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UW must spring ahead, lest it fall behind
Richard Linde, 29 March 2006

During his spring football press conference, Coach Tyrone Willingham commented on the recent success of the sports program at Washington, on the women’s national championship in volleyball and the back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances of the men’s basketball program. “This is a place where you can have great teams and great programs. That (name recognition) should help us (the football team).”

Er, coach, maybe you should say that the volleyball and basketball teams accomplished their mission in spite of the name recognition the football team provided. Three wins and nineteen losses over the last two seasons are best forgotten. You might ride the coattails of a popular politician into office, but football doesn’t work that way.

Willingham said that the expectation of the program is for the Huskies to go to a bowl game this season, which requires at least six wins. Is expectation aware of the schedule? The last three recruiting classes, which were mediocre by any former set of Husky standards, say otherwise. 

As for limiting the media to just the first 25 minutes of practice, Willingham doesn't need any concerned visitors holding mirrors under the proboscis of his flat-lining patient, who desperately needs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

So, here’s our first look at the Huskies as they prepare for spring practice, which starts March 30.

Washington returns six starters on offense and eight starters on defense, to a season that could be mostly unbearable for fans to watch.

Eighteen members of the 2003 class, Rick Neuheisel's last, figure to play significant roles in the year's effort, all listed on the two deeps going into the spring. Other members of that class, Craig Chambers and Bobby Whithorne, who both have left the team, figure to contribute at Montana and UCLA, respectively. MIke Mapuolesega and Jon Lyon have graduated. The 2003 class was ranked eighteenth in the country by scout.com.

Twenty of the starting 24 players (including specialists) were recruited by Neuheisel. 

Offense

On offense, the Huskies need to improve on their scoring, having averaged a little over 21 points per game last season, the worst in the conference. In total offense, the Huskies ranked ninth in the conference and, in pass efficiency, eighth. The Huskies finished last in the Pac-10 in first downs and ninth in third-down conversions. Their time of possession, 27:41, sums up the 2-9 season on offense.

Wide Receiver (grade B)

Sonny Shackelford and Anthony Russo lead an excellent crop of receivers. Both of them started all eleven games last season. Shack led all receivers with 592 total yards, while Russo was third in total yards (487), finishing behind Craig Chambers (573) who has left the team, having started 6 games on the season. When UW goes with a three-receiver set, look for Corey Williams (91 total yards) and Cody Ellis (154 total yards) to be in the hunt.

Commenting on the winter workouts, Willingham says that Russo “had an excellent winter and really prepped himself and put himself in position to be a much improved player and hopefully one of those playmakers we talked about.”

Offensive line (grade C-)

Five starters on the offensive line (Joe Toledo, Robin Meadow, Brad Vanneman, Tusi Sa’au, and Tui Alailefaleula) have been lost to graduation. All of them started in one or more games last season, appearing in 76% of the possible starts, in 42 out of 55 of them (5 positions  times 11 games).

Nathan Flowers (So) is expected to start at left tackle, along with Chad Macklin (Jr.) at right tackle, Juan Garcia (Sr.) at center, Stanley Daniels (Sr.) at left guard and Clay Walker (Sr.) at right guard. Daniels (a seven-game starter), Walker (a four-game starter) and Macklin (a two-game starter) give the Dawgs some experience up front. Let’s hope Garcia has a healthy season, since his career at Washington has gone the injury route for the most part.

Considering the erratic line play last season and the five mainstays lost to graduation, it seems unlikely that it can be more consistent this season.

Erik Bergland (6' 7", 285, 2003 class) rejoins the Huskies as a walk on.  Returning from a two-year LDS mission, William Kava adds some experience to the OL, having lettered in 2002.

Table 1. Two deeps, offensive line

Pos Name Year # GS 2005
LT Nathan Flowers Sophomore  
  Ben Ossai rFr  
LG Stanley Daniels Senior 7
  Ryan Bush Sophomore  
C Juan Garcia Senior  
  Robert Lukevich Sophomore  
RG Clay Walker Senior 4
  Ryan Bush Sophomore  
RT Chad Macklin Junior 2
  Casey Bulyka Sophomore  

# Games started 2005

Quarterback (grade A-)

In the Pac-10 last season, Isaiah Stanback, who will be a senior, finished sixth in each of three categories: Total Offense, Passing Average per Game, and Pass Efficiency. Stanback was the third leading rusher on the team, mustering up 515 yards on 100 carries. As one of three senior quarterbacks in the conference, he will be joined by Sam Keller of ASU and Matt Moore of OSU. Over the last decade or so having a senior quarterback seems to be a prerequisite for winning the conference championship.

