for WillinghamRichard Linde, 21 June 2006
I know there’s no correlation
between golf and football, but the six-handicap Tyrone Willingham carries in
golf ought to translate into a six-win season for Husky fans -- who should be satisfied with nothing less than six wins in
2K6, as should Coach Willingham.
The staid game of golf is part of
Willingham’s DNA; it’s in his vocabulary, in his penchant for being
taciturn. But he needs to stare down the Mike Bellotti’s of the football
world with the confidence he exudes on the first tee.
His golf-handicap speaks volumes about his focus with the
game on the line, and
this season the expectation is that he won't "Mickelson" his way into the
fourth-quarter collapses of last season.
Is there a talent shortage at
Washington as the so-called experts say? No. “Talent shortage” is the
self-serving phrase an opposing coach uses when he steers a potential
recruit away from Washington. It has no relationship to the dark matter that
holds the universe together.
Led by senior quarterback Isaiah
Stanback, the Huskies have the cast to support him and finish in the top
five of the Pac-10, along with USC, Cal, ASU and UCLA. Looking at the
Huskies' schedule, games with San Jose State, Fresno State, UCLA, Arizona,
Stanford, OSU, Oregon and WSU are all winnable. Willingham needs to win six
of those eight games to bask in the glory of a six-handicap season.
Stanback has clocked a 10.46 one
hundred meters, can throw the ball 70 yards and bench press over 300 pounds.
Tons of athleticism and a willingness to learn the intricacies of
quarterbacking the University of Washington Huskies make him
one of the premiere quarterbacks in the Pac-10.
If Stanback should fall to injury,
backup quarterback Carl Bonnell is capable of confounding defenses with his
athleticism, running skills and quick release. Incoming freshman Jake Locker
adds more of the same, giving the Huskies collectively the best three
quarterbacks in the conference. The mobility of the
Huskies’ helmsmen should offset the much talked about deficiencies in the
offensive line, where four mainstays from last season have departed.
Quarterback Johnnie DuRocher gives defenses a whole new look and should not
be counted out at this juncture.
The concern is with the running
game, though Stanback's mercurial feet will add to the rushing total.
happy with what he saw in the spring and thinks the offensive line can open
some holes for tailbacks Kenny James, J. R. Hasty, and Louis Rankin. Rushing
for 485 yards on 104 carries, Rankin started the first seven games last
season before injuries took him down. James, who was hobbled most of last
season, adds considerable experience to the running game with more than 1300
career rushing yards. Redshirt freshman Hasty, a highly sought after
recruit, is not only fast but can lug a defensive lineman or two for that
Between them, offensive linemen
Stanley Daniels (7 games) and Clay Walker (4 games) started all eleven games
at left guard last season. Look for Chad Macklin (2 starts) to start at
right tackle and Nathan Flowers to pull down the left tackle slot. Projected
at center, senior Juan Garcia hopes to leave behind what has been heretofore
an injury-plagued career.
Although the leading receiver from
last season, Craig Chambers, has transferred to Montana, incoming J. C.
transfer Marcel Reece is expected to replace the playmaker Chambers, who was
on the scoring end of a Hail Mary pass from Stanback last season that
cartelized a win over Arizona, one of the Dawgs’ two wins. Sonny Shackelford,
Corey Williams, Charles Smith, Cody Ellis, Quintin Daniels and Anthony Russo
give the Huskies plenty of depth and experience at wide-out. WR Chancellor
Young, who transferred from Duke, gives the Huskies a playmaker and a sorely
Robert Lewis, Johnie Kirton (who can
play tailback), Michael Gottlieb, and Tim Williams all solidify the tight
end spot with their experience and talent. Starting ten games last season,
Lewis caught 14 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. Finishing tenth in the
Pac-10 in redzone offense last season, the Huskies need one of the tight
ends, along with the elusive Isaiah, of course, to lead the Huskies to a
Promised Land of more touchdowns inside the redzone. Last season's
twenty-one points per game won't play diddly-squat on the scoreboard, in a
conference of flashing LED’s and stressed circuit breakers.
The Huskies return eight starters
from a defense that finished seventh in total defense in the conference last
season. Although standout DL Manase Hopoi has been lost to graduation, the
Huskies return nine players with game experience on the defensive line. In
addition, incoming J. C. transfer Anthony Atkins adds to the wealth of
riches of the front four.
The Huskies lose linebackers Evan
Benjamin and Joe Lobendahn, who finished second and seventh, respectively,
in the conference in total tackles last season. Senior Scott White, who has
started in twenty games over the last two seasons, returns along with five
other lettermen to the linebacker corps.
Seven returning lettermen will vie
for the four defensive back positions.
Moving Dashon Goldson to cornerback
strengthens that position. Roy Lewis had an excellent spring
and seems to have locked up the other corner. Incoming J. C. transfer Jordan
Murchison will press Goldson and Lewis, as will Matt Fontaine, who started
eight games at corner in 2K5. Former running back and speedster, Shelton
Sampson returns to the squad at cornerback.
Mesphin Forrester, Chris Hemphill and
newcomer Jason Wells, a J. C. transfer, will vie for Goldson’s free safety
spot. Senior C. J. Wallace, who finished eleventh in the Pac-10 in tackles
last season, has a lock on the strong safety spot. He’ll be pushed by Ashlee
Palmer, a J. C. transfer out of Compton.
Defensively, the Huskies must
improve their pass rush, their redzone defense, and their defensive
pass-efficiency number, 150.1, which was last in the conference last season
and a number coveted by most quarterbacks.
Our optimism, vis-a-vis the
media’s pessimism for the Huskies in 2006, relies on the talented
quarterback position; an improved running game; an abundance of wide
receivers; a talented coaching staff; an improved defensive corps; and --
ahem -- former Coach Rick Neuheisel's recruiting skills.
The thirty-five players remaining
from the Neuheisel era will have plenty to say about the Huskies’ overall
talent level. Eighteen of the projected 24 starters, including specialists,
listed in Table 1 were recruited by Neuheisel. Our article (“Was
Neuheisel an effective recruiter at UW?”) buttresses the notion that
Rick was a better recruiter than the media have given him credit. The
popular misconception that Neuheisel’s recruits were “soft” flies wobbly in
the collective face of his 18 UW stalwarts who will report to NFL training
camps this summer.
After bashing Neuheisel for the last
seven years, the Seattle media have fallen into the trap of believing their
own folderol about him.
And that’s good for the Huskies and
their underdog role going into the season.
An underdog Husky squad should win
at least one game because of their opponent’s overconfidence. Having grown
up in the great depression of Husky famines, I’ll steal my Dawg biscuits
(distributed by the virtual Win Corporation) from anyone’s plate.
Consider the Huskies’ overall talent
level to be stronger than expected and winning at least six games as likely
as a six-handicapper hitting a green out of a sand trap.
Table 1. Projected starting lineup
for San Jose State, 2 Sept. 2006