Stanback done with moral victories

If you looked at Isaiah Stanback's statistical improvements from 2004 to 2005 like a market analyst reading his charts, you wouldn't hesitate to put your best clients on this burgeoning superstar. His 2005 rating through five games is nearly 50 points higher than last year, his completion percentage up over 20 points. The 353 yards he threw for against Notre Dame nearly matched his entire 2004 output (389 yards).

Stanback's learning curve has been on a steep incline ever since Tyrone Willingham named him the starting quarterback for Washington after a hotly-contested fall camp battle with Johnny DuRocher. Sure, some will say that Stanback backed into the job because DuRocher wasn't eligible to play for the first three games of the season, but they would be wrong. Stanback has done everything his coaches have asked of him and has clearly improved in every start he's had this season. If fans want to point fingers at certain players that are costing this team wins, they shouldn't be sticking their digits in Stanback's direction.

Even his mistakes - he has as many interceptions (3) as he had all of 2004 - have built-in silver linings; last year it only took 68 attempts to throw three to the other team, this year it took 143 tries. But Stanback is the first one to tell you that it's those mistakes, even if they are part of his ongoing education at the position of quarterback, can't be minimized. "Those are things you get with experience," said Stanback Monday in the wake of a difficult 21-17 loss at UCLA. "Every time I face a situation like that, I'm going to learn from it."

He hopes that others on his team - from the holding call on Tusi Sa'au during a Louis Rankin touchdown run that would have put the game out of reach, to the botched catch by Anthony Russo on a punt return - understand how devastating the lapses in focus and concentration have been to the team's bottom line - winning. "Everything we're doing, we're doing to ourselves. That's the part that makes you mad," said Stanback.

"Once we stop doing that, we'll be just fine. It'll be totally different. Until we stop beating ourselves, it's going to remain the same."

Sure, there are arguments to be made that improvements have been made from week to week. Just two weeks ago Willingham admitted to abandoning the running game too soon in a loss to Notre Dame, a loss where UW tallied only 41 yards on the ground. As poor as 2004's 1-10 team played, they rushed for more than 41 yards in every one of their games.

But this last week the coaches were determined to test UCLA's rush defense, and rightly so; despite stifling heralded Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson, UCLA hadn't thoroughly shut anyone down on the ground. "It takes a lot of stress off of me and it gets everybody else involved," said Stanback on the importance of having some success running the ball. "Everybody's doing something and it keeps our backs encouraged. It makes the defense respect the run."

After the Huskies put 213 yards on a battered bunch of Bruins, it was clear that Washington could run and be physical on offense if they put their minds to it. But as Stanback said on Monday, once Washington plays the game of football as if the other team is the opponent instead of themselves, the rest will fall into place.

"I'm not going to use the term frustrating, we can change those things," he said. "We're mad. It would be totally different if they had thrown us all around the field and were better than us, but to sit here every week and say we gave them the ball so many times...that hurts. If we don't have the holding call, if we don't have the turnovers...we easily win that game. Our defense was playing, we were moving the ball...we just have to stop it. And when we do, we'll win - regardless of who we are playing."

And much like a high-powered weapon in dire need of recalibration, the Huskies have a week to straighten out their gun sights and focus their aim squarely at the Oregon Ducks. "It's a rivalry, but the mission remains the same," said Stanback, adding that the idea of 'not buying into the hype' remains an ever-present mantra for Willingham's warriors.

"You can't get caught up in alll the talk. Our job is to make plays and take them out of it early."

Stanback just needs to make sure the team he is helping wears white, and not yellow, and it goes the same for his teammates too. In past weeks, it hasn't been that easy to tell. Good thing the Huskies have already experienced a (California) bear market.

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