During the spring, Stanback will be pushed by backups Carl Bonnell and Johnny DuRocher. Coach Willingham replaced Stanback with DuRocher in the second half of the stormy OSU game last season (an 18-10 loss), one that we called a three-point samba because of the Beavers’ six field goals. DuRocher’s pass efficiency on the game was 69.8. In all fairness, Coach Willingham owes DuRocher a fair shot on a fair weather day -- maybe, ahem, when the Dawgs have a decent running game.

If the UW goes with Bonnell, who is currently third on the depth chart, look for offensive coordinator Tim Lappano to go with the Bill Walsh version of the west coast offense, at the very least, a short, pin-point passing attack, coupled with Don Coryell's power running and  zone blocking schemes. Bonnell has that Freddie Couples’ rhythm, and, reportedly, his lackadaisicalness, this in studying game films. He needs to hit the celluloid and up his work load, according to Lappano.

Stanback posted some nice numbers last season, his up-and-down offensive line notwithstanding. If the offensive line ignites, it will spark the Huskies into Willingham's 6-win season.

Table 2. Career Passing Stats

Name Att Comp I Tds Yards Pass Eff.
Isaiah Stanback 334 168 9 12 2543 120.72
Johnny DuRocher 54 24 2 2 247 87.68
Carl Bonnell 54 20 4 0 228 57.69

Tight End (grade B-)

This position will be filled by Junior Robert Lewis who started 10 games last season, hauling in 14 passes for 162 yards. He’ll be backed up by Johnie Kirton, who caught 14 passes for 152 yards but who slacked off in Washington’s last three games. According to Molly Yanity of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Kirton could be held out of contact this spring because of off-season foot surgery. Kirton started two games last season when UW employed two-tight-end sets against Cal and WSU. Not bringing in another tight end this recruiting season – and reportedly the reason for not doing so -- still doesn’t hold sway with me. This position, long a source of pride, is just asking for trouble.

Tailback (grade C-)

Success at the position requires that the offensive line kick some butt. Since its own backside got kicked last season and since the OL has  been decimated by graduation, we’re giving the tailback position the same grade as we gave the offensive line since it must suck up to it.

Junior Lewis Rankin, who started seven games last season before going down with injury, ran for 510 yards on 104 carries. He caught six passes for 54 yards. Haunted by nagging injuries and appearing in seven games, Kenny James (Sr.) ran for 108 yards on 29 attempts. Redshirt freshman J. R. Hasty will take the stage for the first time in his young career.

Reportedly, Shelton Sampson is returning to a football team that could be six gallons short of a keg of beer as the forthcoming season takes its expected toll on the running backs. Shelton is a playmaker; however, his position has not been determined.

I remember Shelton running for 30 yards or so, straight up the gut in the Army All Star game a few years back, and then fumbling as he was hit, in what turned out to be, arguably, a prescient play.

Fullback (grade C)

Mark Palaita (Sr.) is expected to start. He started two games in 2005, carrying the ball four yards on three attempts and was used mainly as a blocking back. He’ll be backed up by Luke Kravitz, a sophomore.

Kick Returns (grade B)

WR Marlin Wood ran a kickoff back 92 yards against USC, breaking his leg on the play. Willingham says Wood is about 70% ready for the spring.

Defense

Last season in the Pac-10, the Huskies ranked last in pass-defense efficiency, ninth in opponents' third-and-fourth down-conversions and last in red zone defense. The Huskies are looking for a stronger pass rush and improved play at cornerback.

Defensive line (grade B)

The Huskies lose DT Manase Hopoi who started all eleven games last season on the defensive line, along with Mike Mapuolesega, DT, a four game starter.

