Sunday, October 25, 2009

Never a doubt . . . . mostly.

LaMichael (Little Train) James spikes himself into the endzone.
Notice how his blockers have their backs to the goal line.
They turned the Husky D-line completely around.

[In the days leading up to the game against Washington, it appeared to me that the local media got a little bored with merely repeating what everybody knew in their hearts -- that Oregon was going to win this game big time.
Rob Mosley of the R-G actually found three or four national media guys who thought Washington was ready to pull off the upset. They gave reasons like, "Oregon couldn't decide who their QB was." or "Husky Stadium was as hostile an environment as Boise State -- and we all know what happened there. "
Ken Goe basically had two words of warning for us giddy Duck fans: Jake Locker. He argued that Locker could be the best QB in the Pac-10.
Through my typical sleepless Friday night before a Husky game I was wondering, "What if what they say is true? What if the Huskies are as good as they hope they are? What if Locker proves to be the toughest QB Oregon has faced.
Every stat, every video clip, every X, and every O told me that the Ducks would crush the Dawgs. My head was clear. But my stomach still churned. These were the Huskies, after all.
The hex of doubt was finally lifted from me about two hours before the game when I was watching Purdue's Joey Elliott hold off a tough Illinois attack for another victory to go with their one over Ohio State last week.
Remember Elliott? He was the toughest QB the Ducks had faced, right after they had tangled with Kellen Moore at Boise, and just before they had gone against Terrence Cain of Utah. And then came Cal's Kevin Riley. RILEY, for crying out loud -- He can be lethal.
Yes, Locker could be the best QB in the Pac-10 or West or whatever; but after watching Oregon's 43 -19 whipping of the Dawgs, it's time to be real.

He is not.
Compared to those other QB's. Jake Locker is merely another one. And the Ducks proved it.
Following is a story from the R-G about the Ducks' lockdown of Locker . . . ]

Ducks lock down UW quarterback
By Adam Jude, The Register-Guard
Javes Lewis intercepts Jake Locker's pass in the endzone.

SEATTLE — As Jake Locker’s passing statistics rose and rose and rose this season, so too did his NFL stock — so much so that one expert skyrocketed the Washington quarterback all the way to the top of the draft board last week.

His professional profile might be heading up, but against No. 12 Oregon on Saturday, Locker only seemed to be going down. And down. And down.

“A lot of people got to hit him today,” UO defensive end Kenny Rowe said after the Ducks’ 43-19 victory at Husky Stadium. “So we feel good about that.”

Yes, it was another feel-good day for the UO defense, which wanted — and got — Locker to sit back and attempt to beat the Ducks through the air.

Locker had “too much” success in that regard, Rowe said, completing 23-of-44 passes for 266 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions.

But the Ducks said they were most wary of Locker’s ability to beat them with his feet, and in that regard Oregon shut down the 6-foot-2, 226-pound junior.

Locker was sacked four times and attempted only three other runs, netting minus-16 yards on the ground. His first instinct, it seems, was to throw the ball, even when a running lane appeared to open up.

“He couldn’t run,” UO senior safety T.J. Ward said. “It was either throw it or get sacked.”

That’s a stark contrast to Locker’s first two seasons as the UW starter, when he rushed for a combined 134 yards on 29 carries in two previous games against Oregon.

“He’s a legit quarterback, there’s no doubt about it,” UO defensive tackle Brandon Bair said. “He’s definitely improved on his passing game since I played against him last. He’s got confidence throwing the ball, (but) I noticed he doesn’t run the ball as much anymore. He can if he needs to, but he sits in the pocket and passes.“Today, that probably hurt him more than it helped him with us.”

Bair, Spencer Paysinger and Josh Kaddu were each credited with a sack Saturday, with Rowe and Will Tukuafu combining on another.

