So the Huskies are 1-0 for the first time in five years, and that was certainly exciting to the players who arrived for postgame interviews, as well as for coach Tyrone Willingham, though his excitement and his calmness pretty much look the same. But there certainly wasn’t the feeling of euphoria that there was after the Arizona game last year. There’s probably a couple of reasons for that:
First, I think Washington really, truly believes that it is a bowl game, and so while 1-0 is great, they realize it’s just one step toward their ultimate goal. Second, the win felt a little like an escape. While it’s certainly a plus that Washington pulled out a win in the fourth quarter after struggling with that last season, it’s also disappointing in that it was expected that the Huskies would have an easier time with a team that clearly seemed overmatched physically. And third, the win is tempered by the fact that, quite frankly, it came against San Jose State, which is certainly the weakest team on the Washington schedule, and the players realize that.
Other random thoughts about the game:
The most interesting thing to me to come out of the postgame interviews was the fact that defensive coordinator Kent Baer said the defense was completely unprepared for the spread option offense San Jose State employed. That’s not really Baer’s fault, as he watched every game film of San Jose from last year and said they never showed even a snap of the offense that they showed Saturday. That explains why the Huskies were mostly in a nickel defense in the second half, and also may explain the near-fourth-quarter collapse. Washington is thin in the secondary and it was hot, and those guys seemed to wear down. The Huskies really need a healthy Dashon Goldson to compete every week against good teams.
Isaiah Stanback looked really good, I thought, as evidenced by his 100-yard rushing and 100-yard passing performance, the first Husky quarterback to do that since Marques Tuiasosopo. He was accurate passing for the most part and a pretty dynamic runner. But I would be worried about some of the pounding he took. Seventeen runs is a lot, not to mention some of the shots he took on option pitches. Washington needs Stanback to hold up over the whole season, so it will be interesting to see if his running is cut back a bit.
The Huskies’ defensive ends were outstanding, and I’m counting Chris Stevens, who is a linebacker but pretty much only plays rush end. Greyson Gunheim, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and Brandon Ala, as well as Stevens, really got after the quarterback and were excellent against the run. And they are all underclassmen, which means that could be a real position of strength for the next few years.
The running game was much better than I expected. The offensive line wasn’t great, but it was solid enough, not bad for a group that was maybe the biggest question mark going into the season. Washington could have a pretty good running back duo in Louis Rankin and Kenny James. Rankin in particular was explosive and could be the game-breaking back Washington has been looking for.
Washington can’t have the turnovers it had Saturday against pretty much any other team on the schedule. A team that is on the edge of being good or not good has to do everything right, and turnovers will kill them.
The only injury Willingham reported was to tight end Michael Gottlieb, though Willingham would not say what the nature of the injury is.
Washington’s kicking game did look good, though it may have been a little telling that Willingham twice passed up potential field goal attempts which seemingly would have been within Michael Braunstein’s range. Braunstein was good on kickoffs, and Douglas was terrific punting the ball.
Washington will certainly be expected to get blown out by Oklahoma next week, but the good news is that the Sooners are a run-oriented team, and stopping the run seems to be the Huskies strength. Of course, a team like Oklahoma is going to be able to throw the ball too, and the Huskies have a week to shore up that part of the game. But it’s possible that the game won’t be as one-sided as originally expected, especially if the offense can hold up under Oklahoma’s physical defense.