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Originally published October 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 28, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Steve Kelley

Changes are needed at UW

The age of forgiveness is over. It ended late Saturday afternoon. Ended after Washington blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead — to...

Seattle Times staff columnist

The age of forgiveness is over. It ended late Saturday afternoon. Ended after Washington blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead — to Arizona.

It ended when the defense allowed 535 yards and the offense committed five turnovers. Ended with a 48-41 loss.

Last week, Washington coach Tyrone Willingham speculated that none of his players could start for USC. And then those players went out and proved him right.

Turns out the Huskies don't even have the talent to beat Arizona.

"Obviously there are a lot of people who don't feel very good about who we are right now," Willingham said after the game.

This was a 24-karat embarrassment. Washington was outscored 22-6 in the fourth quarter. Last week, Oregon outscored the Huskies 24-3 in the fourth.

"At this point in the season I was looking for a turnaround," senior linebacker Trenton Tuiasosopo said. "I wanted to continue on the Husky tradition of just winning."

It is one thing to surrender more than 600 yards to a very good Oregon team. But it is quite another to allow 535 total yards to Arizona, which has only one other win over a Division I school and whose coach, Mike Stoops, is sitting on a much hotter seat than Willingham.

Yes, Washington's talent doesn't match up with the rest of the conference. Yes, the staff has to start recruiting better, but not all of the Huskies' problems are personnel.

Shouldn't most of the blame for their second-half collapses fall on the shoulders of the coaches? How can this team be good enough to be competitive for two or three quarters, but not good enough for all four?

This season, instead of taking a step forward, the Huskies stumbled back.

If it weren't for the brilliance of redshirt freshman Jake Locker, who ran and threw for 493 offensive yards, this team would be no further along than it was when Willingham and his staff arrived.

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Willingham won't be fired, but at the end of this season, he should be forced to make changes in his staff.

Washington isn't working.

Arizona passed for 510 yards, tied for seventh-most in Pac-10 history. And this wasn't John Elway or Carson Palmer throwing against the Swiss-cheesy UW defense.

It was good, but hardly great, quarterback Willie Tuitama.

In Washington's six consecutive losses, the defense has allowed an average of 42.6 points. The coaches have made changes, tweaked schemes, but it seems as if things are getting worse.

"I don't take it lightly. I have a lot of pride," said defensive coordinator Kent Baer, whose every syllable sounded as crisp and angry as a jab. "I've been coaching a long time and we've had some great defenses and we just didn't become stupid overnight, contrary to what people might believe or write. And I believe we're going to continue to work hard and do the right things."

But heading into November, this is another bad Huskies team. And this late in the year, it's hard to imagine players getting wiser or better.

"Yeah, it's frustrating. Am I happy about it? Absolutely not," said Baer, who has been coaching since 1974 and has been with Willingham for 13 years. "I want our fans to be happy and excited, just like everybody else's fans.

"One thing you have to understand about this game is that you have who you have. And you've got to play the personnel of who you got. And you don't want to put them in bad situations. And if you do, then you're wrong as a coach.

"Have we changed some things? You bet we've changed some things with those freshman kids. Is it the right answer? You got the pen, so you tell me."

The answer? The defense has allowed 1,719 yards in its past three games.

"Right now we have the players that we have and we're going to continue to coach them and do the best we can," Baer said. "We have changed some things to help ourselves or try to help ourselves with some young guys. We tried a couple things today that we've never done before."

The numbers don't lie. The changes aren't working and, as the season gets shorter and the frustration builds — within the team and the community — the call for changes can't be ignored.

Despite its inexperience, despite its talent gap, this was a game Washington should have won and didn't.

And every fan who sat through Saturday's debacle has the right to wonder why, after three years under Willingham, this team can't even win these games.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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