“Maybe we miscalculated their team speed in a sense,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said, “because there were times I thought we were going to get them to the edge, and (Locker) wasn’t able to get there and they closed on him.”
[Would you believe that even after this game, an R-G writer still believes Sarkisian is a legitimate candidate for Pac-10 Coach of the Year? Here we are in the middle of the season. Tons of film, scouting reports, interviews etc. are at their disposal. And this C.O.Y. candidate says “Maybe we miscalculated their team speed in a sense,”
In a sense? Ya. NON-sense. It's one thing to say, "We knew these guys were fast, and Locker couldn't outrun them." But how does one MISCALCULATE something like that. ]

Tukuafu, one of Oregon’s defensive captains, credited the coverage of Oregon’s secondary for allowing the front seven time to pressure Locker.“Our defensive backs were able to hold their coverage and forced him to hold the ball a little bit longer than he normally would,” Tukuafu said.
The Ducks D. gave Locker plenty of time to lie down and
and think about calling the Anaheim Angels (who drafted him)
and becoming a baseball player.
That’s a somewhat surprising development considering the secondary was hit with yet another injury at cornerback. Junior Talmadge Jackson III, the Ducks’ most experienced cornerback still standing, left in the first quarter with a back injury.
That left sophomore Anthony Gildon and true freshman Cliff Harris to man the corner positions, with sophomore rover Javes Lewis also filling in there on occasion. Harris had his first career interception, off Locker in the third quarter.

Lewis added a pick off Locker in the end zone on a fourth-down play in the second quarter, the Ducks’ second goal-line stand in as many weeks.

Kaddu, who later left the game with an ankle injury, was credited with a forced fumble in the third quarter, which Rowe returned 18 yards. The Ducks’ three forced turnovers gave them 19 this season.Ward returned to the field for the first time since suffering an ankle injury in the season opener, finishing with five tackles as John Boyett’s backup.

Ward said “it’s amazing” how well the secondary has performed in the face of so many injuries.

[Ya, I don't know how they're doing it, but Oregon's young, inexperienced secondary are playing like seasoned veterans. Hopefully TJ3 will be able to take some ibuprofen and get back out there. Playing the Trojans is no time to discover that maybe your young D-backs are in fact NOT up to the task.
An excerpt from this next article in the Seattle P-I talks more of Locker, but compares him to Jeremiah Masoli:]

Huskies not taking advantage of Locker near goal line

. . . . Certainly Locker is a better athlete than the 5-foot-11, 220-pound Masoli. [Oh, did I tell you this was from the Seattle P.I.?] But when Oregon got down inside the 5-yard line, it was Masoli who proved impossible to stop as he twice scored on short touchdown runs after play-faking the Husky front out of position and waltzing through gaping holes up front.

Meanwhile, the Huskies continued their terrible struggles inside the 5 despite the multi-dimensional threat of Locker, who should be money in that situation.

Who's the better athlete?

Used to be the Huskies would run option plays near the goal line, using Locker's speed and strength.

But this season they've steered clear of that ploy, instead trying to jam the ball up the middle unsuccessfully as happened repeatedly at Notre Dame and again several times Saturday against the Ducks.

And when that hasn't worked, they've rolled Locker out on slow-developing pass-run options that fail to take full advantage of his speed and power along the line of scrimmage.

The Huskies had six plays inside the 10-yard line in the first half Saturday and came away with just three points, thwarted completely on their second thrust into the red zone when Locker threw an interception on fourth-and-goal from the 1 on a rollout play where he ran out of room and just threw the ball up for grabs.

At the time, Washington trailed just 8-3, but Oregon responded by driving 80-yards on its ensuing possession to completely swing the game's early momentum.

On their second drive of the third quarter, the Huskies moved to Oregon's 22 before Locker was intercepted again at the 4-yard line. Three trips into prime position and just three points to show for it.Game, set, match.

On the other side, Masoli was money in the red zone. The junior has a myriad of options to call upon when Oregon nears paydirt and Washington was incapable of stopping any of them.Four times Oregon trooped into the red zone. Four times they scored touchdowns. It's no accident. The Ducks have now scored touchdowns 19 times in 26 red-zone chances this season. Washington is 14 of 27 on the same statistic.It's a glaring difference, the ability to capitalize when opportunity arises. [There are those red zone stats again. Somehow Sark and his fans got it in their minds that Washington was a pretty good red zone team on both sides of the ball. I trust they saw the truth on Saturday.
Coach Sark has made no secret that he is trying to change Locker from a running QB to a more sit-in-the-pocket pro style QB. And it's driving Husky fans nuts, especially when they see Masoli come in and do what he does.]
"This is a very fine line we're operating with, when we're trying to change the complexion of a guy's game," Sarkisian said. "I knew it wasn't going to happen overnight. … We're going to have some growing pains and not just Jake, but as a football program.

