Sunday, September 6, 2009

Dawgs Dominate LSU. Lose Game. New Era Brings Hope

Keep this man smiling by winning some games this season!

I'll admit, when the Dawgs chose to receive the opening kickoff of the 2009 season I was rather nervous. The sickly sour taste of fear in my mouth was overwhelming. 14 straight losses can make even the most optimistic Dawg fan a cowering pup. This is especially true when playing a national powerhouse like LSU. A team like that could dismantle a 0-12 UW team and leave more psyches shattered than a Catholic Priest at camp full of Boy Scouts. With a violent defeat all the talk about coaching the players up and causes for optimism would drain down the players' legs. I worried about the ramifications of a quick 3 and out before LSU took the ball and scored.

All fears of failure were erased when The Dawgs marched down the field like Sherman through Georgia, consistently picking up good yardage on the ground as well as through the air on the first two downs allowing them converting manageable third downs. Then Jake Locker hit true freshman James Johnson for a 17 yard catch and run touchdown. A statement was sent, "These are NOT your 2008, 0-12 Huskies!" The stadium erupted in cheers and a huge burden was removed from the backs of UW players.

The entire team was crazy with excitement after the crowd caused Ciron Black, he of the Outland Trophy watch list, to false start moving the Tigers from 3rd and goal from the 2 to 3rd and goal from the 7. The Tigers failed to get a td and had to settle for the field goal. Momentum seemed very much on the Dawgs' side. Then the first costly mistake happened.

Jake Locker had improved much in the offseason under new head coach Steve Sarkisian. That much was one display during the first drive. But the fact that Jake still has a lot of work to do to become the QB he can be was shown very clearly to start the second drive. First play of the drive Jake dropped back and fired a pass out to his right failing to see linebacker Jacob Cutrera who tipped the ball to himself and ran for the TD. The Dawgs were all of a sudden down 10-7.

After a brief stint on the sideline during the kick off Jake and the rest of the Husky offense took the field again looking to make up for the mistake on the last drive. And for the most part they did as they drove 63 yards and were much like an early 90's junky on Capitol Hill, they were looking to score. Then disaster struck this team again as Chris Polk, who had a great night running the ball and ripped off a 33 yard run earlier in the drive, fumbled on the LSU 5 yard line. The defense held and forced a punt but the chance to go up was lost. On the next drive UW had to settle for a field goal to tie it up.

Those two plays, in my mind were the most critical in determining the game's outcome. If UW puts together a second drive to match their first or their third, sans the fumble, there is a good chance they are up 14-3. At that point the defense had been shutting down the vaunted LSU run game and it is entirely possible that they could have gotten the ball back with another chance to score before half.

That's huge when facing a superior opponent, to get on them early and not let up. The relatively Young LSU team might have been rattled and probably would have had to alter their game plan. In that case the Huskies would have been in control and playing like the favorites. Sadly, that didn't happen. While the Dawg's managed to stay within barking distance the rest of the game, a slow 3rd quarter combined with the expected come aparts in the secondary made the chances of them pulling out a win rather slim.

Overall though, I was very impressed with this team. They out-gained the Tigers 478-321 and absolutely controlled the time of possession 36:52 to 23:08. Chris Polk, whom I thought look way over-matched last year was dynamite all night. He was quick to and through the hole. He managed to get to the edge well and he rarely went down after first contact. My favorite play of the night was his dishing out two terrible stiff-arms tow LSU defenders on his 33 yard run, damn impressive.

Jake Locker passed for 321 yards and 2 tds in the game. If not for the interception it would have been a near flawless performance as he went 25-45. His completion percentage might have been a few ticks higher if some of Jake's receivers held onto the passes. Jake's scrambling ability for big gains was limited by the fast secondary of LSU. Patrick Peterson, a 6'1" 211lb corner made sure that Jake was kept in check and no quick passes to receivers were going to go for anything after the catch. Peterson seemed to be everywhere for the Tigers. Even being relatively limited Jake still managed to run for 51 yards and pick up crucial first down with his legs.

