Huskies 0-4, Locker hurt: What next?
Tyrone Willingham is facing the toughest situation of his football coaching life after his Washington Huskies fell to 0-4 on Saturday night with a 35-28 loss to Stanford.
“Without question, without question,” he said. “Because there are so many things flying around my young men right now, and we’re trying to keep them focused on that next task, that next goal.”
The next big goal comes at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, when the Huskies continue the search for their first win of the season at Arizona (3-1 overall, 1-0 Pacific-10 Conference).
Meanwhile, the list of “things flying around” the program seems to grow weekly. Among them:
• That winless record: Washington is the only winless team from a major conference, and is one of only three winless teams among the 119 schools that make up the NCAA’s Bowl Subdivision. The others – North Texas (0-4) and Army (0-4) – are not the company proud UW fans want to keep.
Stanford, in its second season of rebuilding under coach Jim Harbaugh, already has three more wins than Washington in its fourth season under Willingham, who doesn’t understand the long wait for results.
“That is the million dollar question, and that’s the one I keep asking myself every day, every night,” he said. “What is it that hasn’t allowed us to turn that thing around, to get it going right? Because I keep believing that, yes, we have the team that can get it done. But for some reason, we’re not.”
• Willingham’s job status: Those who thought it was too early to judge the coach or his team on the basis of losses to ranked Oregon, Brigham Young and Oklahoma noted that Stanford would provide a fairer test. In many minds, this defeat shifts the question from whether Willingham will depart to when.
Correct or not, complaints and speculation over his future have become the No. 1 topic surrounding UW football, and that seems unlikely to change until either a joyous breakthrough is achieved or a grim press conference is called.
• The injury list: Even in their darkest moments, UW fans went to every game knowing quarterback Jake Locker gave the Huskies a chance – a chance to win, yes, but for them a chance to see something amazing.
Now, Locker is out six to eight weeks with a broken thumb on his (right) throwing hand. He had surgery on the thumb Monday morning, and while Willingham and offensive coordinator Tim Lappano indicated Locker could be back sooner at another position, redshirt freshman Ronnie Fouch will take over as the starting quarterback. Walk-on Taylor Bean becomes the top reserve.
“We’ll still try to move (Fouch) a little bit just so he’s not always a target back there, but he’s a really good pocket passer,” Lappano said. “He’s pretty mobile; he can get around a little bit. He’s not Jake back there, but he’s a little bit crafty back there. … He wants to play. He’s a competitor.”
Three other starters – receiver D’Andre Goodwin (ribs), tailback David Freeman (ankle) and linebacker Donald Butler (concussion) – left the Stanford game with injuries of undetermined severity.
• Defensive problems: The loss to Stanford dropped UW to 118th in total defense, 114th in scoring defense, 116th in rushing defense, and last in pass efficiency defense.
Stanford, which came into the game averaging 272.5 yards of offense, got 466 against the defense of new coordinator Ed Donatell.
“(Tackling) continues to hurt us in some places,” Willingham said. “… We tried to get our guys in the right places, and sometimes we didn’t. … And sometimes our guys did not make that play when they were (in position) to make it. We just haven’t seemed to get on the right page.”
• Keeping the faith: The Huskies were booed on their own field, which irritated Willingham.
“I think these young men work hard and deserve to get the full support of the Husky family,” he said. “I think they deserve that, they work hard. This football team never gave up.”
Most players continue to talk about better days ahead. However, they also increasingly acknowledge that what happens on the field is the only message that really matters.
“When you lose, you don’t talk too much about improvement,” senior Mesphin Forrester said. “We lost the game, so we didn’t improve too much.”
However, the Huskies had better improve, because the schedule gets no easier. After letting their first game as a favorite get away on Saturday, the Huskies will return to their role as underdogs.
Unless something changes, that is likely to be the case until well into November.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808