Wednesday, July 25, 2007

2007 Preview: Washington Huskies

After their road trip to Salt Lake City, the Bruins come back home to take on a rebuilding Washington Husky squad. Every year this seems like a tough game for UCLA and last September a victory just slipped though our hands. The Huskies will be breaking in a new quarterback and have some key players to replace on both sides of the ball. Regardless of the personnel, this is a team the Bruins cannot take lightly. Head coach Tyrone Willingham still has a lot of work ahead of him but this program seems to be headed in the right direction.

Last year the Bruins struggled in the red zone and scoring touchdowns was particularly difficult against the Huskies. Finishing drives was an area of focus for UCLA this spring and I'm sure Norvell will have our team much more prepared this fall. The Bruin defense also had a hard time containing Isiah Stanbeck and the athletic, scrambling quarterback has finally wrapped up his career in Seattle. I'm sure the coaches are expecting a very different outcome in Pasadena this year.

Offense

A name you'll hear a lot this season is Jake Locker. He is the highly touted red-shirt freshman who has been tagged as the starting quarterback for the purple and gold. A lot of expectations have followed this youngster from his prep days and the future of Husky football, and maybe Willingham's career, ride on his shoulders. He'll be playing at the collegiate level for the first time this year and he'll still be pretty raw in the 4th week of the season.

Locker is a dual threat quarterback. He has very impressive 4.6 sec speed, so the Huskies may run him even more than Stanbeck. He also has a very strong arm and was recruited as a baseball player when coming out of high school. Stanbeck caused all kinds of problems for the Bruins last year, so Walker will have to prepare his squad to keep this scrambler in check. Jake ran a wing-T in high school and he still has a lot to learn before he's ready to take on division-1 college football. Expect a lot of delayed blitzes and formations designed to confuse this inexperienced quarterback.

If Locker falters then Carl Bonnell, who is back from shoulder surgery, would be his replacement. He's been in the system for a long time but the senior quarterback struggled in place of Stanbeck last season. Willignham didn't even give Bonnell the opportunity to compete for the starting position, anointing Locker as the starter before the spring practice. Obviously, the coach doesn't have a lot of confidence in Bonnell to carry the team.

A star running back didn't really emerge for Washington last year, so losing Kenny James probably isn't the end of the world. Louis Rankin will be the main guy this time around and the inconsistent back will definitely look to capitalize on the big game he had against Washington State to wrap up the 2006 season. J. R. Hasty, who was academically ineligible last season, was hyped coming out of high school, so he could also provide a spark to a running game that has floundered in recent years. The stiff Bruin run defense should be able to contain this group and that will likely force Locker to carry most of the running load.

The Huskies finally have a big play wide out in Marcel Reece. He had a big game against the Cougars and is looking to have a break-out season in 2007. He looked good during the spring and it looks like he has his weight down and his mind focused on football. They do lose their biggest target in Sonny Shackleford and he'll be hard to replace. He absolutely killed the Bruins last time and I'm sure Rodney Van and the other defensive backs are glad they don't have to worry about him this season. The other receivers are question marks. Senior Anthony Russo had a hard time hanging onto the ball in 2006. Johnie Kirton is back at the tight end spot and the former running back is still making the transition. The other tight end is Micheal Gottlieb. Neither were a big target in the Husky offense last season.

The Husky offensive line loses two guards but they are replacing them with two big bodies. Morgan Rosborough is somewhere around 375 lbs and Casey Bulyca tosses in another 320 lbs of his own. Center Juan Garcia is the leader of this group and a lot will be asked of them this season. Protecting Locker and giving him some running lanes will be a key to Washington's strategy on offense. UCLA's D-line will be giving up some weight to the Dawgs but the speed and athleticism of our guys should be able to put some pressure on the QB. I'm sure we'll have an active rotation in the middle to keep our guys from getting worn down by these big uglies.

Defense

The Husky defense will see a lot of new faces this fall as they have to replace 5 of their top 6 tacklers. While that might cause most teams some concern, the Husky defense was pretty bad last year. Some fresh blood might be just what the doctor ordered. Washington will run a traditional 4-3 again this season, relying on their line to carry the defense.

The D-line is definitely the strongest squad on this side of the line of scrimmage for the Huskies. They get back 3 starters, including defensive end Greyson Gunheim, who played through a knee injury last season. He's receiving a lot of pre-season praise and the 6'5" senior will definitely need to be contained by our O-line. The other end, Daniel Te'0-Nesheim, looks to be another threat with a strong motor. If Kia and Abraham can keep these two under wraps then Olson should have a field day with the rest of the Husky defense.

The linebacker corps will introduce some new faces, with only senior Dan Howell back. Donald Butler and E.J. Savannah are young but they saw some minutes last year. The two sophomores will be asked to take up starting positions this season for the first time and there will obviously be a learning curve there. There is some talent in this group but not a lot of experience. They will likely rely on the D-line to help put a lot of pressure on Olson.

For the fourth straight week, the Bruins will face a team with some big questions in the secondary. Free Safety Jason Wells is back and so is Roy Lewis, but the other defensive backs have very little experience. This was a squad that was very maligned last season and they'll probably struggle again this time around as well. One name that Bruin fans might recognize is Byron Velega (now known as Byron Davenport). The former UCLA corner transfered to Washington and he could play some nickle back or even start at corner for the Huskies. Hopefully a play maker will emerge in our receiving corps in this game and give Olson a deep threat target. The Bruins should have an advantage here.

Special Teams

The Husky special teams unit is also being revamped this year. True freshman Erik Folk is being targeted to take over the kicking and punting duties. He'll replace Sean Douglas, who was an excellent punter for the Dawgs, and Washington's special teams might be another area where this program struggles. In addition to the kicking, the Huskies will replace their punt returner and the kick return spot also looks like it is up for grabs.

The Verdict

On paper the Huskies don't seem to match up well with UCLA. They lose their big play makers on offense and bring on board some inexperienced, but talented, replacements. The Huskies have an X-factor at quarterback but he'll still be raw when they come to Pasadena and I don't think Locker can carry the team by himself. This is a program that is still rebuilding and they are probably another year away from being a serious threat. This Dawg has some bite, though, and the Bruins better be ready for a gritty opponent.

For whatever reason, this is always a close game and I don't think this year will be any exception. The Bruin defense should suffocate the Husky offense, so it might be a low scoring affair. I'm sure our boys will be licking their chops at the prospect of getting revenge after the tough loss in Seattle a year ago. A thin Husky defense coupled with all the returning talent at UCLA will be too much for Washington to overcome. Throw in home field advantage for good measure and you can chalk this one up in the win column.

CalPoly's Prediction: Bruin Victory. 4-0 (2-0)

Washington What's What

Recruiting rankings for the last 4 years (Scout.com is the first number, Rivals.com is the second):

2007: #29, #36, 27 commits
2006: #35, #35, 22 commits
2005: #55, #66, 13 commits
2004: #22, #19, 22 commits

2006 statistical rankings (National ranking is the first number, PAC-10 rank is the second):

Total Offense : 74, 8.
Scoring Offense: 76, 8.

Rushing Offense: 69, 7.
Passing Offense: 66, 8.

Total Defense : 95, 9.
Scoring Defense: 85, 8.

Rushing Defense: 66, 8.
Passing Defense: 102, 8.

Game Info.
September 22. Time and TV package are still TBD.

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think your analysis is very accurate as most Husky fans would see it. Actually I don't really think there is much difference between the Bruins and the Huskies talent wise as they will line up this year. Locker is however about as green as they come and that will be a decisive factor in favor of the Bruins in this game.

knicksgrl0917 said...
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