Neither team is what you would call “good.” But on Saturday, it was very clear that the Washington Huskies were flat-out better than the Washington State Cougars.
That’s not the only thing we learned while watching the Apple Cup, however. Each team presented us with information about who they truly are in Washington’s 30-0 victory over their in-state rival. We break down those two BIG things right now.
1. The Cougars possess the most fragile QB corps in history.
You may remember a short time ago when I made a ridiculous prediction in our Super Megapost regarding the status of the Washington State quarterbacks for Saturday’s game. Here’s a direct quote from that article:
“The Cougars lose the services of their three active QBs (starter Kevin Lopina, backup Marshall Lobbestael, and third-stringer Daniel Wagner) and are forced to play fourth-string freshman David Gilbertson, son of former Huskies head coach Keith.”
Sadly for you Cougies out there, I wasn’t far off. In fact, I was just one Daniel Wagner twisted ankle away from channeling Ms. Cleo.
Three Cougar quarterbacks saw action during the Apple Cup, and two suffered injuries that forced them to the sidelines at some point during the game.
Kevin Lopina, he of the 23-year-old body and 90-year-old back, suffered a shoulder and neck stinger in the second quarter and limped off the field.
Marshall Lobbestael, who tore his ACL and MCL a year ago, replaced Lopina and was shaken up shortly thereafter on a run play that ended badly.
Lopina felt good enough to replace Lobbestael at that point and reentered the game, only to be carted off the field minutes later with a torn oblique.
With Lopina lost for the day, the season, and seemingly all eternity, and Lobbestael detained by his own host of medical problems, the Cougars turned to Daniel Wagner to stop the bleeding. Or at least control the damage. Wagner, a walk-on who serves as the team’s backup punter, closed out the first half by dealing four straight handoffs to tailback Dwight Tardy.
Naturally, by this point, I was salivating. I texted multiple people, reminding them of my once-crazy prognostication. One friend replied that should David Gilbertson enter the game, he would likely shred the Huskies defense with what we could only assume to be genetically-inherited frustration bestowed upon him by his dad.
Unfortunately for Gilby Jr., the Husky faithful, and mostly me, Gilbertson never got into the game. Instead, Lobbestael regained consciousness long enough to play the entire second half and should be commended simply for his effort, in spite of the outcome.
If you’re a Cougar fan, you have to be asking yourself why Paul Wulff would allow himself to inherit such a mess on the day he was hired. None of his quarterbacks look like D-1 players at this point, and you have to wonder about the longterm effects of playing behind such a jayvee-esque offensive line on Lopina and Lobbestael, who will be lucky to leave Pullman alive.
2. The Huskies’ offense has regressed since the beginning of the season.
Yes, 30 points is a considerable amount. The Huskies have only reached that figure three times on the year. But come on. This is the Washington State defense, we’re talking about. A unit that had defied their role and allowed an impressive 39.3 points per game to opponents entering Saturday.
The Huskies, on the other hand, were victims of red zone inefficiencies and bad luck early in the season, but have since been plagued by a simple inability to move the ball downfield. Even during the first half of Saturday’s contest, first downs were hard to come by for the Dawgs. That led to a mere 13 points being accumulated by intermission, with just one touchdown, a big play 50-yard reception by Jermaine Kearse early in the second quarter.
The biggest culprit for the offense’s issues is clearly the line. The o-linemen have been beset by injuries all year long, and have been thoroughly engaged in a game of musical chairs as a result. Take Ben Ossai, for instance. Ossai had been entrenched (albeit with little success) as the team’s left tackle for most of the year. On Saturday, Ossai took a step to the right and lined up as the left guard. Drew Schaefer, in turn, took Ossai’s spot on the blind side. This is just one of many line shifts that have typified the season.
There is one person that fans and media alike have been hesitant to place blame on, however: Jake Locker. The redshirt junior quarterback started the year efficiently and impressively, connecting on a respectable amount of his throws and displaying a matured attitude with regards to his decisions. He ran the ball less and hung in the pocket more, displaying an arm that had developed into more of a homing missle than a loose cannon, as it used to be. Locker was so good at the season’s outset that he has since been projected as one the top picks in the 2010 NFL Draft, should he choose to leave school a year early.
But what has he done since then? Let’s look at the numbers.
In his first six games of the year, Locker threw 10 touchdowns and just four interceptions, a ratio of 2.5/1. In his past five games, he has notched just eight TDs while tossing seven picks in the process, a ratio of 1.14/1.
At the same time, Locker’s passing yardage has taken a hit, as well. In the first game of the year, versus LSU, Locker threw for a season-high 321 yards. Over his first six games, he would go on to average 237.2 yards passing per game. The Huskies posted a record of 3-3 in those contests. In the past five games, Locker’s fortunes have changed along with the team’s. He has averaged 225.8 yards passing against arguably weaker opposing defenses, and the team has gone 1-4 in the process.
Though Locker made great strides to improve his game in the offseason, he has not made similar advances during the 2009 campaign. He still hesitates to hit open receivers, has a tendency to hang onto the ball too long in the pocket, at times flat-out refuses to run, and most glaringly has an affinity to stare down his targets. Such behavior would translate into interception overload at the next level, with his inability to look off coverage being his greatest weakness at the current juncture.
As any coach would tell you, though, this is a team game and placing the onus of failure on the offense simply won’t fly. The defense has had their bumps, as well, but for an offensive unit that looked so promising in September, fans have to be disappointed with the way they’ve finished the year.