Sporting a full, messy beard Saturday, Jeff Thomas took the sideline looking like a man who had been hunkered in a cave for weeks without food or sleep.
And that just might describe what kind of offseason the University of Puget Sound football coach is headed for.
The Loggers ended their season with a 62-20 loss to Willamette at blustery Baker Stadium in Tacoma.
They finished the season on a seven-game skid and with a 1-8 record. They dropped their 19th consecutive Northwest Conference game, dating back the 2010 season.
And they have a lot of work ahead of them, starting next week.
“We’ll meet on Monday and start lifting on Tuesday,” Thomas said. “We’ve got 22 players out for the year. We’ve got to get healthy. We’ve got to get a lot stronger and faster — then recruit better and coach better.”
As far as the game Saturday, Willamette jumped out to a 20-0 lead in the first 16 minutes. Quarterback Josh Dean was both decisive in getting off short passes against the Loggers’ blitz, and determined once he called his own number on designed runs.
And on Willamette’s first drive — which took just 63 seconds — he threw a 45-yard touchdown.
He ran 13 yards around the right end for the team’s second score to cap a 99-yard drive that began after UPS tailback Kupono Park was stopped short on fourth-and-goal from the Bearcats’ 1.
And Taylor Wyman’s 8-yard touchdown scamper gave the Bearcats a 20-0 lead with 13:58 remaining in the first half. That was all they needed to roll to victory.
As far as what’s next, Thomas — finishing off his fourth season — laid out an offseason checklist for the Loggers:
• Meet with both coordinators to re-evaluate the team’s overall inefficiency in the red zone — or inside 20-yard line — on both sides of the football.
• Focus on his players’ lateral movement.
“We’re not agile enough to be able to compete in the Northwest Conference yet,” Thomas said.
• Mature physically.
“We’ve got to get a lot bigger,” Thomas said. “We had a bunch of freshmen playing this season, and 60 of our 85 players are freshmen or sophomores.”
Despite watching his team give up 690 yards Saturday to Willamette, Thomas said the biggest gain UPS has made this season has been on defense. And the Loggers have a nucleus of quality playmakers in linebackers Chris Beaulaurier and Brent McCoy, cornerback Connor Savage, and safeties Jake Wuesthoff and Matt Gilbert.
“I thought our defense played a lot better in spurts,” Thomas said. “In previous years, it felt like it was a slow, gradual decline as the season went along. This year, it didn’t feel so much as a decline as … we just ran out of players.”
As far as quarterback Braden Foley, there is plenty of skill with which to work. He will return for his senior season as the Loggers’ all-time passing leader. He broke Craig Knapp’s career mark of 4,915 yards on a 26-yard pass to Brennan Schon on UPS’ first drive Saturday and went over 5,000 yards for three seasons.
Foley knows he has to clean up glaring mistakes — mainly turnovers — to become the complete player.
“It has been a slow climb for me,” said Foley, who finished with 20 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions while being sacked 35 times.
“I want to be able to lead these guys to victory, and that comes 100 percent through maturity.”Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 firstname.lastname@example.org