Coach pleased with effort, not with result

The bright lights were on Husky Stadium Saturday, and it was a chance for a downtrodden Washington football team to make some amends for their 1-5 start. A win over number-one USC would have kept alive a couple of different dreams - a winning season and a chance to go to a bowl game, for starters. The 51-24 result in favor of the Trojans means all those goals hit the proverbial wastebasket with a resounding thud. So where does Willingham and his team go from here?

"I don't think there's any secret that we played a very, very good football team," said Willingham afterward. "They are a team that understands how to win, a football team that, when given an opportunity they take advantage of it. My hat is off to them. They really took advantage of the opportunities they had. At the same time I'm excited about our football team and about the effort that we gave. We recognize that effort is not enough, it's about getting the wins and playing the game the right way.

"We fell short."

Willingham wanted to use this game as a measuring stick for just how much progress the Huskies have made so far this season. For all the games where positive strides have been made (UCLA), there are other games to point to where it seems like there's nothing but negatives (Oregon).

"You always have to take that mindset when you're playing the best," said Willingham. "And for much of the game I'm proud of our guys. Our mistakes killed us, and it wasn't just the obvious ones."

For a stretch of 5 minutes and 46 seconds - and only nine offensive plays - starting at the beginning of the second quarter, it was the three touchdowns (two off of Washington fumbles) scored in that time frame that killed any UW spirit created from Marlon Wood's 92-yard opening kickoff return - the longest non-scoring return in Husky history.

In-between, it was the incomparable Reggie Bush that seemingly made every UW defender miss him on an 86-yard scamper on a punt return. But did Bush call for a fair catch on the play? "That was exactly what our coaches were saying from the press box," said Willingham. "But you've got to play the game. We had him wrapped up. You've got to make the tackle."

So while the Huskies didn't have a nearly two-quarter letdown like they did at Oregon, it was that small stretch in the second quarter that crushed their hopes. "I don't think our football team lapsed today in terms of large blocks of time, but we I do think we had some individual breakdowns that were the equivalent of lapses and cost us dearly," said Willingham.

While the Huskies were only outgained by USC 390-329, it was the dominance the Trojans showed on both lines of scrimmage that really dictated the play all day. It allowed USC quarterback Matt Leinart to sit and pick apart a worn-out UW secondary, one that couldn't afford to lose a starter like Matt Fountaine to a discipline issue but did anyways. The UW defensive line really never got to Leinart, with the only official sack coming through on a Durrell Moss blitz. Conversely, the USC defense accounted for 10 tackles for loss and six sacks.

"We're still trying to work and help our defensive line just like our coaches are trying to work and help our secondary," said Willingham. "It's a very difficult position to be in. I'm pleased, I'm excited about what we're doing, but it's not enough. They put out the same effort and they found a way to win the game. That's what we've got to do."

And Moss experienced what UW quarterback Isaiah Stanback did a year ago - face the number-one team in the country in your first career start. While not having the benefit of video, Willingham was nonetheless pleased with Moss' play under those circumstances. "We asked him to come in against the number-one team in the country and their receiving corps is very talented," said Willingham of the 6-foot-1, 215-pound sophomore.

While the Huskies lost Fountaine, Louis Rankin (turf toe), Kenny James (shoulder) and Wood (fractured ankle), they did gain back a valuable piece to their team - tackle Joe Toledo. The 6-foot-6, 290-pound converted tight end was expected to have a big senior season, but had not seen the field since an ankle injury sidelined him in the first game of the season.

"Just his presence makes a difference to our football team," Willingham said of having Toledo back and playing. "That alone was a positive for us, but his play helped us too."

The play of both UW quarterbacks was also a lone bright spot for Willingham. Starter Isaiah Stanback went 14-18 for 201 yards and a score. Backup Johnny DuRocher came in for the last drive of the game and drove the Huskies down to the USC 12 before coming up short on four consecutive pass plays. He finished 7-11 for 69 yards.

"We thought he did exactly what we expected him to do," Willingham said of DuRocher's mop-up work. "He did a wonderful job. We just have to make one or two more plays down there at the end and we get another score."

And any questions that might have resulted from DuRocher's work in terms of a potential quarterback controversy were quickly snuffed out by Willingham. "Isaiah is still our starter," he said, matter of factly.

And Stanback will be leading a Washington team that has no more hopes of a winning record and no hopes of finishing the season in a bowl game. "You take the time to think about what you can do to finish the season," said Willingham when asked about re-assessing the team's goals. "But we aren't going to change how we go about doing our business. We've said all along that there's a certain way you play the game and that's the way we're going to coach them.

"And we're going to do that every day." Top Stories