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July 14, 2008

Huskies first major test for OU in 08

Last year it took the Sooners five games before leaving the state for a true road test.

This year things will be much different, as Oklahoma heads west to Seattle in week three for a match up against the Pac-10's Washington Huskies.

Playing the nations No. 1 ranked toughest schedule last year, Washington enters 2008 with four straight losing seasons, three of which came after the hiring of current head coach Tyrone Willingham.

After having statistically their worst defensive team in school history, Willingham made changes in the offseason releasing defensive coordinator Kent Baer and special teams coach Bob Simmons.

However, most think if Washington lays another sub .500 season, it will be Willingham who will be the next coach looking for a new job.

But if Oklahoma is going to win the National Championship this year, they must learn to play better on the road.

That being said, Washington might be the perfect tune up for the Sooners as the Huskies have talent but are extremely young and inexperienced in many departments.

Headlining the Huskies for the '08 season is quarterback Jake Locker, professed by many as one of the most talented young quarterbacks in the country, let alone the conference.

Locker burst onto the scene a year ago as the redshirt freshman gave defensive coordinators around the league headaches because of his dual-threat ability.

After a 42-12 win at Syracuse in the first game of his career, Locker captured Husky hearts when he almost single-handedly beat No. 22 Boise State, 24-10 in the Huskies home opener.

Locker finished his freshman campaign throwing for just over 2000 yards (2062) and came just 14 yards short of rushing for 1000 with 986.

While the sophomore star has enormous upside, Locker's consistency is something he'll need to improve on if he's going to take Washington bowling in '08. As a freshman he completed just 47.3 percent of his passes, throwing more interceptions (15) than touchdowns(14).

If the spring is an indication of what's to come, maybe Locker already has improved. In the annual Gold-Purple Game Locker finished 13-of-17 with a touchdown and an interception.

Sophomore running back Brandon Johnson is slated to accompany Locker in the back field when the season starts in August.

Johnson received limited playing time as a true freshman in 2007 behind the team's leading rusher, Louis Rankin, and most of his 202 yards came when Rankin missed the final two quarters against Cal after suffering an ankle injury.

While young, Washington's wide receivers might be the most anticipated part of the '08 Huskies.

Sophomore D'Andre Goodwin headlines the receivers. Goodwin hauled in only four catches last season with a senior laden core, but broke out in the spring game grabbing 7 catches for 109 yards and 1 touchdown. Along with Goodwin is star recruit Chris Polk who chose the Huskies at the last second over hometown USC. Polk played primarily at running back in high school tallying 2,561 yards as a senior. Recruiting prognosticators took to Polk after a game in which he finished with 214 yards on only five carries.

Rounding out the core is senior tight end Michael Gottlieb, the team's leading returnee. Gottlieb finished the '07 season with 12 catches for 136 yards.

The most veteran part of the Husky offense is undoubtedly the offensive line with one senior, a junior and three sophomores.

At the end of last season, Husky fans thought the O-line would be the least of their worries. But in the spring, Second Team All Pac-10 center Juan Garcia fractured his foot. With surgery assuring that he would miss the entire '08 season Garcia opted to allow the bone to heal on its own.

At first, his expected return was slated for mid season, but tremendous progress has put Garcia ahead of schedule and sports performance coach Trent Greener says the team is eyeing a return for the third game…against the Sooners.

Garcia's injury is worth keeping an eye on. If he's out of the lineup, it turns what would be an above average line to just average.

With the exit of Kent Baer, new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell will have quite the job on his hands to improve a defense who allowed an average of 446 yards a game.

Up front, the Husky line is one of the most inexperienced in the country. Five of last year's six starters exit leaving Daniel To'o-Nesheim the only returner from what most would call a poor d-line at best.
Linebackers undoubtedly will be the anchors to this year's defense. The unit returns three of its top tacklers and five have started at one time or another.

Junior EJ Savannah will head the returning linebackers after leading the team in tackles as a sophomore with 111.

Savannah also had a setback of his own in the spring game after being suspended for undisclosed reasons. After working with the second team in the spring game, Savannah admitted that he hadn't picked up on the new playbook but that he hopes to reclaim his starting position by the time the season rolls around.

Savannah's linebacking partner, junior Donald Butler, will help bring experience to a position on a defense filled with youth after having 52 tackles his sophomore season.

Maybe the most promising position for the defense comes at the secondary position, and not because the position is what Coach Donatell spent the last three seasons coaching for the Atlanta Falcons.

Though it will start as a senior laden core, sophomores waiting in the wings are more than capable of taking over at any point when needed.

Seniors Mesphin Forrester and Darin Harris will Capitan the veteran crew. Forrester tallied 93 tackles from the corner position a year ago while Harris added 95 tackles of his own.

Look for a lot of rotation as sophomores Nate Williams and Victor Aiyewa have shown tremendous promise at the safety positions.

In the end what may Oklahoma's biggest asset heading into the Washington game might as well be the Huskies schedule.

Before facing the Sooners, Washington will travel to Oregon and host BYU for its home opener.

The trip will be OU's first ever to Seattle and first to the northwest since the Sooners controversial trip to Oregon in 2006.


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