Dawgman Diary - Cal

The mood was much like you would expect it to be for a Tyrone Willingham-coached team - upbeat. Despite letting an 11-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate against Air Force on Saturday, the Huskies appeared Monday to be hopeful about the future and also about their chances against #19 Cal this coming Saturday. No one was more upbeat than Washington quarterback Isaiah Stanback.

"Truthfully, I didn't have to pick anybody up," Stanback told Dawgman.com. "Everybody has that look on their face like, 'We know we let one go'. We moved the ball and we have that confidence. We aren't hanging our head. We're ready to get after the next team and that's good to see.

"We were ready, we just didn't finish many drives. We felt like we stopped ourselves more than they stopped us. Credit them, they played well, but we need to finish more drives off, score more points. 17 points in the Pac-10 or anywhere else isn't enough. We've got to go out there and take care of business."

"There's no need. I don't need to make all the plays anymore. That's something I've figured out. In transitioning from high school, I felt like I always had to make the plays. I don't have to do that now. There's a whole bunch of guys that can make plays. Just get them the ball and they'll do it. When it comes time for me to make plays, I'll make plays.

"I know what the right decisions are now as opposed to last year when I was hoping I do the right thing."

Isaiah Stanback v.2.0 is light years from the athletic whiz kid from Garfield that made a regular habit of impersonating Michael Vick on the football field. But a 19-for-26 performance - including completing ten passes in a row during the second half - gave Stanback the feedback he needed to know he's headed in the right direction.

"I feel that if defenses now sit back on me I'm prepared enough to pick them apart or if they want to blitz I'm smart enough to get it to who needs it or make a play on my own," said Stanback. "I feel like I'm always ready to make a play or help someone else make a play. Whatever the defense gives me, that's what I'm going to take."

No one benfitted more from Stanback's offensive distribution this past Saturday than sophomore receivers Anthony Russo and Sonny Shackelford. For the 5-foot-11, 185-pounder from Lakes High School, Russo might not remind Husky fans of another Lancer-turned-Husky - Reggie Williams - but he just might be able to carve a niche all his own. The Washington coaches are giving Russo the responsibility of also being the Huskies' number-one punt return specialist.

Russo returned punts his senior year at Lakes. "But they don't kick it there like they do in Division-1," he told Dawgman.com Monday with a little chuckle.

The receiver position was supposed to be a weaker link in the offensive chain, but everybody involved in the offense agrees that it's a different day and age. "I feel it has to do with the time we put in this summer, all of us staying up here, running 7-on-7's together and building chemistry," Russo said of the makeover that's taken place with the receiving corps. "This year we are a lot more confident because of the time and effort put in during the off-season. Hard work will pay off in the end."

The quarterbacks and receivers are so complimentary of each other nowadays, it's pretty scary. "If I get open, he'll make the right read and if he throws it to another guy, then he's open," Russo said of Stanback. "He goes through his progressions nicely. He's definitely a different guy."

"I have that much confidence in all our receivers that I don't know who catches it until after the play," Stanback said. "I feel that everyone can catch the ball and make plays and that's a good feeling to have."

And even when a receiver makes a mistake - in the case of a dropped ball late against Air Force by Corey Williams - the offense is not going to become discouraged. "We all know that Corey is a great receiver," said Russo. "He catches everything in practice. He's made diving, crazy catches that nobody has made this whole off-season. That was just something that happens. You have to erase it from your mind. He knows he's a great receiver."

Nothing will test his patience and cool more than returning punts late in a close ballgame. Because of his relative inexperience, Russo looked to NFL players like Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle-El. He studied their moves and their demeanor intently. "I definitely watch how they handle themselves on punt returns," he said. "They have their rituals and do the same thing every time. Santana Moss gives a little prayer. So I just try to do the same thing and stay calm back there.

"I watch everybody. They all have different styles. I just try and carry myself with a tough mentality like they do. That's what coach (Yarber) asks us to do."

If Saturday was a coming-out party for Russo and the other receivers, you have to say the same for running back Louis Rankin. The sophomore from Stockton, California ran 23 times for 112 yards against Air Force, including more yards in the first quarter than he had in all of 2004.

"Louis was going to surprise a lot of people, but he wasn't going to surprise us," Stanback said of Rankin's game. "What he did in that game, he can do more."

"I ran through tackles, but there was a lot more yards out there on the field and I didn't take advantage of that," Rankin told Dawgman.com on Monday, critiquing his own effort. "I need to work on that."

Rankin's uncle, former NFL receiver Webster Slaughter, has been by Louis' side throughout Rankin's high school and college career. So it wasn't surprising to find out that Slaughter had spoken to his nephew about his first career start. "I talked to him yesterday," said Rankin. "He just told me about a couple of things I did wrong and a couple of things I could improve upon."

One thing he won't have to worry about is his stomach. The nervous knots that had him feeling ill during game week will most likely dissipate now that he has his first start out of the way. "It was okay before the game, but a couple of days before the game I was hurting," said Rankin. "I wasn't feeling that good. I was expecting to do better, but it's the first game so I have room to improve.
br> "I'm just trying to win games. I'm trying to do whatever it takes to win some games around here."

Cornerbacks are always known for having short memories. Short memory in the sense of being able to forget about a bad play right after it's happened so they can focus on the next play. Matt Fountaine lived the nightmare that every Division-One cornerback faces on game day.

"It was definitely a miscue that I'll take responsibility for," said Fountaine when asked about the blown assignment that led to an 84-yard pass play by Air Force. "The man on the slot that went to the sideline, that was definitely my guy."

But he wasn't going to let a disappointing finish take away from the joy Fountaine felt by just getting a chance to play football again. "It was fun," he said of Washington's opener. "The end felt like a terrible dream. It was a bad, sinking feeling that you don't want to feel again. But playing the game out there, running around with my boys that I've been working with since last December - that was fun."

Fountaine is hoping to balance the fun with a focus and determination that will help lead the Huskies to their first win in eight games. "There's only going to be five or six deep balls a game, and big plays on those help out your defense a lot," Fountaine said, sketching out the cornerbacks' role in getting a 'W'. "Getting off the field after third downs is going to be a big help to us."

Being from the East Bay (Oakland), Matt's face lights up when talking about the California Golden Bears. "They are a great football team," he said. "They are a great, well-rounded offense. I don't think there's going to be too much of a challenge getting up for those guys. Everyone is going to be up, everyone is going to be excited.

"They are very efficient in everything they do. If we do a great job like I know we can, I think you're going to see a great football game."

True freshman sensation Desean Jackson not only had a receiving touchdown for Cal in their season-opener against Sacramento State, but he also returned a punt for six. "We have to contain what he does, as well as what Noah Smith does, what Sam DeSa does, what Robert Jordan does, what Lavelle Hawkins does," said Fountaine, reciting Cal's receiving corps. "We have to contain what they have."

And even though Cal's starting quarterback - Joseph Ayoob - went 0-10 in his debut against the Hornets, Fountaine is giving the CCSF transfer all the respect in the world. "He's a Jeff Tedford-coached quarterback," said Fountaine. "That right there means he's a good quarterback. Jeff Tedford doesn't put out anything in his program that isn't quality, and he wouldn't be starting him unless he was quality."

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