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Are the Huskies rising from the dead?
Malamute, 25 November 2005

Since I'm into negative stats afflicting moribund programs, I compared last season's U-Dub numbers with this season's and made a diagnosis. Is the patient still alive? The UW is slowly stirring in its projected grave with a barely discernable heartbeat. However, the undertaker, Tyrone Willingham, must bring in a strong recruiting class to fully bring his corpse to life. 

To have a successful season in 2006, the Huskies must rebuild their offensive line, replace some outstanding linebackers and bring in a lock-down cover corner or two.

Thirty-three of the 44 players on the two-deeps for the Apple Cup will be back next season, including nine starters on defense and six on offense; Scout.com ranks the current recruiting class 24th in the country.

Since Willingham is from the old school, emphasis this spring will most likely be on the running game, as it was last season. 

"Our identity on offense will come from our ability to run the football," offensive coordinator Tim Lappano said, early into the 2005 spring practices. "When we throw, we'll get the ball off quickly and throw what should be a high-percentage pass…I think we need to make a commitment to the run. The players have to believe in it. The coaching staff has to believe in it. We have other stuff and we will do some of that other stuff. But we are going to be a power-run football team first."

To his credit, Lappano stayed with his plan throughout the season. After the losses began to mount, it would have been easy to junk his "Spread Coast Offense," with an emphasis on running, and go with a pure West Coast Offense, with an emphasis on quick drops and short short passes. 

"Russian" to the Red Zone

Head coach Tyrone Willingham says that Washington won't be successful until it can run and stop the run when needed. This season's rushing numbers seem to bear that out. The UW had better rushing numbers than four of its opponents: Idaho (win), UCLA (loss), Arizona (win) and Arizona State (loss). Against UCLA and Arizona State, one can construct one or more scenarios in which the Huskies win. In its losses to Cal, USC, Notre Dame, OSU, and WSU, Washington averaged just 57.2 yards rushing, while allowing 197.6 yards on the ground, being blown out at the line of scrimmage. 

The bottom line is that the Huskies both ran the ball and stopped the run better than a year ago. Rebuilding the offensive line and replacing DL Manase Hopoi are critical goals. Four of the five offensive linemen who started in the Apple Cup will be lost to graduation.

The Huskies gave up fewer plays of 20 yards or more that went for touchdowns than they did in 2004 (16 versus 18) and were able to make more big plays that went for touchdowns than a year ago (12 versus 7).

The Huskies incurred less penalty yards than last season, coughed the ball up less (20 turnovers compared with 42) and improved on offensive pass efficiency.

Is there Life after Death?

In UW's last two games, signs of life after death came from the football Gods who delivered two of the most bizarre plays UW fans have witnessed over the last 10 years. In the penultimate game against Arizona, life seemingly began with a Hail Mary pass to end the first half, a 69-yard pass from Isaiah Stanback to WR Craig Chambers, one that traveled 70 yards in the air. That pass tied the score and sparked a 38-14 victory. A second heartbeat was detected in the Apple Cup when RB Kenny James completed a 65-yard touchdown pass -- with interception written all over it -- to Sonny Shackelford, who caught the ball standing among three Washington State defenders, then raced 20 yards for the score. However, the Huskies lost 26-22.

Living vicariously through improving stats

During the season, the UW (2-9, 1-7) improved in 13 out of 21 statistical categories when compared with data available at the end of last season's debacle (1-10, 0-8). Seven statistical categories were worse and one was about the same. Overall, the offensive categories improved while the defensive categories sloughed off. (See the table below).

Total defense took a significant dive as did the number for redzone defense (90.9%). The Dawgs led the conference last year in pass defense; this season, they ranked seventh in the Pac-10, allowing 275.7 yards per game.

Pass efficiency offense (123.3) improved markedly over last year's number (78.7) thanks to the continued improvement of Isaiah Stanback (128.8), who took snaps from center on a regular basis.

Washington's average conference ranking for this year is 7.38, compared with a 7.62 ranking last season. Although the Dawgs improved on their stats this season, so have many other teams in the conference.

Lux Sit (Let there be light). When all is said and done, when the numbers have been crunched and spun, the bottom line is that the Huskies scored more points than they did last year while allowing about the same number of points.

What Improved (13): rushing offense, passing offense, rushing defense, passing efficiency offense, total offense, third-down conversions, penalties, turnover margin, field goals, punt returns, redzone offense, points scored and kickoff returns.

What went down (7): time of possession, passing defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense, punting, kickoff coverage, and redzone defense.

What was about the same (1): points against

In the table below, the 2005 stats are on the left, with the stats for 2004 on the right; the ranking number (e.g., 9th) relates to the Dawgs' place in the conference). The bold numbers indicate improvement. The purple number means the stat is about the same.

 

Category

2005

2004

1. Ball Control                            

Time of Poss.

27:47 9th 28:26 7th

2. Blocking and Tackling

Rushing Offense

135.2 7th 120.2 6th

Passing Offense

222.8 8th 190.8 9th

Rushing Defense

143.4 5th 183.6 9th

Passing Defense

275.7 7th 185.8 1st

Pass Eff Defense

150.1 10th 123.8 8th

Pass Eff Offense

123.3 7th 78.7 10th

Total Offense

358.0 8th 311.0 9th

Total Defense

419.1 6th 369.5 7th

3rd Down Conv.

33.6% 10th 31.3% 9th

3. Mistakes

Penalties

50.5 3rd 56.8 6th

Turnover Margin

-0.27 6th -1.73 10th

4. Field Position

Kickoff Returns

20.4 6th 18.7 8th

Punt Returns

6.1 10th 5.3 10th

Punting net/punt

33.7 7th 36.5 4th

Kickoff cover. *

36.8 9th 20.8 7th

5. Scoreboard Baby

Field Goals

73.3% T4th 58.8% 7th

Redzone Offense

80.0% 5th 61.8% 10th

Redzone Defense

90.9% 10th 73% 3rd

Points For

21.5 10th 14 10th

Points Against

30.6 8th 30.4 10th

* The stats for 2005 involves the net average, while the 2004 stats involve the average.

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

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