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Husky Football Blog

The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

November 18, 2008 at 8:48 AM

Are Huskies better now than in 2004?

That’s the question I attempted to answer in my main story today.
In the end, it’s obviously completely subjective, and who can say for sure.
However, the idea struck me after hearing UW coach Tyrone Willingham say on Saturday night that some of his players had told him that the seniors in 2004 quit while he didn’t think this year’s team had.
Having covered every last minute of the 2004 team as well, that’s not how I remembered it, and the numbers, as I detail in the story, don’t support any notion that the team quit. In fact, this year’s team has much worse stats in just about every area, other than turnovers, than the 2004 team, which was the last year for Keith Gilbertson as coach.
The 2004 team had a few bad games — that’s how it ended up 1-10 — but it was pretty competitive in most of them. In a 38-0 loss at at then No. 1-ranked USC, for instance, UW trailed just 10-0 at halftime and missed two field goals, meaning it could easily have been 10-6. The game got out of hand late and ended up 38-0 to a USC team that won the national title. But it was nothing like this year’s fold job at USC that was over 10 minutes into the game.
In the last game that team played before Gilbertson was fired, at Oregon, UW gave up just 292 yards and held Oregon QB Kellen Clemens to just 134 passing, one of the lowest totals in the Ducks’ recent history. UW had a chance to get within five in the fourth quarter before blowing a fourth down play at the goal line, and Oregon ended up winning 31-6.
Even the three games after Gilbertson was fired were much more competitive than UW has been to date.
In the first game after he was fired, UW lost to Arizona 23-13 despite holding the Wildcats to 251 yards. The killer was a fumble returned for a touchdown and another fumble that led to a short field and another Arizona TD. But the stats don’t indicate that the team quit. Far from it. There may have been some quitting in 2003 (the Nevada game, the 54-7 loss at Cal) but I don’t remember really feeling that way in 2004.
Only one game that year was really over at halftime, ironically enough against Willingham’s Notre Dame team in South Bend, a game in which several key players (such as Zach Tuiasosopo) suffered major injuries and UW lost four fumbles. But even a late 42-12 loss to a Cal team rated in the top five at the time was just 7-6 at halftime before a blocked punt and an interception led to an onslaught of points late.
And any thought that this team is a lot younger than that one doesn’t really hold up, either, especially at the end of the year after injuries shelved four of the team’s captains. UW started three true freshmen on defense in the Apple Cup that year — Greyson Gunheim, Jordan White-Frisbee and Dan Howell — and almost beat a much better Cougar team than this year’s team will face, but was again done in by four turnovers, one returned for a touchdown.
The schedule looks a little easier in 2004 — Fresno State, San Jose State at home and at ND compared to this year’s run of Oklahoma, BYU and ND, all at home. But really, that Fresno State team was probably comparable to this year’s BYU, and the ND games are a wash, meaning only one game was really different. The Pac-10 was probably better in 2004 than it is this year, if only marginally so, and UW had a lot of the same home and road games (at USC and Oregon and WSU, home to UCLA and Oregon State) as this team.
The other argument commonly heard is that at least there is a better foundation of young talent now than in 2004. But that’s just in the eye of the beholder, and mostly due to the presence of Jake Locker. There was a lot of young talent on the 2004 team that people were excited about at the time — the three defenders mentioned above, freshman WR Craig Chambers and a bunch of other receivers such as Anthony Russo and Sonny Shackelford, RB Kenny James and the sophomore safety tandem of Dashon Goldson and C.J. Wallace, to name a few.
The point of this isn’t to try to paint a bleak picture of the future — I really think the right coach could get this team fairly competitive fairly quickly, assuming Locker makes a complete recovery. Instead, it’s to point out that it’s easy to revise history to try to make the present look better. But I think that using any qualitative or quantitative measure you would conclude that the 2004 team played more competitively than this year’s team has to date.
IN OTHER NEWS. …
— If you’re looking for more on this week’s game, Vince Grippi of the Spokesman Review has all the links.
— All the Pac-10 links from the Oregonian.
More later from Montlake.

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