Another eleven-game starter, Greyson Gunheim (Jr.), and ten-game starter Donny Mateaki (Sr.) return as the two defensive ends. The defensive tackle positions will be filled by Wilson Alfoa (Jr.) and Jordan Reffett (Jr.). If Mateaki switches to DT, then Walter Winter, Te’o-Nesheim (rFr) and incoming J.C. transfer Anthony Atkins (Jr.) will battle for the vacated spot.

Nose guard Jordan White-Frisbee, who missed all of last season with a broken foot, may be limited this spring, according to Molly Yanity. Frisbee started 8 games as a true freshman in 2004. DL Dan Milsten’s career may be over, says the same source, due to his slow recovery from a serious leg fracture that was suffered last season.

Table 3. Two deeps on the defensive line.

Pos. Name Year GS 2005 #
DE Donny Mateaki Senior 10
  Walt Winter Sophomore  
  Daniel Te'o-Nesheim Rfr  
  Anthony Atkins JC xfer, Jr.  
DT Wilson Afoa Junior 7
  Eric Lobos Junior  
DT Donny Matekaki Senior 10
  Jordan Reffett Junior  
  Jovon O'Connor Sophomore  
DE Greyson Gunheim Junior 11
  Brandon Ala Senior 1
  Caesar Rayford Junior  

# games started in 2005

Linebackers (grade C+)

UW loses Evan Benjamin and Joe Lobendahn, who ranked second and seventh in the conference, respectively, in registering tackles in 2005.

Expected to start at OLB, Scott White (sr.), an eleven game starter, ranked seventeenth in the conference in registering tackles in 2005. Tahj Bomar (Sr., ILB) is the second most experienced of the linebackers behind White, having replaced the injured Lobendan as a starter in the last two games of last season. Trenton Tuiasosopo who missed last season after suffering head and facial injuries in a bicycle accident is listed behind Bomar on the two deeps. Chris Stevens (So.) who will contend at the other outside linebacker position will be challenged by E. J. Savannah (rFr.), who is coming off an injury. Stevens appeared in seven games last season and accounted for 16 total tackles.

Table 4. Two deeps linebackers

Pos. Name Year GS05
OLB Scott White Sr. 11
  Dan Howell Jr.  
  Kyle Trew Jr.  
ILB Tahj Bomar Sr. 2
  Trenton Tuiasosopo So.  
OLB Chris Stevens So.  
  E.J. Savannah rFr  

Strong safety (grade A-)

Eight-game starter in 2005, C. J. Wallace (Sr.) has strong safety anchored down, accounting for 87 total tackles. However, he and backup Durrell Moss (Jr.) could be held out of contact this spring as they are recovering from shoulder and knee surgery, respectively.  Moss started two games at cornerback last season and is listed on the two-deeps for that position. Darin Harris, a two-game starter, is listed behind Wallace on the two deeps at SS, with Moss behind him.

Free Safety (grade A-)

Senior-to-be Dashon Goldson started all 11 games in 2005 and was in on 89 total tackles, 42 of them solos.  Battling Goldson for the starting nod are Mesphin Forrester (So.), Chris Hemphill (Jr.), and Jason Wells (Jr.).

Cornerbacks (grade C)

The cornerbacks got burned last season, partly because of their own ineptness and partly because the DL didn’t put enough pressure on the opposing quarterback. Also, they were on the field too much. Matt Fountaine (Sr.) and Roy Lewis (Jr.) head up the two deeps. Fountaine is a seven game starter, while Lewis started eight games. Josh Okoebor, who started four games, will be recovering from off-season knee surgery that could require some serious rehab.

Table 5. Corners and Safeties

Pos. Name Year GS 2005
CB Matt Fountaine Sr. 8
  Jordan Murchison Jr.  
CB Roy Lewis Jr. 8
  Durrell Moss Jr. 2
SS C.J. Wallace Sr. 8
  Darin Harris Jr. 4 %
  Durrell Moss Jr. 2
FS Dashon Goldson Sr. 11
  Mesphin Forrester So.  
  Chris Hemphill Jr.  
  Jason Wells Jr.  

% Harris started one game at cornerback

* All years in school are for the 2006 season.

Richard Linde (a.k.a., Malamute) can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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