"The challenge for us – and for Jake – is to learn from these games and learn from this style of play. Where is the happy medium? Where can he take the running style he had previously and where can he fit in this scheme that we're running?"

Matching an individual's talents with a team's scheme was never so obvious as Saturday, with Masoli orchestrating Oregon's attack like a maestro.

Masoli completed 14 of 22 passes for 157 yards with no interceptions. Locker was 23 for 44 for 266 yards, but his two interceptions were killers.

But more glaring was the ground game. Despite his immense threat as a rusher, Locker ran the ball just three times from scrimmage for 5 yards and was sacked four times for minus 21 yards. Masoli carried nine times for 85 yards and was sacked twice for minus 31.

Nobody is going to say Masoli is a better running threat than Locker, [Oh ya? "MASOLI IS A BETTER RUNNING THREAT THAN LOCKER." Scoreboard, Baby!] but he made hay in his team's offensive scheme. [Another miscalculation?]

"The big issue was the quarterback scrambling," said UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt. "We had some pressure and he got out and made some plays. My hat's off to him. He's a good little nifty player." [Ya, and you're a cute little nifty shiny headed defensive coordinator. Oh by the way, in the time it took me to type that, someone just scored on your D again.]

Nifty little Nick

Masoli's two touchdown runs came from the 3 and the 1 on the same misdirection play where he faked an inside handoff, watched Washington's line chase the back and then ran it himself up the gut untouched. [Read that again: SAME PLAY.]

The Huskies, meanwhile, can't find a way to get a tough yard down by the goal line if a bowl game depended on it. Which, in hindsight, it probably has given the failures at Notre Dame and now against Oregon when the game was still hung in the balance.
[ I feel for Jake Locker. He is a good QB who may have suffered irreparable harm to his psyche from experiences with Willingham and now Sarkisian.
Oh well. The Ducks move on . . . ]

There's no D in USC
When I watched that USC/OSU game in L.A., I shuddered. That frighteningly ferocious team was the Ducks' future opponent; and they almost beat the Trojans.

Seriously, OSU has nothing to hang their heads about, if they don't count the fact that they could've beaten USC.

No. More seriously, USC is tough. OSU made some mistakes, which are unforgivable when you're playing down at the Coliseum. But the Beavs showed us something.

They, like Notre Dame before them, showed us that you must never give up when you're chasing USC, because USC will let you catch up.

Consider their past two games. In their game at South Bend, USC allowed a mediocre Notre Dame team to score 27 points -- not to mention the Irish were on the goal line trying to score again in the final seconds -- but they escaped with a 7 point victory.

Then the Trojans came back to home-sweet-home (where one would think you would play better) and they allowed Oregon State to score 36 points, escaping with just a 6 point victory.

But like a broken record, people continue to say that USC has a great defense. Wake up and smell the Icy-Hot. This Trojan defense is hurtin'.

And that brings us to our "Question of the week" in the left column.

Lots more to talk about. More later] --kb


Freedom Fighter said...

I read some Husky blog comments to get some perspective and to enjoy their pain. The most cogent remarks were that Sark needs to get creative. At USC they ran straight forward plays and pushed their opponents back. UW has no business trying that plan.
That made me think of what we are going to face. They beat opponents with better athletes. We beat them with better coaching. Can Kelly and Allioti out-coach Carroll and his ex-pro assistants?

Killer Bee said...

Kelly strikes me as a guy who brims with confidence that overflows to his players and staff. And it's not cockiness, its confidence backed by thorough preparation.
I think Kelly believes he can outcoach Carroll.
As for Carroll? He thinks he's still playing Bellotti's teams. No offense to Bellotti, but Kelly has changed things on both sides of the ball. --kb