Back in August, when everybody was undefeated and hope overrode reason, Todd Turner sat back in his office and pondered his 31-percent increase...

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Back in August, when everybody was undefeated and hope overrode reason, Todd Turner sat back in his office and pondered his 31-percent increase in seat-licensing fees for football season-ticket holders at Washington.


“This is a huge risk for us, I’ll be honest,” the Washington athletic director said. “This is one of the riskiest things I’ve ever tried to do.”


Welcome to Montlake, home of (a) a developing public-relations problem, and (b) another bad football team, if we are to take at face value the evidence of yesterday afternoon.


California, the program Washington used to send a cab for, rained Jeff Tedford’s guileful offense all over Husky Stadium, 56-17, on a day that simultaneously turned sunny and sobering.


This was the message for 57,775 fans:


There will be no quick fix at Washington; this is likely to be a painful, desultory process. There will be no Sports Illustrated cover in late October, blaring, “What a Difference a Coach Makes,” as there was in Tyrone Willingham’s first year at Notre Dame.


That doesn’t mean Turner can’t pull off his plan to squeeze donors for the cash to make improvements to Husky Stadium. It just means he’s going to be answering some pointed questions along the way.


As in: What was that charade by the lake yesterday?


By the numbers

4


TD passes by Cal QB Joe Ayoob yesterday


17


Completions by Ayoob.


34


Yards for Cal after first two series.


59


Points for Cal, the most ever scored at Husky Stadium


39


Point differential, the worst UW home defeat since 1949


192


Yards receiving by Robert Jordan, second in Cal history


557


Yards total offense by Cal


All the promise the Huskies showed in controlling the game for 50 minutes last week against Air Force evaporated in a mountain of physical and mental mistakes, leaving them 0-2 and still, since the 2004 season began, winners of one game, over San Jose State.


Maybe this is the best way to say it: Joe Ayoob came into Husky Stadium a quarterback who couldn’t complete a pass in 10 tries against Sacramento State. Against the UW defense, he looked like somebody who could merit All-America consideration, completing 17 of 27 passes for 271 yards and four touchdowns.


He arrived as a basket case and left looking like Tom Brady.


Yes, the Willingham Huskies get points for curbing their runaway turnover problem of ’04. They’ve made only one in two games, although a failed punt near the end of the half was tantamount to one.


That’s reality. Here’s more: For all the buzz about improvement this year, the Huskies were more competitive a year ago against a better Cal team, trailing 14-12 late in the third.


“Oh man,” said linebacker Scott White. “We thought, watching them on tape against Sacramento State, that they were not the same team of a year ago that we really hung tough with. We felt after last week’s game against Air Force that we had this thing corrected.”


It’s particularly puzzling that the Huskies, with nine starters back, aren’t defending better. Last week against the Falcons, with a fourth-quarter, double-digit lead and needing only to deny a long play, they gave up a long pass play to a running team.


Against Cal, they surrendered 18 plays of 10 yards or more. Marshawn Lynch, presumed as the villain, ran the ball just five times and Cal hung 56 points on Washington. Huskies tackling was bad, and candidly, they sometimes didn’t look very well prepared.


When Cal threw for its first touchdown, Robert Jordan was ridiculously free on a throwback screen from Ayoob as a UW defender got “picked.” On second-and-10 at the Cal 16, Ayoob threw to a plodding fullback, Chris Manderino, running free for 14 yards. Lynch went for 25 with a shovel pass on third-and-24, Ayoob scrambled for 26, Cal extricated itself from a first-and-19 plight in one play.


Make no mistake, those were better athletes on the visiting side. But it was more than just athleticism.


“We didn’t adjust with some things,” UW defensive coordinator Kent Baer said. “We have some automatic checks to certain things, and a couple of times, we didn’t communicate very well.”


So mental mistakes had something to do with the long Air Force touchdown last week, and they were at work against Cal.


Baer has coached good defense at Notre Dame, and he did before that at Stanford. Asked if it’s possible he’s asking the Huskies to assimilate more than they can, he looked incredulous and said, “Oh, no. No. It’s just simple stuff. Right now, we’re not communicating very well.”


Now it’s a habit again, this losing. And Willingham must do what Keith Gilbertson couldn’t a year ago, keep the bad times from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.


“Throughout that game, I felt, ‘Here we go again,’ ” White said. “At the same time, we’ve got to understand, we cannot go down that same path.”


Before the midpoint of September, they’re already stepping that way. Todd Turner, among others, will be anxious to see if they can find a compass.


Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com