Orange and Blue has Willingham on red alert

SEATTLE - Tyrone Willingham doesn't call them 'trick' plays, or gimmicks. He prefers to use the term 'clever'. And after seeing Boise State concoct enough cleverness for 10 teams in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma, Willingham knows his own cleverness IQ will be put to the test in gameplanning for the Broncos Saturday at Husky Stadium.

"I thought it was great football," Willingham said Monday when asked about the Fiesta Bowl. "I thought they played very sound football for three quarters, and at the end of the game I think he (Chris Petersen) made some of the gutsiest calls that you can make. I remember the players saying that one of the plays they ran, it didn't work all week, and it's amazing to have enough confidence in your team to run it to win the bowl game. It was great gameplanning and clever on their part, and that's one of the things you have to prepare for.

"Boise is without question a very good team. Their winning streak is now at 14 games, the most in the country. It's impressive because of their coaching staff and their talent, but what is most impressive to me is their attitude. You read things and hear things that their program is on the same page about winning and winning being the most important thing. They are driven by the team's success, and that's difficult to beat when you combine that with great talent and great coaching."

Willingham and his team can also lay claim to a winning streak of their own. If you are going to give Boise their due for 14 straight, then the Huskies' modest two-game streak isn't going to turn many heads. But it is as many as they won in all of 2005, and the season has barely started.

Petersen isn't much into talking about streaks. "I think of it that we're 1-0, and even more specific, we're 0-0," he said. "Each week is a new week. It doesn't matter what we did last week. That's how our players look at it and certainly our coaching staff looks at it like that."

While the Broncos beat up on lowly Weber State, the Huskies were thought to have their hands full this past Friday clear across the country against Syracuse. Jake Locker knew better, running for two scores and leading the Huskies to five-straight drives of 70 yards or more en route to a 42-12 win in the Carrier Dome.

Orange slices, anyone?

But this week, a whole new challenge confronts both programs. Boise really needs a road win over a BCS team to legitimize themselves as a burgeoning football power, while Washington doesn't want to be that footnote in the BSU press guide. Furthermore, a three-game winning streak would look awfully nice to the Huskies going into their battle royale with Ohio State.

"There's just something about winning," Willingham said. "Like I've always said, winning even makes the water taste better. It helps you get better prepared, and gets you more excited about the next ballgame. And we have one of those unbelievable foes that we seem to have a lot of this schedule, but they are coming to our house. It's going to be an exciting week."

While Boise State has apparently moved past perfection (13-0 in 2006), the Huskies still have to guard against feeling too good about themselves. "Winning creates excitement, and human nature plays such a key role in everything we do," Willingham said. "Their heads can get inflated, and then you get the crap beat out of you. It might have happened this past week. But it's the person that can balance perspectives and stay in the now, and they can be succesful."

And then Willingham pointed to his poster boy for balance and perspective - redshirt frosh QB Jake Locker. "Jake has a lot of that in his make-up, so I think he'll be pretty good," the head coach said, not batting an eye.

That's like saying I'm pretty sure I like Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream. Locker, despite a couple of first-quarter gaffes, pulled it all together in stunning fashion, showing off his arm and feet in equal measure and leading the Huskies to five-straight touchdowns. Many are saying it's the best performance they've ever seen for a college quarterback playing his first game.

And it was in a dome. And it was 2500 miles away from home. And it was sweaty in that dome. And people in orange were saying really unkind things to him, but Locker shook it off like he shook off those early overthrows and then entered Locker Land.

"Jake has his own set of goals, and that is the beat in which he is driven by," Willingham said. "What others think is not as important to him as what he believes he can accomplish."

The rest...well, you saw it on ESPN, no doubt.

"I thought it was a very good performance," Willingham said, upgrading his diagnosis of Locker from Friday night's 'so so'. "Once we got through the first couple of series, our play picked up a couple of notches. Jake was very solid. He didn't turn the ball over. He distributed the ball well, especially after the first two series. He was forceful where he needed to be forceful, and let the game come to him in other situations."

"He looked great," added Petersen. "I can see why everyone is excited about him. what a talent. He can run and throw and seems like he has a great command of their offense for a young guy."