The Wideouts looked solid, Aguilar and Johnson really impressed. Though Aguilar did have a crushing drop in the 4th quarter on a perfectly thrown ball by Jake. It hit his hands but he just could not reel it it. Johnson, however seems to be the prototype for the new UW WR. Big, fast, strong and great hands. In just his first game he had 6 catches for 60+ yards. If the WR's can hold onto the ball Jake might have some fine options in the passing game.

The tight end, a crux of the pro-style offense Sark ran at USC, as well as a traditional position of talent for UW, seems to be making a resurgence. Both Kavario Middleton and Chris Izbicki saw a lot of playing time and did well with their blocking. However, it was Middleton who flashed his much talked about athleticism and pass catching prowess by snagging 5 passes for 45 yards and the last TD of the game. If the kid keeps it up he could be something really special.

The D game up some big plays and struggled a bit with the option last night. But for the most part they played damn well. Daniel Teo Nesheim managed to occasionally get into the LSU back field and get pressure which is incredible considering the talent on LSU's line. Also impressive was Ta'amu Alimeda who was constantly commanding double and triple teams all night. He even got a sack and a pressure on consecutive plays when he twisted left into the backfield on one play and then mirrored the twist to the right on the next. LSU's running game was supposed to run us down like a dog in the street. That the Tigers had to run the option to get to the edge says a lot of out the d-line and linebackers.

Special Teams was remarkable in that they didn't let any of the Dahmer-dangerous LSU return break loose for a long gain or a TD. Folk, the kicker missed a 42 yard field goal and was kinda shaky on a few of his PAT's but still I'll take it.

The entire game the coaching staff could be see right in the ears of their players coaching them up. Regardless of whether it was a successful play or not the coaching staff was wanting to talk with their players and let them know what to do better next time while at the same time letting them know they did good work. Compared to the old Willingham regime's style of coaching this hands-on approach felt almost like bondage. And who doesn't like a little pain with their pleasure?

I was also impressed with how varied our offensive sets were. When Sark was hired I was worried about his pro-style leanings and what that would mean for Jake's legs. I should have known that a bright mind like Sarkisian's would not let such a tool go to waste. Aside from the normal single back pro-sets and various I-formations seen last night there were also glimpses of the spread shown. Jake even ran a read option keeper, something straight out of last year's playbook. To keep LSU honest UW ran and threw out of the spread and had much success. Jake also had some designed rollouts and bootlegs drawn up for him. As the season wears on and Sark gets more comfortable with his personnel and his personnel with him I think we will start to see that playbook really start to open up. When that happens watch out because who knows what wrinkles Coach Sark will add to maximize his talent.

The refs were terrible missing a few calls and a calling a few they shouldn't have. All in all another day for Pac-10 officiating.

The broadcast crew was terrible. There was a real homosexual overtone to everything they talking about and that is aside from voraciously fellating the Bayou Bengals the entire game. There were numerous mentions by one of the broadcasters about how good looking the LSU's football players were followed by b-roll footage of the Tigers walking into the stadium. The broadcaster went on to say that he felt many of the Tigers could win beauty competitions. I'm not sure what relevance that held on last night's game but that didn't matter to the announcer. After the gushing over the (se)x factor for LSU the conversation turned to how much Jake Locker reminded them of Brady Quinn. To prove this point they showed Jake at pre-game warm ups, wind blowing his purple workout shirt against his body, steely blue eyes looking out across the lake, not a shot of him doing anything football related just sexy shots of Jake. The whole thing was hilariously uncomfortable. .I wonder what the folks in the smaller towns of western Washington thought about such homoerotic antics being beamed into their house.

From the way the Dawgs played last night I think it's safe to say that 2009 will be nothing like the dismal years preceding it. If the coaches can get their players up to play at that level every game, something I think they are very capable of, then watch out! This team could shock some people and maybe pull out 6 wins. I'm keeping my expectations muted until we get our first win and see if this intensity is as lasting as I hope it is. I'm predicting 4 wins on the season. Believe me though, it would not shock me at all for the Dawgs to beat some Pac-10 teams and make a bowl game for the first time in 7 seasons. WOOF!!


Anonymous said...

Jordan Polk is a wideout, Chris Polk is the HB.

Willie Mays Haze said...

Thanks and fixed!