With a winless quarter of the season now behind them, coach Tyrone Willingham and most of his players spoke of better days ahead at their media event today at Hec Ed.
They cited two main reasons for optimism: they believe they can play better, and they agreed -- short of providing bulletin board material -- that the worst of the schedule is behind them.
Someone opened the press conference about hope for better days over the next three-quarters of the season, and Willingham replied:
"The biggest thing is that fact that we should walk away knowing that we have played some of the best football teams in this country and that will be a measure of grow in itself. But we can't just rely on that. We have to actually get better in all the areas: we're talking about running game, pass game – being more productive there – defensively we've got to be able to put together some stops, which means we've got to improve our third-down play, and also our tackling. And if we can do that, then we have a chance to be the team we'd like to be."
I tried to tweak the question a bit by asking what the Huskies have done so far to inspire optimism; and got this response:
"I think one, we've seen our football team offensively move the ball. I think this last game against what is clearly a good football team, we moved the ball and became our own worst enemy at times. What I've seen from the defense, I've seen the ability for us to get some stops and if we just eliminate some of the mental mistakes and some of the physical mistakes in terms of missed tackles, we'll put ourselves in much better position that we've shown. Now please understand, we've not done all the things we need to do defensively. But I think if some of those things were to happen, then I think we'd become a much better defense."
A couple of other Willingham quotes:
On the dispute with Sooners at the end of the Husky Stadium tunnel: Those things occasionally happen and hopefully they don't happen again. … Usually both groups are chattering and that brings some of the worst out of both sides of our young men. … Chatter always makes young men react differently, so I don't know if there's a connection.
On sticking together through hard times: I think the key thing is, as I talk to our guys, I remind them that obstacles are the things that you see when you take your eyes off the prize. We still have the prize out there – we're only three games into the season with nine games yet to go. And if we can string together a pretty good run here, we'll find ourselves a pretty good football team at the end of the year, and hopefully that's where the benefit of playing the tough schedule that we've had early will help us. But we've got to continue to grow and we've got to have the right approach to it, and if we don't then nothing good happens.
On using now-healthy tight end Michael Gottlieb without slowing the progress and contributions of Kavario Middleton: I think obviously Kavario has shown himself extremely well early. But we recognize that there is still a lot of growing and learning that he has to do. But I think there will be enough snaps for us to give both of those guys what they need to help our football team, and that will be the goal without retarding our progress.
On whether they are leaning to a 3-4 or 4-3 as their base defense: A lot of it is going to depend on what we see from certain teams. One of the things that the 3-4 gives us is a few more athletes on the field as opposed to our big guys. And when you face teams that do a lot of option things of that nature, maybe that's a better package for us. SO we'll use the full flexibility to give ourselves the best chance on defense. So week to week if we see more of a downhill team, then you probably could see the 4-3 a little bit more than you would the 3-4.
JAKE LOCKER on the Sooners: I think it's the best football team I've played against since I've been here. … They didn't really have any weaknesses. They were sound all around. They didn't make mistakes. They played really hard. They're physical. They do everything you would want a team to do, and they were really talented.
LOCKER on whether that kind of team can be achieved at Washington: Definitely. I don't think we played nearly as well as we could have. A lot of those things that they played with we didn't. And I think if we would have it would have been a different game.