In recent weeks there has been much talk about the quarterback play for Washington and whether Isaiah Stanback or Johnny DuRocher should be starting. But for the Huskies this year the missing ingredient for an overall successful offensive performance has been the lack of a dependable running attack. Having a running game that you can rely on can go a long way in making a quarterback look good.
In Tempe two weeks ago the Dawgs seemed to have struck gold. With a healthy Joe Toledo back James Sims was able to explode for 140-yards and two touchdowns. Just as soon as they found the running game the Huskies seemed to have misplaced it by struggling again on the ground against Oregon State last week.
The running game wasn't the only facet that suffered from a poor performance by the offensive line. The Beavers pummeled both Husky quarterbacks recording four sacks, twelve tackles for a loss and ending Johnny DuRocher's season by breaking his wrist.
After what appeared to be a stellar week of practice the lackluster performance against the Beavers has left a bad taste in offensive line coach, Mike Denbrock's mouth.
"I think all of us involved in the program are disappointed in what transpired on Saturday", coach Denbrock said. "We had as good a week of work as we've had this season leading up to the game."
For the coach one of the most frustrating factors is that it's hard to single out one particular area as the culprit for the breakdowns last Saturday. From the beginning OSU seemed dedicated to stopping the run. But in the end the combination of both mental breakdowns and the lack of execution can be attributed to the overall problem the offensive line had blocking OSU.
"Oregon State made a decision early in the game they were going to make us throw it to beat them", said Denbrock. "We had some mental breakdowns and we had some physical breakdowns. We had altogether to many breakdowns to be successful against a good football team."
When asked to assess the overall performance of the offensive line up to this point in the season he admits this week is not a good week to talk about it.
"My view is a little bit jaded based on what happened last week", Denbrock said. "I felt going into last week's game we'd begun to understand what we were capable of and what it took to be successful. I feel like we let that slip away last week. I think overall there have been some very good things we've done. Unfortunately on the other side of coin we haven't played nearly as well as we can. "
"Overall consistency has been a problem for us this year", he added.
Consistency is something the Dawgs will be looking for when they travel to Arizona Stadium this Saturday. And for the offense that begins with the running game. The Wildcats rank eighth in the conference in rushing defense, ahead of ASU and UCLA. The Bruins and Sun Devils both provided some insight into what the Husky running game is capable of.
Coach Denbrock views the running game as the key to what the Huskies need to accomplish on offense. "To be at our best offensively we've got to be able to run the ball", he said.
In order for James Sims to have another big day he's going to need some room to run. Coach Denbrock knows if Sims can get in a rhythm early that can have a positive effect on the rest of the offensive game plan by allowing them to stretch the field with the deep ball and using the play-action pass to keep a cheating secondary honest.
Arizona's rush defense may be ranked near the bottom of the conference, but led by Copeland Bryan their pass defense ranks in the upper half of the conference. Denbrock acknowledges that Bryan will be a force to reckon with on Saturday and concedes the Dawgs will probably have to use a tight end or a running back to help slow him down.
"I like his aggressiveness and athletic ability. He's a real threat to get up the field fast", said Denbrock. "He's going to have to be somebody we do a good job of controlling."
The coach followed that up with, "We have to disrupt him and keep him off balance, because when he gets into a flow he's very dangerous."
Another strength of the Wildcat defense is their ability to stop their opponents from converting 3rd downs. Coincidently 3rd down conversions are not the Huskies strong point (they are last in the PAC-10). Denbrock says that the coaching staff is well aware of the Wildcats success at stopping 3rd down conversions and that this is an area of focus every week.
"A huge factor in every game is your ability to stay on the field", Denbrock said. "We're going to have to do as good of a job as we can to keep our defense on the sidelines and their offense on the sidelines."
The coach also acknowledges that the best way to ensure that a high percentage of 3rd downs are converted is to make those 3rd downs 3rd and short-yardage situations. By being able to establish the run early the Huskies hope to get themselves in favorable short-yardage 3rd downs.
One of the biggest challenges for the team this week will be stopping the suddenly high-powered Wildcat offense led by freshman quarterback Willie Tuitama . After entering the Oregon game Tuitama nearly led the Wildcats to a miraculous comeback victory in Tucson. He followed that performance up with a 29-27 victory over Oregon State the following week, not to be outdone by the 52-14 shellacking of the Bruins last week. One of the most efficient ways to slow down the Arizona offense is to not let them have the ball and the best way the Huskies can accomplish that goal is to run the ball effectively and control the time of possession.
A reliable running game has been something the Huskies have needed this season. The coach points to establishing the ground attack early if the Dawgs hope to capture that elusive first conference win on Saturday.
Wins have been few and far between for this group of guys. Still coach Denbrock believes he can see how much this group wants to win by the amount of hard work they've put in week-in and week-out.
"The end goal is a football team of young men who understand how to prepare, work and know how to win on Saturdays", said Denbrock. "Unfortunately winning is a new experience for these guys. And there's a process a football team goes through when it is learning to win."
Those of us that have watched the team this year have had to bear witness to that painful process. Last week it looked like the team took a step back, but if they can eliminate some of the mistakes that have plagued them throughout the season and get James Sims going early we might see the beginnings of the turnaround this program so desperately needs on Saturday.