Willingham & Huskies Swallow Their Joy, Turn To Face Next Challenge

By Jerry Brewer
Updated: September 9, 2007

SEATTLE — BREAKING NEWS: Washington has a football team again, one worthy of attention, maybe even adoration. On the finest day of the Tyrone Willingham era, the Huskies entertained with a halfback-passing, validation-amassing 24-10 victory over Boise State on Saturday. The sun might shine well into October in Seattle.

REACTION: “We did what we could for today,” linebacker Trenton Tuiasosopo said.

Huh? “I’m not really concerned with validation,” linebacker Dan Howell said.

What?!?! “It’s a big win for us, but we don’t try to measure it,” running back Louis Rankin said.

We’ll have to quantify the accomplishment for them, which shouldn’t be too difficult. The best football teams aren’t much for reflection. They use their successes only as momentum for the next play, and they self-induce amnesia after their failures. So the Huskies can pretend to be happy but unimpressed, even though we suspect their glee might have overflowed a tad in private, after this breakthrough. The list of their feats is impressive on its own.

Snapped an 11-game losing streak against ranked teams. Opened the season 2-0 for the first time since 2001. Won back-to-back games by at least two touchdowns for the first time since 2003. Ended Boise State’s 14-game winning streak, the nation’s longest.

Held one of the nation’s most accomplished and complex offenses to 10 points, the only Broncos touchdown coming after UW quarterback Jake Locker fumbled and gave them a short field.

Unleashed Locker on Husky Stadium with more thrills than spills.

Realized, even in celebration, they can do so much more.

“I don’t see any false sense of security in that locker room,” defensive coordinator Kent Baer said. “They’re excited but not overly excited. They’re thinking the same thing we are as a coaching staff. They’re showing maturity.”

If the Huskies can beat the No. 22 team in the nation by two touchdowns while playing, as Willingham pointed out, “up and down,” how good can they be?

That question will be answered during the next three weeks because UW’s unrelenting schedule calls for three more games against ranked teams. For this victory to be more than a reprieve from losing, so much improvement must occur.

Locker needs to be more consistent, his receivers need to stop dropping passes, his offensive line needs to pass-protect better, and Rankin must run harder. Despite holding the Broncos scoreless in the second half, the Huskies defense must perform better, particularly in the secondary.

This program is still in transition, still in rebuilding mode, so there will be plenty of bad moments this season. But Washington can still be a good football team despite its blemishes. Saturday provided that lesson.

Sure, we could quell excitement over UW’s performance by bringing up Boise State’s 0-for-13 streak on the road against BCS conference teams.

We could talk about how the Broncos, after losing many key players from its 13-0 squad a year ago, aren’t the same powerhouse they were during that memorable Fiesta Bowl victory.

We could focus on how the second half became a scoreless brawl between two mistake-prone teams.

Or we could remember how the Huskies built their lead and never relinquished it. How the defense wouldn’t surrender a touchdown, even at the end, when it had the game won.

And then we should make this clear: After what UW has been through, with only 10 victories spread across its past 36 games, there is no need to scrutinize success.

Unless you play on a team that craves more.

“I think it tells us we’re still growing,” Willingham said of the uneven nature of this victory. “The potential is there. If we believe today is the be-all, end-all, we’ve made a very serious mistake.”

It doesn’t appear that will be a problem.

The Huskies remember from last season that a good start doesn’t mean much.

They opened 2006 with four victories in their first five games, only to lose their next six games and finish with a 5-7 record.

Last season, the Huskies were an inconsistent team that relied too heavily on its quarterback, and when Isaiah Stanback suffered a season-ending injury, they fell apart.

This season, the Huskies are an improving team with a hyped redshirt-freshman quarterback who it will have to boost up from time to time. After a solid start Saturday, Locker struggled, the offense sputtered, but the defense kept the lead.

It felt like Boise State would eventually get back in the game. It seemed like a most uncomfortable 14-point lead. But the Huskies never allowed the Broncos much hope.

“When you play a game like that, as long as the players aren’t tight, it really builds character,” Baer said.

It was a win the Huskies can learn from, the best kind.

On the day the Huskies finally beat a ranked foe again, they shrugged. They think finer days are ahead.