I traditionally hate bye weeks because they take me out of my usual fall schedule which is either flying out West for a game or just watching it on the couch with my wife and our trusty Golden Retriever. This week I feel differently. The one thing that this Washington team needs more than anything is a week off to simply rest and get healthy for the stretch run of the Pac 10 season.
It's time for the team and its fans to take a week off and regain focus on the goal of making it to a bowl game this season. I personally probably need a week off of football too which means that we will probably load up the SUV and head over to Michigan for a little rest and relaxation next to the Western shores of Lake Michigan.
Last second - never should have been - losses to Notre Dame and Arizona State have clouded that picture a bit but Washington will be facing three teams over the final five weeks that lost by a collective score of 118-19 against the very same Oregon team that beat us on Saturday. The first stop after the bye is a road trip to Pasadena, but lets put that off for a few paragraphs while we examine what is going wrong for this team.
The big question going into the bye week is what is wrong with Jake Locker? He certainly wasn't himself against Oregon and it just wasn't their tenacious defense. Can he pull himself back together for what may be the final stretch run of his career at Washington?
Ever since Washington upset USC the talk has been all about Jake being the top QB on the NFL draft board. We all love the potential but the Jake we have seen the last few weeks hasn't been very good. In fact I would rate a number of Pac 10 QB's ahead of him now just based on performance. Locker isn't sure of himself out there right now. The QB who used to play the game like a LB now seems very reluctant to run the ball.
He had a sure TD against Oregon in the first half which would have changed the complexion of the game if he had tucked it in and ran it. Instead he inexplicably tossed the ball away. The drive ended on a fourth down interception in the end zone which allowed the Ducks to start taking control of the game. If Washington gets seven on that series it could have been a different game.
Is that the coaches or is it just Jake? You would think he would have the green light to run the ball if he see's a hole the size of the Grand Canyon which just happened to exist on that play. We all have bought into the theory that Jake needs to be a passer first and a runner second this season if the Huskies are going to get to a bowl game. That being said the biggest weapon the Huskies do have is his ability to run the ball. He only ran it three times against Oregon for nine yards. To me that kind of play calling is just a waste of resources.
Jeremiah Masoli by the way isn't nearly as fast as Jake Locker is. He was wearing a knee brace out there after missing two weeks because of a sprained MCL. MAsoli had no problem running the ball on Saturday and that was a huge factor in the Oregon win. Once the Husky defense couldn't solely focus on LaMichael James it became a different ball game offensively for Oregon. That was a coaching adjustment on Oregon's part that helped open up the game.
Many fans are starting to question the game day ability of this coaching staff. We all know they have potential, enthusiasm, and an incredible work ethic. We are also left sometimes shaking our heads by what is happening out on the field. Coming away with no points from the Oregon two yard line is a real head scratcher.
Another head scratcher is clock management. Last week that aspect of the game cost Washington a victory on the road. This week it happened again in the waning moments of the first half. UW had three time outs before its last series with 1:06 but didn't use any of them. The Huskies still came up with three points to finish the half because of a gift 15 yard penalty on Oregon and a 47 yard Erik Folk FG with one second remaining. You really wonder though why it had to come down to that? Why did Sarkisian let 36 seconds of the clock run out without calling a timeout?
Another coaching problem right now is special teams management. Washington had a punt blocked and returned for a TD which gave Oregon a lead they never relinquished. To make matters worse they faked the PAT and Costa ran uncontested into the end zone for two points because Washington only had ten men on the field. Why not call a time out to get it right?
Later in the first half the Ducks put together the most improbable TD drive of the game. At one point the Huskies had them backed up with sacks to 2nd and 36. The Ducks actually ate up that yardage on the next two plays with some nifty passing and catching to keep the drive going with a first down. What is maddening is Washington ended up stalling the Duck drive again and forced them to kick a FG which would have minimized the damage. Enter Nate Costa who again ran the same darn fake and picked up the first down. If you stop Oregon there like you should do it is a completely different game.
The coaches need the week off to reaccess what they are doing on game day. You can blame whatever you want on the players but the fact is the coaching staff has not done a great job of putting the team in a position to win over the last two weeks. You can even make a good case that it extends all the way back to the Notre Dame game.
What does it take for these guys to figure out that they need a hammer inside the five yard line to score TD's? The one time they were successful yesterday they used Paul Homer as a lead blocker for Chris Polk. Washington has done a poor job this year of using its 240 pound FB in short yardage situations. That has to change during the final stretch of the season. The one back offense isn't going to work at the goal line for this Washington team.
Next up for Washington is UCLA in Pasadena. Even though the Huskies haven't had much luck in Pasadena against the Bruins over the years this is a game they should win. Of course we said that about Arizona State. UCLA is terrible right now and they are not going to get any better between now and the time that we face them in two weeks.
Rick Neuheisel used three QB's against Arizona on Saturday in a desperate move to try to find the a winning combo on offense. It isn't going to happen and a strong defense which keeps them close enough gets more nicked up week by week. UW will end its road losing streak in the Rose Bowl!
After UCLA the Huskies travel to Corvallis to take on OSU who left it all on the field Saturday in a track meet with USC losing 42-36. Washington can score on the Beavers. Most teams in the country can actually score on the Beavers this season but taming that offense may be a pretty tall order for this Washington team. It isn't out of the realm of possibility for Washington to beat these guys but I am not betting on it.
Washington State is the worst team in the Pac 10 and the BCS. We also have them at home. Now you can always say that the record book should be thrown out in the Apple Cup but Washington has way too many pieces for WSU to contend with. Mark this down as an indelible W!
