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A six-handicap for Willingham
Richard 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.

So...

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. Willingham is 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 extra yard.

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 to start 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 needed burner.

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

Position Name
WR Sonny Shackelford
LT Nathan Flowers
LG Stanley Daniels
C Juan Garcia
RG Clay Walker
RT Chad Macklin
TE Rob Lewis
QB Isaiah Stanback
TB Kenny James
FB Mark Paliata
WR Anthony Russo
   
OLB Chris Stevens
DE Donny Mateaki
DT Wilson Afoa
DT Jordan Reffett
DE Greyson Gunheim
ILB Tahj Bomar
ILB Scott White
FS Mesphin Forrester
SS C.J. Wallace
CB Dashon Goldson
CB Roy Lewis
   
Kicker Michael Braunstein
Punter Sean Douglas

 

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

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