What We Think They Are?
Of all the clichés in the football coaches' canon, few are repeated more than that which states that teams make their biggest improvements between the first and second game of the season.
This is, of course, complete nonsense. Not only is its premise faulty - that by week 2 of a football season a football team, having gotten re-used to the speed of the game, has more or less reached its potential - but also it is impossible to prove, or even observe. If the axiom held true for every team, then the improvement would be simply relative, as each team's improvement would mitigate the improvement of its foes.
But, forgetting Kant's categorical imperative for a moment, the idea that football team's improve in a linear fashion, and that the improvement is always greatest in one hallowed week of practice is misguided at best. Teams are constantly improving, and declining. One week a second-string cornerback may "get it," bolstering a floundering secondary. The next, a star defensive end might suffer a season-ending knee injury.
The ebb and flow of a team involving 85 scholarship players is far too fickle to be predicted, and the football Gods laugh at those who try and make plans.
That is not to say, however, that some opportunities for improvement are not greater than others, and the University of Washington's football team has been presented with an enormous opportunity to look like a brand new team when they face Stanford this Thursday.
There's no denying the Huskies stumbled out the gate. The season opener against San Diego State was the epitome of "meh" and the body bag against LSU was downright Arkansas-ish. Rather than a team ready to take the proverbial next step, the UW looked more like a program destined to spend all season wringing its hands in hopes of a bowl game.
But an opportunity to improve came against Portland State and while the 52-6 score isn't necessarily indicative of improvement - it was freaking Portland State - it was a chance for the Huskies to be successful, and to build depth.
"A lot of guys got extended playing time which they might normally have gotten," head coach Steve Sarkisian said. "Which I think will benefit us down the road."
With the first quarter of their schedule out of the way, the Huskies must now focus on the second quarter - a brutal gauntlet in which they successively face No. 9 Stanford, No. 3 Oregon and No. 13 USC. Ouch.
If the Huskies made their biggest improvement in the week between SDSU and LSU then they are absolutely, positively going to get manhandled by that schedule. The team that faced LSU isn't strong enough to beat Stanford, it isn't explosive enough to beat Oregon and it definitely isn't talented enough to beat USC.
But the Huskies will have had three weeks since the LSU game to focus specifically on this next stretch, to analyze their weaknesses and to improve the team.
" We have an idea of the runs we like now and I think we are starting to figure out what our guys do well," Sarkisian said. "So now we can get a little more creative as far as running the ball and getting ourselves to a point of our runners are running with things they are good at and getting multiple reps so that's at a good time." Sarkisian said, while also noting that they had a chance to fix what has so far been a tepid pass rush.
The idea that every team improves the most between week 1 and 2 is silly and if it's true for the Huskies they're in big trouble. But with the PSU game and a bye week, the Huskies have essentially three weeks to show real improvement and show they're a different team than we saw in the first third of the season.
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