What that should set up in a perfect world after another well deserved bye week is a contest with California at home with bowl eligibility on the line. What exactly will the Bears be playing for at this time of the season? The last place in the world they want to be is in Seattle during December. If Washington is 5-6 when the Bears roll into town they will be playing for a lot more than California. Washington needs to keep their bowl hopes alive until the finale.
In conclusion when Pete Carroll took over at USC everyone laughed. Pete was their fourth or fifth choice and it seemed like he was just another version of Paul Hackett to kick around for a couple more years. Carroll's first USC team opened the 2001 season going 2–5. However after that a slow start he was able to close the season with enough wins to go 6-5 and become become bowl eligible.
Steve Sarkisian is going to be a very good head football coach. Like his mentor Pete Carroll he is going through some growing pains with his team in his first year. What he needs to do is finish strong like Pete did and set the table for an incredible future. The pieces are all in place to do exactly that. Perhaps this bye week will be the launching pad that makes it all a reality.
Around the Pac 10
USC 42 Oregon State 36
Allen Bradford rushed for a career-high 147 yards and two touchdowns as USC avenged its only loss of last season. The USc defense better tighten up quite a bit for next week because Oregon State shredded them for a season high of 482 yards. Sean Canfield passed for 329 yards and a career-best three touchdowns for the Beavers, while Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for 113 yards and a score and also caught a TD pass on an injured ankle. Even though OSU dominated the stats at the end of the game they never had the lead. USC came out early and built a 21-9 lead at the half. Holding the Beavers to three FG's in the first stanza was the difference in the game.
Arizona 27 UCLA 13
Nick Foles threw two touchdown passes to Juron Criner, and Arizona overcame five turnovers to defeat UCLA 27-13 on Saturday and keep pace in the Pac-10 race. Foles had a hand in all of five of Arizona's turnovers. The Pac-10's leading passer threw three interceptions, had a fumble returned for a touchdown and botched a handoff that led to a fumble. Even with the gifts the Bruin defense helped create an inept offense was unable to take advantage of them. UCLA fell to 0-4 in Pac-10 play for the first time since 1994 when the Bruins lost their first five conference games.
Stanford 33 Arizona State 14
Andrew Luck threw for 236 yards, Toby Gerhart ran for 125 yards and a touchdown and Stanford greatly boosted its bowl hopes with a 33-14 victory over Arizona State on Saturday night. the Cardinal built a 24-0 lead at the half and coasted to the victory.
California 49 Washington State 17
Kevin Riley threw for touchdowns on his only three passes of the first quarter, Jahvid Best scored three touchdowns and California routed Washington State 49-17 Saturday. After two dissapointing back to back losses to Oregon and USC the Bears are back on track with a two game winning streak.
Pac 10 Power Ratings
1. Oregon...The Ducks are the best team in the conference right now. Next up is a showdown for what looks to be all the marbles against USC in Autzen Stadium. Can you say College Football Game Day?
2. Southern California...Next weeks game against Oregon will make or break the Trojan's season. If they win they might have enough juice to play for the national championship.
3. Oregon State...The Beavers left it all on the field against USC on Saturday coming back in the second half to take the game to the wire. If they were just a little better on defense the Pac 10 title might have been settled in the Willamette Valley this season. Next up is UCLA at home.
4. Arizona...The Wildcats did what they had to against UCLA and that was simply win the game. Five turnovers however have raised some eyebrows. Next up is a bye that sets the Cats up well for the stretch run.
5. California...Nothing like getting well against a string of patsies like UCLA and WSU. The buffet continues this week against ASU.
6. Stanford... A much needed win over ASU means the Card are only one win away from bowl eligibility.
7. Washington...Last second losses to Notre Dame and ASU haunt this team even thoug a lighter schedule in the last quarter of the season still holds the hope of bowl eligibility. Huskies have the week off then head to UCLA to end the current losing streak.
8. Arizona State...The Sun Devils may not win another game this season which makes last weeks last second win over Washington even more dissapointing to Husky fans.
9. UCLA...The 0-4 Bruins are off to their worst conference start since 1994. Another loss beckons next week against Oregon State on the road.
10. Washington State...If you need a confidence builder the Cougars are the right team to play. Next up is Notre Dame in San Antonio.
Pac 10 Offensive Player of the Week
Oregon's LaMichael James ran for 154 yards on 15 carries and scored two TD's in Oregon's victory over Washington.
Pac 10 Defensive player of the Week
UCLA free safety Rahim Moore, the national interception co-leader, picked off his sixth and seventh passes of the season.
Washington Offensive Player of the Week
Chris Polk had the second 100 yard game of his career against an Oregon defense which has been stifling against the run so far this season. What makes polk even more impressive is facotring in that he is playing through an injured shoulder and sprained ankle.
Washington Defensive Player of the Week
Safety Nate Fellner served notice that he is going to play quite a bit over the next four years at Washington. He made mistakes and at times was physically overmatched but on a whole it was a very nice debut for the true freshman. A year in the weight room is going to make him a very tough player to dislodge out of the starting lineup.
Quote of the Week
Steve Sarkisian: "We've got to assess what we are doing schematically and from a personnel standpoint, and it's going to be great to have a bye. We are obviously a pretty nicked-up football team right now so the bye couldn't come at a better time to hopefully get our guys back fresh, get our minds fresh, and go into this last quarter of the season with a vengeance and finish strong.''