Offensive line improving

  • John Sleeper / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, September 25, 2001 9:00pm
  • Sports

By John Sleeper

Herald Writer

SEATTLE – Although it was difficult to get an accurate gauge, given the overmatched opponent, the University of Washington’s young offensive line showed signs of steady improvement against Idaho Saturday.

Although the Huskies (2-0) have gotten stunning, point-producing play from its defense and special teams, the Husky offense had five drives of seven plays or more and four of nine plays or more.

Most impressive were the last two scoring drives in the first half: an 11-play, 89-yard, 4 minute, 18-second march, ended by quarterback Cody Pickett’s 25-yard run; and a 10-play, 80-yard, 2:51 drive on which Braxton Cleman scored from 7 yards out.

“Those last two drives of the first half were critical, not so much in terms of the outcome of the game, but certainly for our offense to gain some momentum,” UW coach Rick Neuheisel said.

It was especially critical for the O-line, whose issues have been well documented. Turned away near the goal line twice by Michigan, the Huskies also had to settle for a John Anderson field goal when the Vandals stopped Washington on their own 4-yard line.

That was why the two drives at the end of the first half were so critical. Coming into the Pacific-10 Conference season against California on Saturday, Washington’s offense needed to know that it could sustain long, crunching drives reminiscent of the 1999 and 2000 teams.

“We were getting a lot of confidence,” guard Elliott Zajac said. “You could see it in people’s eyes.”

In addition, the Huskies have had less time than they’d hoped to prepare for the conference season, given that the East Coast terrorist attacks forced postponement of the Miami game until Nov. 24. Win or lose, the experience of playing a Miami could only accelerate the offense’s development.

“We still have work to do as an offense,” Neuheisel said. “People say that it was an advantage that we didn’t play Miami at the time, but as a coach, although you certainly like to have a chance to win games, you certainly want opportunities to practice and to play. We missed an opportunity there, so we’re a little bit behind.”

Said guard Nick Newton: “All of us are picking up and fine-tuning stuff. As much time as we spent in the game against Idaho, we did get a lot of experience. We’re a lot better off than we were.”

Neuheisel has said that this offense has the potential to be more explosive than those that preceded it. He reasons that while Pickett and the O-line mature, and as the offense slowly moves out of its conservative mode, the rest of the skill guys will have a better chance to show off.

“I think we’re on track,” Neuheisel said. “It doesn’t mean we’re there, but I think we’re on track.”

Cal struggles: The Golden Bears have been blown out in each of their first three games. The offense has a whopping 12 turnovers already and the defense is last in the conference in passing yards, total yards and points against. The alumni are calling for coach Tom Holmoe’s ouster and the pressure is beginning to show.

“This is probably the toughest I’ve ever had it as an athlete or a coach,” Holmoe said, “to be able to pull a team together and get on the right track. The kids have a good attitude about it. The coaches are doing everything within their power.”

Holmoe pulled beleaguered starting quarterback Kyle Boller in the first half in favor of backup Eric Holtfreter, but Holmoe said Boller would start against Washington.

“I don’t believe we have a quarterback controversy,” Holmoe said.

First road-trip angst: The Cal game marks the first time the Huskies will have traveled by air since the national crisis Sept. 11. For some, this will be the first time ever on an airplane.

Neuheisel said the team had a meeting to air concerns.

“I’m sure there will be those with some anxiety, given the events of the past weeks,” he said. “But this is a charter aircraft and we know everybody on board.”

Short routes: Starting tailback Rich Alexis sat out practice with a sore hip flexor, but should be ready for Saturday. Because of injuries to Willie Hurst (hamstring) and Braxton Cleman (collarbone), Paul Arnold split time between tailback and receiver. Also, true freshman Chris Singleton ran with the first-unit offense the majority of the time, with Ty Eriks also getting reps … Neuheisel said defensive tackle Larry Tripplett tweaked his back in the weight room and also sat out, but should be ready as well … Cornerback Omare Lowe sat out the end of practice with a tight hamstring … Cornerback and kick returner Roc Alexander hurt his shoulder in a pass-defense drill and missed about half of practice. Neuheisel said he should be at practice today.

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