And because of Locker's ability to run the game plan as effectively as he did, UW Offensive Coordinator Tim Lappano ripped most of the SU playbook out and hid it. He's hoping to unleash some of it upon an unsuspecting Boise State this weekend. Or maybe not.

I asked, but he wouldn't tell me.

"Our whole focus is whatever it takes to get the win," Willingham said, announcing a gameplan of sorts. "If it's 300 yards rushing one night and 300 yards passing the next, and that's what it takes to get the 'w', we'll be quite happy."

One thing is for sure - he doesn't want to lose what they learned at Syracuse. He wants the Huskes to stay aggressive and physical. And that might be hard when Boise State is running Statue of Liberty plays, followed up by hook-and-laterals and halfback passes.

"We definitely like to be wide-open and creative and do what we need to do to give us the best chance to win, but in the big scheme of things, trick plays are about one percent of our offense," Petersen said, trying to dispell a popular myth about BSU football. "People after that game (Fiesta Bowl) had the perception that we were all about trickery, but it just so happened that all those plays that we had came back-to-back at a pivotal time. I've been here seven years, and we've never had to do that because we never felt it gave us the best chance to win. We don't think of ourselves like that.

Sorry Chris, not buying it. I'm expecting a triple reverse flea-flicker to start the game, followed by a fumblerooski.

Willingham definitely isn't taking the bait. "They can play smashmouth football because they are good at it, but they also like to give you a lot of formations, a lot of shifts, a lot of motions, which is part of their 'deceptives' to keep us off balance," he said. "I don't think they'll change their gameplan for us. I think the thinks they like and the things they do very well - they will keep doing that.

"They want you to be very passive, worrying about all these things, be very disciplined - but at the same time not be aggressive. And we have to guard against that. We have to come out and play football."
Notes:
Sylvester, Togi, Davenport are added to two-deeps: Because of fullback Luke Kravitz' hand injury, freshmen Austin Sylvester and Tobias Togi are listed as the two backup fullbacks to sophomore Paul Homer. Sylvester, who played all spring and fall at linebacker, will practice at both positions. Junior transfer Byron Davenport, sidelined with a hamstring pull during fall camp, is now at No. 2 cornerback behind true frosh Vonzell McDowell. Also, Erik Folk is 'day-to-day, week-to-week' with his back issues, and Donald Butler appears to have come out of the Syracuse game without any issues. He had his knee surgery after spring game, and practiced sparingly during fall camp and played only nickel against the Orange.

Home Field Advantage?: Even though the game will be played at Husky Stadium and is now expected to be a sellout, Boise State is expected to travel thousands to the game. "Our fans have been awesome," Petersen said. "Everytime we do something different, they always surprise us. We've been getting great support, and every year it just gets better and better. Last year you could really feel it. We're not going to have as much support as the Huskies have in that huge stadium, and we know that, but all the Broncos that we can get in that stadium we'll welcome them with open arms."

"I hope there's something to be excited about," Willingham said about the UW fans showing up en masse. "I hope that our fans our committed to making a difference. Husky Stadium is known as one of the tougher places to play, and that's because of good teams, but that's also because of great fans. We need both of those working, and they know how to do that well."

Locker smart about contact: Willingham was asked if he was happy with the amount of contact Jake Locker had in his first game against Syracuse. "The contact that he had was acceptible, based on where he was on the field," he said. "I'll have a problem when there is unnecessary contact. Watching (UW running back) Louis Rankin, there were a couple of times when he running on the sidelines. One time, when he needed to get yardage, he lowered his shoulder. The other time it was the right thing to step out of bounds, and that's what I expect from Jake too. I expect our guys to play smart."

Kickoff tactics: With the kickoff now going back to the 30-yard line, does that change how Willingham would react if he won the toss on Saturday? "You would have thought more of declining last year, but this year you might be more aggressive," he said. "But Jared (Ballman) had some very good kicks (at Syracuse), and that allows you to help win the battle of field position. With more opportunities to return kicks, you are going to see bigger returns, so we have to get better at covering them."

Return trip to Boise?: Have the Huskies thought about scheduling a home-and-home with BSU? Willingham said Monday that he really has not envisioned a trip to Boise anywhere in his future. "You are always open, we just haven't taken a strong look at it," he said.

Dawgman.com Recommended Stories