SEATTLE – The game plan on offense Saturday was simple, yet anything but a lock.
The Washington Huskies, mindful of an offensive line as inexperienced as any around Montlake in the past decade and a quarterback who’s completed exactly three passes in his career, wanted to stay within their capabilities.
You’ve got to credit the coaching staff. Against No. 10 Michigan, a team whose sputtering offense will see better days as the season wears on, UW coach Rick Neuheisel merely wanted a clean slate in the turnover department and a bare minimum of penalties on the offensive ledger and got it. The reasoning: No glaring errors largely avoids the possibility that the Wolverines will run away in the first three quarters.
And everybody knows what usually happens in the fourth quarter with Washington.
“Rick said all we’ve got to do is not screw it up,” UW offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson said.
Don’t screw up.
While it doesn’t conjure up the same emotion as “Damn the torpedos; full speed ahead,” it worked.
Against Michigan, anyway.
It won’t Saturday against top-ranked Miami.
Not in the Orange Bowl.
The Hurricanes are deserving of their ranking. Ken Dorsey, jittery a year ago in raucous Husky Stadium, has turned into a legitimate O’Brien Award candidate as the land’s best quarterback. The ‘Canes have always had great skill guys, and this edition is no exception.
Tailback Clinton Portis, tight end Jeremy Shockey, flanker Daryl Jones and split end Andre Johnson are elite at their positions. Portis, Johnson and Jones can flat fly.
Tackle Joaquin Gonzalez is among the best linemen in the country. Ditto Bryant McKinney.
Miami also has supreme athletes on defense. Corners Mike Rumph and Phillip Buchanon may be the best pair of coverage guys in the nation. Strong safety Edward Reed, a three-year starter, is a candidate for the Nagurski Award, which goes to the best defensive player of the year.
While Michigan showed its weaknesses against the Huskies (quarterback John Navarre will see better days, for example), Miami appears to have zero shortcomings.
So the Huskies will have to do more on both sides of the ball than simply avoiding mistakes.
Neuheisel mentioned the red-zone offense. Twice, the Huskies penetrated inside the Michigan 6-yard line and came out with just three points. Once Michigan flooded Washington’s blocking schemes with blitzes or confused the linemen with stunts, there was little Washington could do.
Neuheisel also rightly mentioned poor tackling. Even outside linebacker Kai Ellis, among the most devastating hitters among Husky defenders, was seen missing on more than one opportunity to stop tailback Chris Perry, and Perry took advantage by bouncing off and gaining more yards.
Lastly, punt coverage.
In a word, awful. Michigan’s punt returns were dreadful last season. But Julius Curry looked like an All-American Saturday, weaving through flailing arms, averaging nearly 20 yards every time he touched the ball.
Obviously, Saturday’s 23-18 victory over Michigan was anything but a disaster. The defense was sound and special teams, save the punt-coverage team, was borderline spectacular.
But the Huskies have work to do before Saturday.
Against the ‘Canes, they’ll have to do much more than avoid screwing up.