September 10, 2008

Things Only Get Tougher With Oklahoma in Town

Willingham opened up by discussing this week's opponent, Oklahoma.

"This is a pretty talented offensive group. They are big, they play hard, they're well coached. You notice with them, the little things that they do. We talk to our football team a lot about eye discipline. It's a term of making sure your keying the right things. What you notice with them, right off the bat, is they have the ability to focus their eye discipline and really key the right things, which puts them in the right spot to execute their job. Rarely do you see them out of position doing that. They will be very difficult to put pressure on the quarterback, but yet that's one of the things we've got to find a way to do. You've got to try to get the ball out of his hands as quick as possible, to hopefully force the action in some cases. Other cases, you obviously do it with some coverage things, but hopefully we can get it out of his hands a little quicker."

The Sooners run packages where they go from an I-form formation to a five-wide formation without changing personnel. Willingham discussed the challenges in defending Oklahoma's offense.

"First thing is, the flexibility of their tight ends, both 83 and 18, really allow them to get to that personnel grouping and lineup. When you can do that, now you're trying to be a team that substitutes with them, it becomes very difficult, because at some point they get a match-up that they're very comfortable with and you're uncomfortable with. We will educate our guys to that and hopefully how to adjust correctly, so that we don't get ourselves in those kind of positions. One of the things they're known for doing, is their no huddle. I think they have a couple of automatic calls built in, so if you're a little lazy and a little slow, they snap the ball with you standing around. They do an excellent job of that, of really keeping you on your toes and keeping you off balance."

When asked who on the defense will lead when a situation like the one above happens, Willingham had this to say.

"Hopefully our middle linebacker, [Donald] Butler, will have the wisdom, have practiced enough of that and seen it enough that he will be able to respond correctly."

True freshman running back Chris Polk suffered an injury in the BYU game this past weekend, and Willingham discussed the possibility of surgery and a medical redshirt.

"He does have a tear in the shoulder. We've not yet made a decision about what it will be, but we think it will probably be surgery on the shoulder. If he gets the surgery, yes [it will be season-ending]. There is strong potential that he can do that [get a medical redshirt], because it has to be within the first three ballgames."

In Polk's absence, fellow true freshman David Freeman stepped in against BYU and played well, rushing six times for 30 yards.

"David has been, in my opinion, very strong all camp from day one. He came in and did very well in the physical conditioning test, to step the pace up a little bit, and he's continued that into camp. The way he's been running, he sees things just a little bit different than everyone else. He makes the cuts, penetrates and shows himself to be stronger than most people think a little man of that nature is. I've been very pleased with him, and this week has been no different. Really, we've just [practiced] one day, but it's still been a very strong showing by him."

Sophomore safety Nate Williams did not participate in practice yesterday, and Willingham explained why.

"Nate was a little sick yesterday, so he didn't work, but we anticipate that he'll be back a little bit stronger today. Hopefully some of the bumps and bruises that he has, will start to mend, so we'll have him for the weekend."

Senior safety Jason Wells is still recovering from a knee injury he suffered last season. Willingham hinted that Wells will more than likely redshirt this season.

"Jason looked ok [in practice], but we're still holding Jason out right now. We're anticipating Jason won't be involved - we're looking long term."

True freshman Johri Fogerson recently made the switch from running back to safety, and despite not having the advantage of participating in Fall camp as a safety, Fogerson is poised to see significant playing time against Oklahoma, especially with the injury to senior Darin Harris. Willingham gave his thoughts on the talented freshman.

"Obviously we're trying to ramp up his learning curb as fast as possible with the injuries we have with the other guys in the secondary. Victor Aiyewa is still kind of sidelined. You've got Nate that's now a little bit sidelined, so we've got to ramp him up. What he does, is he adds a strong presence. He has excellent ball skills and he has shown himself to be physical. We haven't had a chance to let him do that yet, because we haven't put him in a true scrimmage environment, but we think he'll be physical when the time comes."

When informed that Fogerson said he's slated to start at free safety this weekend, Willingham said with a simle:

"Oh he did? I'm quite sure he did. There's probably a chance that he will see significant playing time this weekend."

The defense has struggled through the first two games, and Willingham had this to say when asked if the defense has been confused thus far.

"I wouldn't say confused. I thought that first ball game, we kind of had kind of starry eyes, and everything was catching up to the speed. Of course learning the defense and becoming accustomed to it under game conditions - it's totally different. I don't think they're confused, but I do think they're learning, and I think the learning is still ongoing."

Oklahoma runs a no-huddle offense, which can cause problems for a defense, especially a young one like the Huskies'. Willingham talked about the possible effects of the Sooners' offense on Washington's defense.

"I think what it's going to do, it's going to up the tempo and pace. We're going to find ourselves having to adjust to another pace once again. Whether it's faster than Oregon's, I don't know yet - or whether it's some kind of combination in between, that provides some other things that we're going to have to adjust to. Just making those adjustments, sometimes makes it seems like everybody's confused, but I don't think that's the case. I think it's just the adjustment and getting up to speed with all of that. I think they'll know their call, but getting to all of those places is a different thing when people are running around and you're trying to figure it out."

Willingham discussed the advantages of opening up the season with three straight games against ranked opponents.

"Obviously I think there are some benefits to the teams we've played. I think once you've come out of this stretch, and head into our bye [week], you've got to look back and say you've played some of the best football teams in America. Hopefully we've grown, we've gotten better. Our younger kids are now more mature and now maybe they can put some teeth into what I've been requiring of them or asking of them - to play older. It's tough to play older on nothing. Now they will have the opportunity to play older on experience, and that should help us."

Junior linebacker E.J. Savannah asked for his release yesterday, and Willingham gave his thoughts on the situation.

"It's very disappointing anytime anyone leaves your program, for any reason, any circumstances. We've spent, as a staff, as a community, a lot of time and energy trying to assist and trying to help. That is disappointing when you invest that kind of investment and you don't get any kind of return. But again, the goal and the hope, is for all of the young men to be successful. If this is the best route for him to be successful, than we want to help him do that. I think this was more his desire at this point, because I've always held an open door and still continue to hold open doors for all of our young men."

...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!