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Inside the Pac, Part IV
We view the Dawgs' chances with cautious optimism
By: Malamute, 14 June 2002

Realistically speaking, the Huskies are a year away from becoming a great football team. This season, there’s just too much youth on the team and too many questions that need answering to imbue the team with a host of superlatives. However, we like the Huskies in 2002, and they certainly have enough talent to be reckoned with this season.  

Hence, we are cautiously optimistic about the team's chances in the Pac-10: 

In our opinion, the Huskies have as good a chance of going to the Rose Bowl as do any of the leading contenders. Inside of their league, the first in college football to reach parity from top to bottom (excepting Cal, perhaps), no team clearly grabs our attention. To win the conference title, little things will mean a lot, like having a battle-tested coaching staff, having good special-teams’ play, making the most of a favorable schedule, taking advantage of a significant home-field advantage, and having robust quarterbacking.

Although they are clichés: (1.) having luck and (2.) staying healthy will be key ingredients to this team’s success.

Here’s what we like about the Huskies.

  • Returnees on Offense: Eight offensive starters return, including 4 of 5 offensive linemen. (See Tables 2 and 8)

  • Depth: The Huskies are deeper in most positions than they have been in the last few years. This will stand them in good stead near the end of the season, when injuries will take their toll on all teams in the league.

  • Quarterbacks: Quarterback Cody Pickett is one of the best at his position in the Pac (see Table 1). He has a strong arm, good accuracy and excellent mobility. The Caldwell Cowboy, as we call him, is as tough as John Wayne ever was, and he has a year's experience notched on his gun belt to give him confidence. To enhance the QB position, senior gunslinger Taylor Barton (cover photo) has the “smarts” and true grit to being a strong backup to Pickett in case of the unexpected. Behind him is Casey Paus, a redshirt freshman who is destined for stardom. And then there is incoming freshman Isaiah Stanback, who coach Rick Neuheisel calls the best high school quarterback he saw on tape last recruiting season.

  • Running Backs: The Huskies have a solid core of running backs, which includes Rich Alexis, Braxton Cleman and Chris Singleton. Zach Tuiasosopo gives the Huskies a weapon at fullback they didn’t have last season.

  • Receiving Corps: In Paul Arnold and Reggie Williams, arguably the Huskies have the best tandem of receivers in the Pac-10. Williams was "Co-Freshman of the Year" in the Pac-10 last season, and Arnold has tremendous speed. Pat Reddick, Justin Robins, Charles Frederick (if he gets out of the Dawg house), J.C. transfer Eddie Williams and Wilbur Hooks will give them a strong rotation.

  • Corner Backs: Although Texas quarterback Major Applewhite riddled the Huskies’ defensive backfield in the Holiday Bowl,  the cornerbacks will be better than expected; Roc Alexander and Derrick Johnson, if both stay healthy, will give the position the necessary speed. Against Texas, the lack of a running game in the fourth quarter put too much pressure on Washington's defensive backs, who had been on the field too long. A couple of first downs running the ball were lacking when it was critical to take some time off the clock and rest the defense. Chris Massey, Sam Cunningham, Domynic Shaw (moves from strong safety) and Eric Shyne will give the Huskies depth this season. 

  • Linebackers: The linchpin of the Huskies defense centers on their linebackers. Two-time MVP Ben Mahdavi, who will start at MIKE (middle linebacker), will lead this group. He’s backed up Marquis Cooper (34 tackles in 11 games) and Matt Lingley. Sophomores Joseph Lobendahn and Tim Galloway appear to have the inside track at WILL (weak-side linebacker). Senior Jafar Williams, who missed the 2001 campaign because of shoulder surgery, will start at SAM (strong side linebacker), where he started as a sophomore and junior. Junior Tyler Kambrink, who missed most of last season, will be competing for time at SAM.

  • Recruiting Class: Immediate help is in the offing, as several members of a strong recruiting class should fill some gaps.

