now it was time for the game.
The Cougars immediately took control and marched right down the field for a touchdown and the game appeared to be the cakewalk everyone expected. And then they had to play defense and it became obvious they still didn’t know how. By the end of the game the Cougars had blown a `17 point lead in the fourth quarter and had succeeded in losing to a team that probably won’t win another game this whole year. That could also happen to the Cougars if they don’t figure out how to tackle pretty soon not to mention that their very best player dropped two touchdown passes. Somehow, someway the Cougars found a way to lose the game.
Honestly, I was in a state of shock leaving the stadium and so were most of the other fans, all of whom had blank looks on their faces, all of us disbelieving what we had just witnessed. “How could they have lost that game?” That was being murmured collectively by hundreds of us as we all walked dejectedly back to our cars. It was unbelievable, shocking and depressing all at the same time. Then we walked by the Vet School and a smile came over both of us and we accepted the hard reality of life. If you’re a true blue er crimson Cougar, you are prepared for these sorts of things in life. No one said it was going to be easy and winning football games isn’t supposed to happen all the time if you’re a Cougar. It’s sorta like being a Chicago Cub fan. Winning isn’t that important, it’s wanting to win that is. It’s all attitude and if you let your expectations get carried away the Cougars will smack you right upside the head with a clunker like we had just watched. They had just lost 35-34 and everyone in the stadium could feel it slipping away as the Colorado Buffaloes marched right down the field and with 9 seconds to play snatched the apple of victory right out of the Cougars’ mouth. I hate to use the term but they Couged it.
The drive back to Ellensburg (necessitated by lack of adequate hotels, no make that motels in the Palouse) was solemn but the same question was asked over and over. How did they lose that game? We decided it was simply because they didn’t really know how to win it. We also decided to stop and fill up with gas just as you leave Colfax and Oilcan went in to purchase some snacks and water. He asked me what I wanted an I answered that a diet-coke sounded good and when he returned (which was delayed by talking with everyone in the store about the stupid game) he immediately began a tirade on how bad diet drinks were for you and how they lead to all kinds of health issues. Then he proceeded to pull out two bags of potato chips (not even barbeque) and four packages of cookies. Go figure. That was our dinner. (Cougar soul food). Anything to take away the bad taste in our mouths. I hate to even think about how ugly some of the Cougar drunks must have been. We were getting out of Dodge as fast as we could.
The best part of the whole trip was the quality time I got to spend with my daughter, Tristen, and my three grandsons. Oilcan, who lives in Costa Rica, is staying for another week just so he can go to the WSU/Oregon game this coming weekend in Seattle. Are you kidding me? Talk about being a loyal Coug but then again that’s what being a Coug is all about. It’s called Cougar logic. If you play enough games then sooner or later you’re going to win one. Right now I have no idea which one that will be even if they do have Mike Leach as coach. Coach didn’t miss a tackle that I could see but he has to be thinking, what did I get myself into?