October 1, 2008

Despite Rough Start, Husky Offense Progressing

While the Husky football team is struggling mightily this season, the offense. although young and inexperienced, is making strides and putting up enough points to win games. In the loss to BYU, Washington put up 27 points 337 yards of total offense. And against Stanford, the Huskies notched 28 points and 377 yards of total offense. While those numbers aren't jaw dropping by any means, they should be good to win games.

"We lead the Pac-10 in third down conversions - things like that, you build on and you show them all those positives," said Offensive Coordinator Tim Lappano. "The thing that we need is to make more big plays. We should of had 35 [points] against BYU, we should of had 35 [points] against Stanford. Not many offenses are good enough to get nine drives, and get from the 20 yard line all the way down without finding a way to mess it up or punt. We're doing a pretty good job of that, but we've got to make big plays to score the points we need to score to win football games."

The rough start has certainly put a damper on things, but the team offense remains optimistic about it's play and optimistic for the remainder of the season.

"We're pleased, but at the same time, 0-4 doesn't leave a lot of room for excitement about anything. We definitely want to get more rounded as a team, and as an offense, we can't really celebrate while we're losing games," explained freshman wide receiver Alvin Logan. "It's definitely a different mood than it was coming out of camp. Being 0-4 puts the team in a bind, but we're trying to be that team that can get out of that bind. All we can do is look forward to next week and hopefully get a win in Arizona."

If the tough start wasn't enough, the Huskies lost their best player and team leader, sophomore quarterback Jake Locker for six to eight weeks after he suffered a broken thumb on his throwing hand. The injury came in last week's game against Stanford when Locker attempted to block a Cardinal defender on a Washington run. However, freshman Ronnie Fouch played impressively in place of Locker, completing 13-of-27 passes for 186 yards and one touchdown, while throwing no interceptions and adding another score on the ground.

"He looked like a veteran out there Saturday. It was never too big for him. They blitzed him all out, eight man blitz the very first play he got in there - [he] made the check and pitched it off the end man for a 15-yard first down gain in a critical situation, where we're in the red zone," exclaimed Lappano. "It's not too big for him. He's very confident and he knows the game. He's exceptional in the passing game, understanding the coverage's and knowing where to go. That was awesome, that was unbelievable. That's from a guy that works at it, studies his book and is into it, and that's good stuff."

Fouch is by no means a slow quarterback, but in the same respect, he is no Jake Locker - not many quarterbacks are. When asked if he thinks the Wildcats will bring the blitz early and often, Lappano responded:

"Thats a good question. They're about 19 percent blitz, which is by far the lowest pressure we've faced all year. We'll assume they will, but I'm not really sure," said Lappano. "They're playing good defense. I think they're ranked number one in the Pac-10 in total defense, so I don't know how much they'll get away from what they do right now."

Lapanno further discussed Arizona's defense.

"They're a good defense. I like their ends, I think they get up the field pretty good, they're pretty quick. They're not overly big up front, but I like number 49 inside. He has good quickness, and he'll set an edge on you and get up field. Their backers are good players. One of them, I think, is a three-year starter. Their corners are solid and their safeties are decent - good range, good size. They've always played pretty good defense."

Fouch may only be a redshirt freshman, but he has benefitted from both an early enrollment and valuable practice time with the first-team. Fouch, who graduated high school early, enrolled at Washington one semester early and was able to participate in the Huskies' 2007 Spring practices. Fouch also gained about two weeks of practice time with the first-team when Locker suffered a hamstring injury during Fall practices.

"I think that was critical. He got all of the reps, and that really helped him. He benefitted from Jake's hamstring injury, and got all of the snaps, so there's no question that's really helped him," expressed Lappano. "The other thing that you've got to remember, is that he got out of school early to come here for that spring. So he got an extra spring, and that was really critical for his development. He was 17 years old when he did it, which I thought was really amazing - that really helped him. So he has a couple of spring balls under his belt."

That extra time Fouch had in the Fall improved his connection with the receivers, leaving them more than comfortable in their relationship with him.

"We got used to each other most of training camp, so it's not much of a difference," explained Kearse. "I spent a lot of time running routes with him, so it's not much of a difference.

Fouch not only impressed his coaches, but his peers as well, who have confidence in the abilities of Washington's newly appointed starting quarterback.

"He handled the situation very well. He got a couple of completions in there and got a couple of touchdowns, so it was a good experience for him. He's going to help us get this thing on the go," said freshman wide receiver Jermaine Kearse. "Ronnie's very accurate. He puts the ball right there on the spot, where only you can get it and not the defender."

Kearse has played well for a true freshman, grabbing 11 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Kearse's 11 catches and 128 yards are both good for second best on the team, while his two touchdowns lead all Husky receivers.

"I feel like I'm getting better each game. I feel like I can run better routes. I feel like I'm running good routes, but I can always run better routes and fix all of the small things on my techniques and my releases," said Kearse. "There's always little things I can fix on my routes, but as the season goes and games keep coming, I'm going to progress as a receiver and get better every game."

Locker's injury was not the only one the Huskies endured against Stanford. D'Andre Goodwin, Washington's go-to receiver with 27 receptions for 315 yards suffered bruised ribs in the game against the Cardinal. While the injury is not expected to be one of major concern, it is obvious the it is slowing the sophomore wideout.

"I think I fell on the ball, but I'll be alright, I'm fine," said Goodwin. "I've been getting treatment, so I'll be good to go, but I believe I'll be wearing extra padding."

While injuries are certainly not a welcome part of football, Logan chooses to look for positives in the situation.

"I really don't think it will change too drastically. A lot of the stuff Jake can do, Ronnie can do also. Don't discount his running ability, because Ronnie's pretty fast also. I see the offense as being more well rounded, meaning a lot more hands are going to touch the ball," said Logan. "I think a lot more of our talent is going to shine a little bit. It's going to open things up a little more for a lot more people. We expect as many people as we can to make plays every game we play, but it just seems as if we'll get a little bit more of a chance this week."

Goodwin prefers to look to the future rather than dwell on the past.

"It hurts to see your starting quarterback go down and to not get the victory, but you have to just get over it, because we still have eight games left," explained Goodwin. "A loss it tough on the players and coaches, but you have to move on and prepare for the next game. You can't dwell on it. I feel like we're doing a good job of that."

"We're just going to have to make the best of the situation and just try to get better and try to get some wins throughout this season. The main focus is just to get better and get the experience," said Kearse. "The wins are going to come. Of course I want to win, but I know it's going to come. I don't have any doubts with this team, I feel like our time is going to come."

The offensive line, which was supposed to be the strongest part of the team this season, has struggled somewhat this season. However, Lappano feels the unit played it's best game of the season against Stanford.

"I can honestly say I think they played probably their best game of the year. It wasn't where we need to be yet, but it was pretty good," expressed Lappano. "I really want to single out Juan Garcia. I think he had by far his best game, he played pretty good. As a group, they played pretty good. They played more physical. I think their technique was a little bit better and they were a lot more physical."

So while the Huskies may struggle for the remainder of the season, Husky fans can take a least a little bit of solace knowing the offense will gradually and steadily improve.

"We have a lot of young people on the offense. I'm liking how everyone is getting the experience," said Kearse. "All of the young guys. they're just getting better and using this season to get that experience they need to progress. I feel like we're progressing well. We could play a little better, but we're progressing."

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