Balanced attack too much for Huskies

The end result of the much-publicized saga of Tyrone Willingham facing his former Notre Dame squad came off as expected. The Fighting Irish pulled away in the second half to overwhelm Washington 36-17. For Washington's offense, there were exciting moments filled with possibility and providing fans with a tease.

But for followers of Husky football, today's game was akin to a gorgeous woman blowing diabolically in your ear and whispering naughty thoughts, but then refusing to go any further once you've turned your full attention toward her. This contest contained all foreplay and very little gratification.

It was in the first half that Washington's offense, led by the career-high 353 passing yards by Isaiah Stanback, was able to move the football in giant chunks. But the empty feeling of continuously blown opportunities was the overriding emotion that gnawed away as the game progressed.

In winning the opening toss and electing to receive, the Huskies demonstrated an aggressive approach. Once on offense, the Dawgs came out throwing; peppering the Irish secondary with both short passes, as well as throwing vertically downfield. It was a play-action pass from Stanback to Anthony Russo, covering 39 yards to the Notre Dame 11-yard line that fired up the home crowd. The following play seemed alive with possibility, as Stanback dropped back and hit Craig Chambers on a crossing route; but the sophomore wide receiver was stripped of the football, and Notre Dame recovered at the one-yard line (speaking to reporters after the game, Chambers stated that he believed he was both in the end zone AND down on the turf prior to the fumble.)

From that point, Irish QB Brady Quinn went to work, throwing out of his own end zone on 1st down. Notre Dame showed immediately that their offensive line and skill-position talent far exceeded Washington's. They drove down field with an assortment of quick outs and misdirection blocking schemes. Notre Dame ultimately settled for a field goal attempt. The snap was bobbled, and the play fell apart. The Husky defense had bent but didn't break.

Following a Washington punt again, Quinn marched his team straight downfield, and this time the special teams were able to convert, with D.J. Fitzpatrick drilling a 24-yard field goal. For Washington, an encouraging aspect of this drive was a physical tackle made by safety CJ Wallace on 3rd down. Notre Dame's Darius Walker took the handoff on a misdirection play, and he endeavored to get outside. But the Notre Dame running back was met head-on by Wallace, who delivered a shot that sent Walker reverberating backwards and straight down to the turf. It was the type of definitive thump that the Huskies haven't seen from a safety since the Tony Parrish days (circa 1997).

The Huskies showed competitive toughness in driving down the field, on the strength of two Stanback passes to Anthony Russo and Sonny Shackelford, followed by a beautiful 20-yard pass to Cody Ellis. As he caught the football, the sophomore from Puyallup took a mighty wallop, but held secure to the football. The drive stalled, however, and Evan Knudson drilled a 27-yard field goal to pull the Dawgs even.

It was later in the second quarter that the Irish began to assert further control. Notre Dame drove and scored, with Darius Walker careening into the end zone from 17 yards out. The extra point was botched due to a bad hold; nevertheless the Irish had recaptured the lead at 9-3, and this time it was for good.

The Huskies appeared poised to do something special, when Stanback promptly hit junior college transfer Marlon Wood on a 69-yard catch and run, deep down the right sideline. Husky Stadium was near capacity, crackling with electricity and yelling fans, and basking in sunshine. For a moment, it felt like old times. But the magic quickly disappeared. Stanback rolled to his left and made a poor decision. The junior from Seattle had room to run, but saw a receiver open and let it fly. Notre Dame's Ambrose Wooden, standing in the end zone, had the ball come right to him; and he secured it to brutally thwart Washington's promising drive.

The second half was more of the same, Quinn peppering UW's secondary with an assortment of short and intermediate passes. In two separate incidences, the Irish went for it on fourth down. Both times the Husky defense came up with a stop. Each time, the Husky crowd threw their all into showing excitement and making noise. But each time, the ensuing Washington drive would fall apart at the seams. The most illustrative example were back-t-back plays mid-way through the third quarter. On a designed QB run, multiple Huskies were shifting all over the place, right before Isaiah Stanback received the snap and took off darting and juking upfield for 18 yards. It felt like the Huskies were once again about to draw blood. On the next play, however, running back Kenny James took the handoff, was hit, and promptly fumbled. Drive over, and dashed hopes prevailed again.

Brady Quinn and his teammates seized upon this opportunity, driving straight down the field and sticking into end zone, on a 2-yard blast by Rashon Powers-Neal. A key play on that drive was a beautiful one-handed catch by Maurice Stovall, converting a 3rd and 14 with a gain of 15 yards.

Trailing 19-3, the Huskies fought for one last glimmer of hope. Craig Chambers got behind the Irish secondary and Stanback hit him for a big gain. But four impotent plays later, the Huskies turned the ball over on downs, and the Irish took possession and began to run out the clock.

In the fourth quarter, with the game's outcome no longer in doubt, Isaiah Stanback threw a lateral pass to Anthony Russo, who in turn threw a rocket down field to a Craig Chambers, who didn't have a defender within twenty yards of him. Like many other aspects of today's game, this play was well-designed, had the opportunity to succeed, but the resulting errant throw fell harmlessly to the turf incomplete.

Today's one positive aspect, aside from the solid performance from Stanback and the wide receivers, was the debut of back-up QB Johnny DuRocher. The transfer from Oregon admitted after the game to feeling jittery as he ran onto the field for the first time as a Husky. But he responded by leading Washington to a mop-up touchdown, capped by a beautiful 41-yard throwing strike to Craig Chambers. DuRocher finished 2 of 5 for 55 yards and a touchdown.

As the clock ran to 0:00, the tableau at Husky Stadium was a giant cluster of players at mid-field. Tyrone Willingham shook Charlie Weis's hand then received the well-wishes from his former players. As the players headed for the tunnel, Husky assistant coach Bob Simmons had his arm slung happily around Brady Quinn's, and both smiled and talked amongst themselves. The Notre Dame players held their helmets high to salute their fans in the western end zone. The Husky players trudged along with their heads down. If they keep fighting with heart, one of these days lady luck is finally going to smile upon the Dawgs, and give them that come hither glance.

Note: In the post-game press conference, Washington coach Tyrone Willingham did not indicate the severity of the injuries to Manase Hopoi, Joe Lobendahn, Dashon Goldson and Matt Fountaine, that sidelined them at various stages of the game. Of these four, only Fontaine never returned, and thus is deemed the most serious.

In the fourth quarter, as the Huskies received their final kickoff of the game, it was a #24 that was back awaiting the boot. That wasn't the burning of J.R. Hasty's redshirt; it was John Gardenhire, who wears the same number. Top Stories