A defeat of 35 to 16 contains a very ugly resonance, and it is a horrific box score that has made its way into hundreds of American newspapers this morning. But in sifting through the rubble of this implosion, there is evidence that Washington's foundation is more solid than what most people will think.
It started out Sunday as a sunshine-filled afternoon by the lake; the home crowd was not at capacity, but it arrived in a festive mood and fully ready to put a roar of support into these Washington Huskies. Enthusiasm was at its peak early in the second quarter, when fullback Zach Tuiasosopo took a handoff and raced up the gut 40 yards to the Bulldog 8-yard line. The very next play had quarterback Isaiah Stanback swivel-hipping and high-stepping into the end zone, and the Huskies were up 7-0.
But starting with the first gift touchdown (of three) handed over to the Fresno State defense, the game unraveled for Washington like a sodden gauze bandage; the wounds and mental errors were opened up from last year, and soon a bloodletting from the quarterback position was costing the Huskies yet another football game.
The close of the third quarter symbolized the position in which Washington football finds itself currently. The 1985 Orange Bowl team was brought out into the end zone to be recognized as Husky Legends. The trouble with this was that there was actually still 0:20 left in the quarter. An attempt by the PA announcer to honor them was shouted over by an irritated referee, who wanted the clock reset and the west end zone cleared. The crowd murmured in its confusion. Play resumed and then the 3rd quarter officially expired. The '85 Orange Bowl team again was ushered out onto the field. But now the scoreboard sat still and blank. The former Huskies waved to the crowd, but the crowd's enthusiasm wad had been shot, and the members of that great football team headed back to the sidelines for a second time. There was a feeling that the whole presentation was discombobulated and never got off the ground.
Coupled with the Huskies' disappointing performance and the Jumbo Tron's game-long fixation on the 1990 USC game, this scene also gave the Washington program the look of desperation and denial --if you will-- of a 60-year old Susan Sarandon standing at the podium of an awards show wearing a low-cut, strapless dress more appropriate for a 24-year old hussy.
But with that said, Sunday's performance revealed – under the layers of frustration and disappointment-- many diamonds in the rough that will pay off handsomely in the future. As stated, it's true that the quarterback position is in dire straights; the poor decisions made Saturday by Casey Paus and Isaiah Stanback were shockingly poor and disturbing. The failed field goal attempts also cost Washington tremendously. But in analyzing this team, if you take away (for the sake of discussion) the lethal handful of blunders, there are actually glowing positives to get excited about.
Husky running back Kenny James maximized the adequate holes that were blocked for him, by making wise decisions and gaining tough yards. From last year, remember how running back Rich Alexis would often have no chance, being engulfed by defenders just as he took the handoff? Not once did that happen against Fresno. And while never as powerful as a road grader, the Husky offensive line nevertheless consistently sustained a push. Captain Charles Frederick (when finally given the opportunity in the 4th quarter) continued to show why he is one of the better wide receivers on the west coast. Evan Benjamin looked like a young Antowaine Richardson at linebacker; undersized, but quick to the ball like a panther and a big-time thumper. Dashon Goldson clearly has the athletic ability and presence to become a leader on this defense and an all Pac-10 performer. Joe Lobendahn showed great range and strength and made several key tackles. And defensive back Derrick Johnson made several athletic defensive plays, twice racing downfield like a missile and making two sterling tackles for the punt coverage team. Of note, the defense also did not take the air out of the supportive crowd on 3rd and longs, by giving up deflating first downs, which happened with exhausting regularity the past three seasons. This Husky defensive squad turned in several 3-and-outs. They are stronger, tougher and more confident than before.
All told, the Husky defense held Fresno to under 300 yards and 14 points. If the offense had not given away the three touchdowns, today we would be celebrating a hard-fought victory, instead of viewing this as Keith Gilbertson's Waterloo (which many observers now will be prone to do).
Believe it or not, if the quarterback position can be solidified, Washington still has the earmarks for a successful season.
Derek Johnson is a freelance writer and a columnist for Sports Washington magazine and Dawgman.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There's diamonds in them thar hills
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