  • Home-field Advantage: A significant home-field advantage, coupled with five-straight games at home subsequent to the opener at Michigan, should jump start the Dawgs (See Table 7). The Huskies have won 14-straight games at home and, in early November, will give UCLA and Oregon State the taste of Montlake madness they so richly deserve. Overall, the Huskies are 307-129-21 at Husky Stadium.

  • Coaching Staff: Head coach Rick Neuheisel (26-10, Pac-10, 51-20, overall), a proven, successful coach in the Pac-10, starts his fourth season with the Huskies. His talents will be augmented capably by assistant coaches: Steve Axman (assistant head coach/quarterbacks), Keith Gilbertson (offensive coordinator/tight ends), Chuck Heater (running backs), Tim Hundley (defensive coordinator/outside linebackers), Randy Hart (defensive line), Bobby Kennedy (wide receivers), Cornell Jackson (inside linebackers), Brent Myers (offensive line), Bobby Hauck (defensive backs), Ty Gregorak (defensive graduate assistant), and Luther Carr (offensive graduate assistant).

  • Specialists Return: Senior kicker John Anderson’s strong leg will provide the Huskies with a good kicking game (kickoffs and field goals). Sophomore punter Derek McLaughlin is one of the best in the Pac-10. Anderson can backup McLaughlin in case of the unexpected.

On the downside there are some questions that need answering, along with some potentially glaring weaknesses:

  • Running Game: Next to the last in the Pac-10 in rushing last season (see Table 4), the Huskies must establish a running game. To be successful on the road, the Huskies must pound the ball on the ground in a game's early going to take the pressure of Cody Pickett. Early turnovers in several games last season led to blowouts on the road against Miami, UCLA and Oregon State. Although the Huskies return four of five offensive linemen, as of yet, they have not proven they can effectively block as a unit for the running game. Unfortunately, J.C. transfer Francisco Tipotti (tackle), who was academically ineligible to play last season, has not progressed as rapidly as expected.

  • Rushing Defense and Defensive Line: Last in rushing defense in the Pac-10 last season (see Table 5), the Huskies must stop the run. The loss of nose-tackle Larry Tripplett will make this task even more daunting. Jerome Stevens is the sole returnee on the Husky defensive line, one that acquitted itself poorly at times last season. Starting REB Kai Ellis may not be ready to go because of knee problems. He's backed up by senior Anthony Kelley who has played in 33 regular season games and started 7 times. Senior Houdini Jackson and redshirt freshman Will Conwell will compete for playing time. 

    Sophomore Josh Miller (started four times last season) and redshirt freshman Tusi Sa'au will back up Stevens  at nose tackle. Sophomores Tui Alailefaleula (the starter against UCLA) and Junior Coffin, along with Junior Terry Johnson, will compete at defensive tackle. Johnson and Coffin both played in ten games last year. Sophomore Manase Hopoi, who played brilliantly in the spring game and redshirt freshman Graham Lasee will vie for the defensive end spot (Husky). A la Larry Tripplett, the Huskies need a "war daddy," a guy who will step to the fore and lead this group, on the way to making more tackles than last season (only 78 tackles from the starting trio of Stevens, Marcus Roberson and Tripplett).

  • Special Teams: The Huskies suffered five blocked punts last season, with one occurring in their spring game. That statistic must be turned around.

  • Option: Most likely, the Huskies will not be able to run the option—so successful two seasons ago—as much as they would like because of the surgical repair done to Cody Pickett’s throwing shoulder last winter. He’s yet to take a hit on that shoulder, and he was limited as to the number of throws he made during spring practice.

  • Tight Ends: The Huskies lose three tight ends from last season, including first-round draft pick, Jerramy Stevens, who was injured for most of last season. His "replacement," Kevin Ware, started in 8 of 10 games last year. Though an outstanding blocker, Ware needs to demonstrate he can be as effective at catching passes. He's backed up by redshirt freshman Joe Toledo and Andy Heater. Three-technique (defensive tackle) Terry Johnson could be used in short yardage situations at that position.

  • Road Games: The Huskies’ Pac-10 road schedule is tough: ASU, USC, Oregon, and WSU. The last three are contenders for the Pac-10 title, along with the Huskies.

