I wrote a story in early August about fifteen things that can go wrong for UW this season. I think it is interesting to take a look at what I wrote on August 5th and look at it every 3-4 weeks in hindsight during the season.
1. We all have a big man crush on Jake Locker, but what if he gets injured? Behind him is RS Ronnie Fouch who has never taken a snap in a game and is pretty green, and behind him is one true frosh who may not ever end up playing QB at UW once everything shakes out. For Washington to do well Locker needs to be around for all twelve games, if he is injured the wheels are going to come off pretty quickly. If you lose Locker, and Fouch it will get 2007 UCLA ugly.
Locker went down with an injured hamstring early in camp which cost him 12 days of working with the offense. The lack of timing has been evident the first three games. Jake should be completely back to his old self when Stanford visit but he needs to become more accurate. Perhaps not running for his life on every play may help that over the next four weeks.
Ronnie Fouch has looked good when called upon to mop up the losses. The RS frosh is picking up some valuable playing time early this season.
2. The schedule is rated as the toughest in the country. Washington starts off against Oregon, then they get BYU, and Oklahoma at home before they take their first bye week. what if they start off 0-3? Once again even with Jake Locker the wheels can come off pretty quickly for a program that hasn't had a winning season in four years. Instead of handing out just chocolate milk after practice Coach Willingham may have to lace it with Zoloft. Washington needs to beat BYU if they have any hope in 2008, and that won't be easy.
Oregon, BYU, and Oklahoma are still undefeated and the Cougars just thrashed UCLA 59-0.
If UW had beaten BYU the season would have a entire different outlook. If wishes, and but's were candy, and nuts, we all would have a good Christmas.
Hand out the Zoloft!
3. D'Andre Goodwin looked like the only receiver on the team ready for Pac Ten play this Spring. What happens if that continues to be the case this fall? What if none of the highly touted frosh, and redshirts are ready to play? What it means is Jake is going to be putting a lot more on his shoulders than he has to, and that can mean the risk of serious injury when he is forced to run the ball more than he should. We are all counting on Jake to improve his passing percentage this season, but it won't happen if guys don't get open, and when they do end up dropping the ball.
I have been impressed with Goodwin, Aguilar, Logan, Kearse, and Jordan Polk so far. I actually think they are an upgrade from last years receivers. It isn't a mirage. there is some real talent in this group. I think as the season goes on it will become evident how much these guys picked up against tough competition the first three games.
4. The offensive line is labeled as the strength but what if injuries happen at the tackle position? If that happens Washington would have to rely on two redshirts who haven't played a snap yet. That is never good even though Ossai, and Habben earned starting time as redshirts the previous two years. UW could always move a veteran to from the interior outside, but veteran depth at tackle is a concern. Garcia is progressing ahead of schedule, but how big of a talent drop off will it be if he is reinjured?
The good news is everyone including Garcia is healthy. The bad news is they haven't blocked very well the first three games. This is a veteran line with very good depth and plenty of experience. They should be playing better.
5. We all expect improvement at TE with RS Chris Izbicki, and Fr Kavario Middleton being added to the mix to help out Sr. Mike Gottleib. What if they aren't ready to contribute? You get a replay of last season with Gottleib, and Walt Winter acting mostly as blockers while the TE still goes missing from the Husky offense in 2008. Kavario is going to be more of a receiver than a blocker this year, rarely does a true frosh have the muscle, and technique to come through in the first year.
Middleton showed the ability he was ready to make big plays the first two games but his blocking could get someone namely Jake Locker killed. Gottleib was out the first two games with a hammy. He returned to block against Oklahoma. Izbicki is buried in the depth. Walt Winter pops in and out from time to time.
6. Brandon Johnson's claim to fame was the second half of the California game last season, other than that he didn't pick up any significant playing time. What if Washington can't establish a go to running back in 2008? What if for some reason Johnson doesn't come back 100% from his knee surgery? Well this would be quite serious because Griffin, and Yakaboski aren't in the same league as Brandon at this point. Curtis Shaw could be the answer along with Chris Polk, but who would pick up those long third and two's? This team needs a solid year from Brandon Johnson to get it done, or they have to look at Homer and Kravitz in short yardage situations.
Johnson has had a nagging calf injury all season. Shaw left the team for personal reason, and Chris Polk is out for the season with a torn labrum. Sounds disasterous doesn't it? It isn't as bad as you think since we have seen some great work from David Freeman with support from Willie Griffin. Brandon Yakaboski actually scored a touchdown in his first game as a Husky. I want to see how the Washington running game does against some more even competition. We get to see that the next four games.
7. The cornerbacks looked pretty good this spring. RS Quinton Richardson held his own at CB along with Sr Mesphin Forrester, and SR Byron Davenport. In addition to that they have an improved Vonzell McDowell, and Matt Mosley who also started some games in 2007. What happens if this spring was a mirage produced against the mediocre competition provided by Washington's green receivers? If that is the case it is a replay of the last four years with the exception of depth to insert when players get injured. Whatever happens back here we are not going to run out of CB's in 2008.
Davenport missed most of camp and the first three games with an ankle injury. Richardson has the potential to be a fine CB, but both he and Forrester really need to cover better. The UW defense is giving up over 500 yards per game! The defense could really use Davenport who is there best cover man when healthy.
