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Times reporter Bob Condotta keeps the news coming about the Montlake Dawgs.

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July 31, 2008 9:33 PM

On those darn second halves

Posted by Bob Condotta

Turned on the computer tonight to see I'm being accused of "ducking'' a question regarding second-half adjustments. I figure in the eyes of Husky fans that anything associating me with anything duck-like is probably about the worst criticism I can get, so I'd better respond fast.

In all truthfulness, I wasn't ducking the question --- nor was I couging or beavering it, either. I just hadn't gotten around to it yet --- I mean, my wife's still waiting for me to mow the lawn.

But it's raining and dark out now so that's no longer an option, so what the heck, let's go.

The question, in essence, was what will the Husky coaching staff do differently this year to avoid the second-half meltdowns of last season?

To refresh your memory of what kind of a problem it was for UW last year, here's a look at how Husky games unfolded by quarters last season:

Quarter 1 2 3 4
UW 87 130 69 94
Opp. 53 134 85 139

As you can see, the Huskies got progressively worse by quarter last season, outscoring opponents by 34 in the first quarter, being outscored by four in the second, by 16 in the third and a whopping 45 in the fourth.

UW's record in the second half of games essentially mirrored its overall record for the season --- the Huskies were outscored seven times in the second half, outscored their opponent four times, and had two ties.

And while conditioning is an obvious place to look first, UW actually outscored three straight opponents in the second half late in the season --- Stanford 17-6, Oregon State 23-13 and Cal 9-3 --- a time of the season when a team's physical state would figure to be most readily exposed.

You may recall that UW coach Tyrone Willingham addressed all of this a little bit at Pac-10 media day.

Here's what he said then:

"As a coach, you've got to look at three things. One, are they physically able to finish the ball game? Two, as coaches are we making the right decision? And three, did they have the right approach in those situations? We beefed up our conditioning a bit this summer. Coaching-wise, we are making sure that we clearly understand those situations and we're making sure our guys know how to handle those situations.'' He also said that the team will focus on making sure the players have a "glass-half-full'' approach to those situations rather than waiting for something bad to happen.

We also know something else --- they've changed defensive coordinators. So everything defensively figures to be different, though exactly how different we won't know until Aug. 30 comes around. We'd probably have better luck asking Clay Bennett if he knows the meaning of honesty than we will trying to get many specifics out of the coaches on what the UW defense will do differently this year, first half, second half, or overtime.

One thing, however, that Donatell has said since day one is that he would like to have a lot of depth on defense to rotate players and keep them fresh. This isn't really anything new --- I think Kent Baer hoped to do the same thing. But maybe Donatell will be able to make it work --- as he said the other day on KJR, he'd play 12 defensive linemen if he could.

Donatell also has said he'd like to mix up the defense a bit and keep opponents guessing, which also might be a bit of a change from last season, when Baer sometimes seemed married to one approach.

So that leaves the offense, which at times was as much to blame for what happened to UW in the second half last year as the defense, even if the defensive issues usually seemed most glaring.

As the above chart shows, UW scored 217 points in the first half last year, 163 in the second. Twenty-eight of those came in the opener at Syracuse, and 23 at Oregon State, when Carl Bonnell came in and threw the ball all over the place in a last-ditch attempt to get back in the game. So that's 51 points in two games, meaning UW was held to 112 points in the second half of its other 11 games, or just barely more than 10 a game.

What I'm sure the Huskies would most like to do to change those numbers is become a team that can run the ball well enough to run out the clock once it gets a lead.

Despite the fact that UW's running game was unquestionably better last season than it had been in years, that remained one thing the Huskies couldn't consistently do.

Consider that the Huskies rushed for 1,534 of their 2,640 net rushing yards last year before halftime, on 276 carries. They rushed for 1,106 yards on 261 carries after halftime.

That means UW averaged 5.5 yards per carry during the first half last year, 4.2 during the second half --- the total average was 4.9.

Only three times last year did UW rush for more yards in the first half than the second --- Oregon, a game the Huskies lost, Syracuse and Stanford. (I was also surprised to see that Cal wasn't on that list. For the record, UW had 334 total rushing yards in that game, 185 in the first half).

The most egregious example of not being able to just salt the game away with the run may have been the season finale at Hawaii. UW led 28-7 with 7:03 to go in the second quarter, at which point it had rushed for 179 yards on 26 carries. The Huskies managed just 80 yards on 24 carries the rest of the way as the Warriors came back to win 35-28.

Obviously, lots of things can go into those numbers. In some games, UW suddenly found itself behind due to the defensive issues and was forced to throw more than it probably would have liked to get back in the game. In others, opponents invariably ganged up on the run after UW's early success, daring the Huskies to throw, which obviously wasn't the strength of the Husky offense last season. It's also worth noting that rushing stats can also at times look a little out of whack due to the fact that QB sacks are factored in, and when teams fall behind, sacks tend to occur more often late in games when teams are trying to throw against an opponent that knows it is trying to throw. But that wasn't really a huge issue for UW last year as the Huskies were sacked just 24 times.

With a veteran O-line returning (especially if Juan Garcia makes it back for any part of the season) the Huskies obviously hope that they will be better equipped to run out games this season than last year (assuming a running back or backs who can handle that task is found).

Just as obviously, there is game-plan adjusting that goes into all of this, as well. Willingham's comment that "as coaches, are we making the right decision'' seems to be an admission that he thinks that's an area that may need some improving. And worth noting that UW has two new offensive coaches in Steve Gervais and Brian White who figure to play a role in that area, so it won't be just the exact same crew making those decisions.

As with everything else we've been spent the off-season speculating about, we'll begin to find the real answer to this question on Aug. 30.

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