Following a stunning 38-6 victory over a ranked Boise State team the Huskies now face an opportunity to get even better because this coming weekend they play nobody. Washington has two byes this year and they are both strategically placed. The first one pops up right away giving the Huskies two weeks to prepare for their first road game of the season.
Legendary Husky Coach Don James always believed a team should have its most significant improvement between games one and two. That is probably because it takes a real game to get the kinks out as well as to evaluate how your players do under live action when real bullets start flying. The players also get to adjust to the speed of the game. It doesn’t really make any difference how you practice there is nothing you can do to duplicate what is like in a game. Regardless, it certainly appears that this year’s Husky team is off to its best start in years. Now they have to get even better and this early bye gives them an excellent chance to do just that.
Looking back through the modern history of Husky football this Boise State victory ranks right up there with some of the greatest openers ever. In 1986 the unranked Huskies beat a number 10 ranked Ohio State 40-7 in Husky Stadium. Then in 2001 the Dogs defeated an 11th ranked Michigan team 23-18 also in Husky Stadium. Beating the 19th ranked Broncos by 32 points while putting up 592 yards and 33 first downs though is as impressive as either of those starts.
Many Husky fans will obviously tag along to visit the great city of Chicago and watch the game at historic Soldier Field. Besides an expected improvement, their game against the University of Illinois gives the Huskies a chance to get away from home and see how they play as a visitor. It will be interesting to see if this Husky team can back up their Boise State successes and bring it in a hostile environment because quite frankly that has been the Achilles heel for Husky teams for over the past decade or so. Consider this, since 2003, the Huskies have lost 42 games and have won only 11 when playing on the road. Last year alone the Huskies were 7-6 with 5 of those losses happening away from home. In fact, through Coach Sarkisian’s first 4 seasons the Dogs have won only 6 times while losing 16 when playing away from Seattle.
Those games are all in the past however and they should have no influence on this year’s Husky team (Let’s hope). Still, there has to be something to the effects of travel, playing in a different time zone, staying in a hotel and not sleeping in your own bed, not eating the same meals, and getting out of your standard routine. Then there is the effect of the crowd and that is a very real and obvious phenomenon that came into play last Saturday when the home town atmosphere literally carried the Huskies to their tremendous win. You could literally feel the electricity the crowd generated against the Broncos. I think the words are “goose bumps”. Considering that Illinois has not been a great team of late the Huskies could use this game as another learning tool and prove to themselves they are capable of going out and winning away from the confines of Husky Stadium. If they play like they did last Saturday night then they can expect to come home victorious and further prepare themselves when they have to go back out and play the likes of Stanford, ASU, UCLA, and Oregon State, all conference teams they play on the road this season.
The Huskies can learn from their first game and know they have to clean up their penalties on offense, improve their pass rush and run stop defense, as well as get better in their punting game. Essentially continue to get better at all three phases of their game and not allow the first game to be nothing more than a great start to a long and difficult season. That means getting back to fundamentals and correcting mistakes so that they tackle better, block better, and execute the mechanics of their system.
It’s hard not to enjoy their first game successes but with two weeks of preparation for their second game it should give them an excellent opportunity to improve across the board and go to Chicago and return as an even better team.
The Huskies victory over Boise State was probably their finest season opener in decades so now their mission has to be to take their show on the road and see if they can duplicate their success with a significant road test against a Big-10 opponent. Wipe the slate clean, practice hard, and go prove they can win on the road.
Illinois passed for 416 yards in their own opener against Southern Illinois in a 42-34 win. Their quarterback, Nathan Scheelhaase, completed 28 of 36 attempts for a 75% percentage. That is impressive alone but he did get sacked 5 times. Considering the Husky defense did not register a single sack against Boise State this presents the first area of improvement for the defense. Going against an all-out air attack should also help the Huskies secondary and linebackers to improve on their zone and man to man coverages vs. the pass.
Although they only punted twice against Boise State, their 37.5 average and 27.5 net per punt needs to improve. Considering that Illinois returned a kickoff 100 yards in their first game, the Huskies’ kick coverage will also be tested.
Both Illinois and Washington had 8 penalties in their openers and if the Huskies could cut that in half it would greatly help them win the game. The Huskies registered a goose egg in fumble recoveries against Boise State and it would do them well to start creating more turnovers.
There are just many ways to improve from week to week but with a bye the important thing is to not lose the momentum of this first victory and try to stay sharp by the time of kickoff in Chicago which is set for 3 o’clock. Beating Boise State was a great start but what is really more important is to continue to improve throughout the season so that your team is playing its best at the end and against conference opponents.