8. Nate Williams and Victor Ayiewa seemed to put the nasty back into the safety position at Washington this spring. They may even be able to hold off Sr. Jason Wells when he returns to full strength during camp. What happens if they aren't as good as we thought? Just like at CB it means a lot more pressure on the offense to score points to keep up. The best offense is a good defense, and in the Pac Ten it means pass defense. One thing for sure, the Huskies have plenty of experienced depth to rely on at safety.
Let me tell you something about this defense. The three best players when healthy were S Jason Wells, LB EJ Savannah, and LB Mason Foster. Only Foster is going to play this season.
Talk about a disaster. Jason Wells is out for the season rehabbing his knee. Victor Ayeiwa hasn't played yet because of a groin pull. Darin Harris missed the Oklahoma game with a concussion and Nate Williams is just one huge bruise!
That leaves true frosh Johri Fogerson and walk on Tripper Johnson as your starters if you were playing this week. Marquis Persley has been moved over from corner to add depth. I like Fogerson, but I would like him better with an additional twenty pounds of muscle.
9. Daniel Teo Nesheim, and Darion Jones look solid at defensive end. If Matthews can move back outside the Huskies will have a nice rotation at the positions. What happens if one of them is injured? This would be pretty serious because the depth behind them even with the addition of frosh Everette Thompson is non existant. Kelani Aldrich still needs another year to add weight.
Teo Nesheim has been a marked man this year as he faces the dreaded double team on almost every play. Jones, Aldrich, Matthews, and Thompson have all gotten reps.
UW has not recorded a QB sack in three games!
10. What if DT Cameron Elisara doesn't have a breakthrough season, or if they can't find anyone to play beside him? The hope was either Kirton, Ta'amu, Kelemente, or Noble can be the answer at the other tackle spot. The coaches also hope that the hard working Elisara continues to improve because he wasn't there yet in the Spring. If there is no answer at tackle the undersized Matthews has to move over from DE which compromises the thin depth over there which also means the domino's start to tip over for this line.
I actually have a favorite Cameron Elisara moment. I saw him make a very nice tackle for a loss against Oklahoma. He hasn't had a breakout season but he is still learning. Alameda and Kelemente have gotten plenty of playing time.
The young defensive line was just thrashed by Oklahoma. If you have the guts to watch the film you will notice that on about every play our lineman were pushed back in to the secondary.
Maybe the breakthrough's come later in the season or next year.
11. The kickers had a below average spring. The spring game was marked by missed field goals. What happens if Ryan Perkins continues to break down physically, and Erik Folk is unable to become accurate enough to take over? It means Washington will be going for it a lot more on fourth down rather than taking the points.
Washington can't make a field goal. The muffed PAT against BYU cost them the game. Folk has been injured since arriving and Perkins has Arthritis. Ballman handles the long ones.
12. Jared Ballman had a very good year punting in 2007. That came after a spring when he didn't look very good. He had that kind of spring again in 2008. What happens if he doesn't snap out of it? Good punting is just huge for any defense. When you lengthen the field with a good punt it makes the opposing offense work harder. If Ballman regresses it puts extra strain on a young defense coming off it's worst performance in Husky history.
Jared punted well against BYU but he stunk it up against Oregon and Oklahoma. Two shanked punts in the first half gave the Sooners the short field. Shanked punts can cost you games.
13. Louis Rankin ended up returning kicks because the true frosh in 2007 weren't as big of a return threat plus they had problems handling the ball. What if that doesn't change in 2008 since the same cast of characters return minus Rankin? A third of the game is special teams, and Washington has sucked at special teams every year since Willingham has been here. Give up points by not handling the ball and you end up losing games you should win.
I don't know about you but I am a big Jordan Polk fan. I think he is going to take the ball to the house a couple of times this year. Return coverage has been improved the first three games. I am not sure if I would be pairing Polk with Tripper Johnson on kickoff returns.
14. The departed Anthony Russo returned punts the last three years. He wasn't a gamebreaker, and while he had ok hands, he still coughed it up on occasion. D'Andre Goodwin, Chris Polk, and Curtis Shaw will all fight for the position in 2008. What if they don't show an improvement over Russo? The one good thing about Russo is he didn't turn it over too much. The new guys have a lot more speed, but the lack of experience may result in some costly turnovers.
D'Andre Goodwin has been the guy so far this year but he hasn't had many chances. UW doesn't force you to punt much these days. From what i have seen Goodwin will prove to be an upgrade as the season progresses.
15. The LB position is being touted as an obvious strength, but the best LB on the team will be out the first 2-3 games, plus the coach is hinting that may be the least of his current problems if he does not get his academics in order. If EJ Savannah doesn't make it back it is a blow to a rebuilding defense. Overall health at LB, and EJ's return is key for helping this group meet its potential. As we saw in the spring game the defense is a lot better with EJ in there.
EJ Savannah is no longer on the team and was granted a release to transfer. Losing the best player on your defense doesn't help. Walk on Josh Gage isn't the guy you want playing out here. Matt Houston may have taken the job from him last week. UW will try to play more of a 3-4 the rest of the year which will allow Tuiasosopo and Butler on the field at the same time. Mason Foster is an animal and one of the better LB's in the Pac Ten.
UW needs to recruit some better LB's.