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Winnowing the scoring gap
Rich Linde, January 17, 2011

Will the ethereal aura of the Holiday Bowl be ephemeral?

Really, it's too early to tell whether the bowl bliss will be short-lived. We'll know more about the Huskies' chances for success next season after the recruiting class is signed in February and after spring ball concludes in April.

However, as of now, some meaningful stats come to mind, as well as the closeness of three games last season.

Scoring more points, while yielding fewer points.

In the last 10 years, Washington has been outscored by its opponents in all of the years but one, and that was in 2002 when the Huskies went 7-6 (see Table 1 below). Even the 8-4 season in 2001 resulted in a negative scoring gap, as did the 7-6 season this year and the 6-6 season in 2003.

In their last four games this season, in games won against UCLA, Cal, WSU and Nebraska, the Huskies outscored their opponents 94-55, averaging 23.5 points per game, which was close to their season average.

In the preceding three games, in games against Arizona, Stanford and Oregon, the Huskies were outscored 138-30. In the regular season game against Nebraska, the Huskies were trounced 56-21. In those four games, UW gave up an average of 293.5 yards per game on the ground, with the Cornhuskers rushing for 383 yards. In the Holiday Bowl, UW held UNL to 91 yards on the ground, which could be a significant switcheroo in its import when thinking about 2011.

In fact, the Dawgs held their foes to a rushing average of 105.25 yards per game in their last 4 games of 2010, as compared to their season's average of 190.46 yards per game.

DT Alameda Ta'amu (Senior, 6-foot-3, 330, photo left) -- who came on like a tank near the end of the season -- and DT Lawrence Lagafuaina (RS freshman, 6-foot-0, 345) will give the Huskies some run-stopping beef up the middle in 2011. They will be key to emulating the front four from 2002, as discussed below.

The three close games in 2010 are significant:

Three of Washington's seven victories this season were decided on the last play of the game, one of these plays going awry and the Huskies wouldn't have gone bowling: (1) The field goal by Erik Folk to end the USC game; (2) OSU's muffed two-point try in the second overtime; (3) Chris Polk's one-yard touchdown run against Cal as the last grain of sand fell from the hour glass.

What will be needed in 2011:

In the 2011 season, the law of averages could easily catch up with the Huskies, and to ensure their having a a winning season, they will need to score more points than they did in 2010 while limiting their opposition to fewer points. In 2010, the Huskies averaged just 21.85 points per game (96th in the FBS; 8th in the Pac-10) and gave up 29.31 points per game (80th in the FBS; 8th in the Pac-10).

To accomplish this mission, the U-Dub will need more offensive output in 2011, as well as some scoring input from its defense and, perhaps, its special teams.

The defense scored a safety against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, Washington's first safety since 2003 and its only defensive score of the year. The Huskies ranked 102nd and 83rd in punt and kickoff returns, respectively. Scoring-wise, the special teams came a cropper.

Unfortunately, the Huskies lose QB Jake Locker, who posted some outstanding numbers during during his UW career, including setting a school record for total touchdowns (responsible for) with 82 -- 53 passing and 29 rushing. He holds the school record for career rushing yards by a quarterback (1,856) and the single season record (986, 2007). Locker is second to Cody Pickett in career passing yards (7,583; 2007-2010).

Without the synergism of Locker and Chris Polk on the ground, the mission seems even more daunting.

UW's divisional rivals in the Pac-12 are already chanting, "Without Jake riding shotgun on the zone read, the "Prez" from REV will be a marked man in E-Lev." (*)

However, the Huskies should field a strong offensive line, have good depth at running back, and field a cadre of wide receivers who will be taller and bigger on average than last year's corps and, consequently, better able to neutralize tight coverage. The quarterback position takes a hit in overall quality and depth -- and in its ability as a unit to survive the ruggedness of Pac-12 play.

On defense, so the stats say, the mission seems simple enough: stop the run -- as Washington did in 2002 when it held the opposition to just 97.7 yards per game (see Table 2). For me, that number stands out big time. In the other 9 out of the last 10 years, the Dawgs yielded an average of 171.64 yards per game on the ground.

In 2002, the Huskies defensive front four was led by DE Kai Ellis, DT Josh Miller, DT Terry "Tank" Johnson, and DE Manase Hopoi (photo above). Remarkably, the 2002 team averaged a measly 74.5 yards per game on the ground. QB Cody Pickett (342.9 passing yards per game) and WR Reggie Williams (111.8 receiving yards per game) picked up the slack on offense.

Currently, Johnson is playing for the Cincinnati Bengals; Ellis is with the Edmonton Eskimos; Hopoi had a stint with the Minnesota Vikings and was playing arena football with the Stockton Lightning, last time I heard. Josh Miller was last seen milling around and joking with ESPN blogger Ted Miller. Pickett is on the Calgary Stampeder's current roster, and Williams was released recently by the Seattle Seahawks.

For starters, anyway, stopping the run should go along way in closing the scoring gap next season providing the offense does its job. Avoiding blowout games with the Huskies on the short end are a must.

(*) Prez - takeoff on President James Polk; REV - Redlands East Valley (Riverside County, Ca).

Table 1. Washington's scoring gap has been on the plus side in only 1 season out of the last 10.

 
Record Year For Against Gap
7-6 2010 21.85 29.31 -7.46
5-7 2009 26.1 26.7 -.60
0-12 2008 13.2 38.6 -25.4
4-9 2007 29.2 31.6 -2.4
5-7 2006 21.8 25.9 -4.1
2-9 2005 21.5 30.6 -9.1
1-10 2004 14 30.4 -16.4
6-6 2003 26.0 26.3 -.30
7-6 2002 30.6 26.3 4.3
8-4 2001 28.2 29.4 -1.2

Table 2. Comparative statistical data. Maybe the closeness of the three games in 2010 explains why the 2009 Washington team trumps the 2010 team in 7 of the 12 statistical entries shown below, that is, the 2010 season could easily have been a losing one had one of the three "last-play" games gone south. Juxtaposed with that thought, if one of the close games in 2009 -- namely, UCLA, a one-point loss, and Notre Dame, an overtime loss -- had turned out the other way, the Huskies would have gone bowling that year.

Category

2002

2008

2009

2010

Record

7-6

0-12

5-7

7-6

Rushing Offense

74.5

99.3

139.0

172.15

Passing Offense

346.2

163.8

236.5

190.38

Pass Eff Offense

131.16

89.6

130.5

121.68

Total Offense

420.7

263.2

375.5

362.54

Rushing Defense

97.7

240.6

148.8

190.46

Passing Defense

259.5

211.2

240.7

194.38

Pass Eff Defense

129.2

155.6

139.8

126.43

Total Defense

357.2

451.8

389.5

384.85

Turnover Margin

+2

-1.42

.33, +4

.15, +2

Scoring offense

30.6

13.2

26.1

21.85

Scoring Defense

26.3

38.6

26.7

29.31

Richard Linde can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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