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Five ways to accomplish TW's plan
The Devil's in the details
Richard Linde, 17 April 2006

Coach Tyrone Willingham has a plan; that is, he wants his team to win more games this upcoming season than last and, perhaps, become bowl eligible. That’s easy to say and most likely will be hard to accomplish, since the Huskies have won just 3 of their last 22 games over the past two seasons.

As to how he will implement his plan, I am relying on the reports I’ve read in the Seattle newspapers and on Husky websites. And these reports are limited by restricted access to practice. But that’s good, in that it keeps a few muckrakers and popinjays out of the coach’s graying hair. Willingham’s interviews on gohuskies.com provide the best source of information.

Washington’s captaincy, now sailing pristine waters, starves the piranhas who once fed on our ship’s murky wake. As a former student-nerdlete at UW, I couldn’t be more delighted.

1. Running the ball and stopping the run.

In an ideal world, almost any football coach would love to run the ball 90 percent of the time, slowly torturing his opponent with a relentless ground attack that takes minutes off the clock and puts points on the board. Then it’s a matter of stopping the run. Well, this formula worked for old fifty-eight-zero-and-three (Gil Dobie), Washington’s most successful coach of all time.

In the spirit of Dobie, Willingham says that Washington won't be successful until it can run and stop the run when needed. Washington’s anemic run-and-stop-the run effort over the past five years champions that notion. Over that period of time, UW averaged just 114 yards rushing, while surrendering an average of 148 yards on the ground, these per game averages each good for an average seventh-place finish in the conference. Over the last five years, the Huskies have won 24 games and lost 34.

How can T-Dub improve on his running game, considering the five-year pattern?

To bolster the running game, QB Isaiah Stanback will run the ball more often than last season and look to stay healthy, this dictated, in part, by the inexperience of the offensive line, where five of last season’s eight mainstays are lost to graduation. A number two quarterback (Carl Bonnell?) needs to be chosen and given as many reps as possible during fall practice.

Offensive coordinator Tim Lappano can be more creative with his play calling this year, since (1) he has a senior quarterback and (2) the coaching staff is more familiar with the team, with what its personnel can and cannot do.

Then there’s the option. Against Stanford in October 1999, Washington QB Marques Tuiasosopo became the first player in NCAA Division I-A history to rush for 200 yards and pass for 300 in the same game. Tyrone Willingham, the Tree’s coach back then, said, “It was not so much the option that was making the difference, but the quarterback. He (Tuiasosopo) made some outstanding plays.”

Thanks to Tui and the option, UW’s 211.7 yards rushing per game was the best in the conference in its Rose Bowl season of 2000/01.

In the main, the Huskies will eschew (gesundheit) the option this season, unless incoming quarterback Jake Locker, who has been physically likened to Tui, assumes the starter’s role. Other than Locker, none of UW’s quarterbacks pass the sight test, possessing the apparent ruggedness to run the option.

How can the Huskies stop the run?

Stopping the run is an unknown. Coach Ty needs to find one or more war daddies on defense that can fill the holes. He has a number of aspiring candidates for war-daddy status, but none of them have stepped up to the plate, as far as I know.

One way to stop the run is to move the ball on offense, limiting the time the opposition has the ball. Moving the ball better on first down, so that the Huskies’ third-down conversions improve, will help a defense that was on the field too much last season. The Huskies finished ninth in the conference when attempting to convert a third down into a first down.

The Huskies surrendered some fourth-quarter leads last season because of a worn-out defense. Games against Air Force, UCLA, ASU, OSU, and WSU could all have been won.

Washington’s returning starters (8) on defense could be the strength of the team, assuming the offense is more consistent than it was in 2005.

2. How can the Huskies improve on pass-defense efficiency?

In this category, the Huskies finished last in the Pac-10 last season, the quarterbacks they faced managing a nifty pass efficiency rating of 150.1. Opposing QB's completed 66.8% of their passes, which was the highest percentage in the Pac-10.

Willingham needs to find a lock-down corner and a pocket buster on the defensive line. Moving Dashon Goldson from safety to cornerback may be a step in the right direction. The notion of how to better the pass rush is left to the reader – and the coach.

3. How can the Huskies improve special teams play?

UW made 73.3% of its field goals last season, but kicker Evan Knudson has used up his eligibility. To find a field-goal kicker, Willingham will intensify the competition between Ryan Perkins and Michael Braunstein -- which should be lively.

Willingham will tell Coach Bob Simmons he doesn’t want to hear any more double thuds when the Dawgs punt the ball. UW had four of its punts blocked last season.

UW needs to find a long snapper. JC transfer Danny Morovick was brought in for that task.

The Huskies need to improve on their punt and kick returns, finishing tenth and seventh in the Pac-10 last season, respectively. Willingham is looking for speed, shiftiness and sure handedness – for example, a Marlon Wood.

Sean Douglas has the capability of having another strong season punting the ball. If he can kill some punts inside the opponent’s ten-yard line, he’ll don the purple cape and become a playmaker, with an “S,” standing for “Super-Sean,” emblazoned on the front of his jersey.”

4. Finding some playmakers.

Willingham needs to find some playmakers on offense, defense and punt/kick returns, looking to score, at the least, one more touchdown per game than last year’s 21 points per game. Replacing the playmaking Craig Chambers (WR), who left for Montana, is a must. WR Marlon Wood needs to heal completely, having broken a leg at the end of a 92 yard kickoff return against USC last season. Incoming J. C. transfer Marcel Reece will need to come up to speed quickly as a wide receiver. He passes the sight test.

Johnie Kirton may be the answer the Huskies need at tight end, especially inside the red zone. Stanback’s quickness inside the red zone brandishes him a point-getter.

Of Washington’s three running backs (Kenny James, J. R. Hasty, and Louis Rankin), Rankin has the best chance of becoming a playmaker, accounting for 485 yards rushing last season, the best of the three.

LB Scott White, DE Greyson Gunheim, SS C. J. Wallace and CB Dashon Goldson all look to be studs on defense, based on encouraging statistics from last season. They, along with some incoming talent and a few leftovers, could leave the opposing studs feeling anemic.

5. Improve on redzone defense (tenth in the Pac-10 last season).

Last season, 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 the year before (12 versus 7).

The good news is that the Huskies only had to defend the red zone 44 times (instead of 60?); the bad news is that they gave up scores 90.9% of the time they defended the red zone. Twenty-six scores went for touchdowns.

An improved offense should help the defense in this category, resting it for redzone coverage. Washington finished ninth in the conference in Time of Possession last season (averaging 27 minutes, 47 seconds per game). I’m hoping that stat improves this upcoming season. 

This whole house of cards, five ways to accomplish Willingham’s plan, rests on the play of an offensive line that is being rebuilt. If the offensive line crumbles, the house of cards will implode, and I can toss this article into the bit bucket and don a lugubrious face once again. Right now, I’m wearing a smiley face, as hope this spring, springs eternal for me.


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

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