  • Injuries: Many players (seven) played hurt last season, underwent shoulder surgery over the off season and missed spring practice (eleven shoulder surgeries all together). They need to come up to speed rapidly since the Huskies open up on the road against Michigan.

  • The Same Look: The loss of underrated running-back Willie Hurst--a human whirligig--will hurt the Huskies. Stylistically speaking, the Huskies' core of slashing running backs (Alexis, Cleman, and Singleton) will give the opposition the same look. A different look, at times, will be lacking on the ground. 

Table 1. How key starters fared in the Pac-10 in 2001

Player Category Finish Stat
Cody Pickett Passing avg/game 2nd 240.3
Cody Pickett Total Offense 2nd 246.3
Reggie Williams Receptions/game 4th 5.00
Reggie Williams Receiving/game 3rd 88.5
Roc Alexander Interceptions 7th 4
Cody Pickett Pass Efficiency 10th 124.9
Charles Frederick Punt return avg. 2nd 13.6
Roc Alexander Kick return avg. 2nd 29.2
Derek McLaughlin Punting 2nd 41.2
John Anderson Scoring pts/game 6th 6.9 
John Anderson Field goals/game 3rd 1.27
John Anderson Field goal pct. 7th 63.6
John Anderson PAT percentage 9th 91.9
Ben Mahdavi Tackles 11th 85, 7.7
Greg Carothers Tackles 16th 72, 6.5
Kai Ellis Tackles 36th 39, 4.9
Owen Biddle Tackles 44th 42, 4.7
Ben Mahdavi Fumbles Recvd. 2nd 4

Table 2. Offensive starters returning in 2002

Pos Name Yr. Ht. Weight
SE Reggie Williams So. 6-4 215
WT Khalif Barnes So. 6-5 285
WG Nick Newton Jr. 6-4 315
SG Elliott Zajac Sr. 6-4 315
ST Todd Bachert Jr. 6-4 310
TE Kevin Ware Sr. 6-3 275
QB Cody Pickett Jr. 6-4 210
FL Paul Arnold Sr. 6-1 200

Table 3. Defensive starters returning in 2002

Pos. Name Yr. Ht. Weight
REB Kai Ellis Sr. 6-3 245
DT Jerome Stevens Jr. 6-3 300
ILB Ben Mahdavi Sr. 6-2 235
SS Greg Carothers Jr. 6-2 190
CB Chris Massey Jr. 5-11 175

Table 4. Washington versus the Pac-10 in offensive statistics taken over the last two seasons.

Offensive Statistic 2000 2001
Passing Offense 8 2
Rushing Offense 1 9
Total Offense 4 6
Scoring Offense 2 7
Redzone Offense 1 10
Pass Efficiency Off.  8 7
Turnover Margin 8 6
Fourth Down Conversions  6 2
Third Down Conversions 2 4
Time of Possession 2 3
Sacks Against 3 4
Average 4.1 6.1

Table 5. Defensive stats in the Pac-10, 2001 and 2000
Defensive Stat 2001 2000
Scoring defense 7th 4th
Pass Defense 4th 2nd
Rushing Defense 10th 6th
Total Defense 5th 5th
Pass efficiency defense 8th 4th
Opponent first downs 7th 5th
Sacks By 8th 4th
Opponent fourth down conversions 3rd 10th
Red zone defense 3rd 6th
Opponent third down conversions 10th 6th
Average 6.5 5.2

Table 6. Special Teams' finishes in the Pac-10
Category Pac-10 Finish
Kick off returns 3rd
Punting  8th
Punt Returns  3rd
Field Goals  8th
PAT Kicking 10th

Table 7. Washington Husky Schedule, 2002

Date Washington versus
August 31 at Michigan
September 7 San Jose State
September 21 Wyoming
September 28 Idaho
October 5 California
October 12 Arizona
October 19 at USC
October 26 at Arizona State
November 2 UCLA
November 9 Oregon State 
November 16 at Oregon
November 23 at Washington State
 

Table 8. Projected Starters


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