Should Stanback and DuRocher share time?

It was halfway through the third quarter and the 1991 Washington Huskies trailed Nebraska 14-9 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Husky return man Beno Bryant set up near the 10-yard line to field a punt. Bryant didn't know it, but the pivotal point of Washington's entire season was about to unfold in the approaching minutes.

"I got caught up in the moment," recalled Bryant to Dawgman.com in 2003. "I saw all the red (in the stands). Here I'm a little kid from South Central L.A., playing on national TV. My eyes were too big for my stomach," he said with a laugh.

To the Huskies' horror, Bryant went against convention and common sense as he attempted to field the punt from the Huskies' two-yard line. He muffed it badly and Nebraska recovered. On the ensuing play, Nebraska tailback Derek Brown plunged into the end zone, giving the Cornhuskers a commanding 21-9 lead. The red-ensconced throng of 76,304 fans celebrated the only way they did back then - raucously. The Huskies trudged back to the sideline. The clock showed 5:32 remaining in the third quarter. The sway of emotion and momentum was all in the favor of Big Red.

A distraught Beno Bryant went to sit on the bench following his gaffe at the goal line.

"On the TV they showed a picture from the sidelines," he said. "Everyone on the sideline kept coming up and shaking me, saying "C'mon… It'll be OK. It'll be OK". Not one person said anything negative. Everybody was encouraging me. Then suddenly (Husky QB) Billy Joe Hobert comes up and grabs my neck. He just looked at me and said matter-of-factly, "We're not gonna lose", and then just walked off.

"That changed everything for me."

From that point forward, the Huskies outscored Nebraska 27-0 and won convincingly. Dozens of Huskies from that team, including former coach Don James, have cited Hobert's leadership that night as a key component to the enormous triumph, arguably the biggest regular-season road win for the Huskies ever at the time. It became the game that catalyzed a dream season, a season where Washington went undefeated and shared the 1991 National Championship with Miami.

It was also Hobert's second-ever start, and it was played against a top-five team in very hostile conditions. He was just a sophomore at the time.

In switching focus to the 2005 season, can you imagine current Husky QB Isaiah Stanback - in far less dramatic circumstances - willing his team to victory with his leadership and presence? In his fourth year in the program?

Of course, comparing the 1991 Huskies to the 2005 model is inherently unfair. It's not even a case of comparing apples to oranges. It's more like comparing apples to rickshaws.

But the question of leadership from the quarterback position is a common denominator relating to any football team at any level. Stanback is dramatically improved from last season, but commits a handful of critical errors in each game, and doesn't seem to possess a forceful personality that can will a team forward. It begs the question as to whether back-up quarterback Johnny DuRocher deserves a chance to play meaningful minutes.

A couple of hours after last Saturday's USC game, I was listening with great interest to KJR's post-game show on the drive home. Hugh Millen, Dick Baird and David Locke were discussing this very question, as to whether Stanback's critical errors warranted giving DuRocher a look. An incensed black man from Mercer Island named Rick called up the show and went off. He pointed out that the trio wasn't suggesting that certain inadequate offensive linemen, overmatched defensive backs or poor-tackling linebackers be replaced; but they were oh-so-quick to want to replace Stanback, who is black. With great fervor, Rick asserted that the trio was being racist.

Subsequent to this, the three KJR personalities tensed up, choosing their words carefully. It was further evidence that in this current social climate, the charge of racism is often blindly embraced and lobbed forth like a political hand grenade - and done so at a whim.

Millen, Baird and Locke were quick to point out that they were not advocating the replacement of Stanback, but merely raising the question for discussion. They emphasized that no other position on the field can so dramatically alter the personality of a team than at quarterback. They also made sure to point to the fact that Stanback has made dramatic strides this year, and against USC was an impressive 14-of-18 for 201 yards and a touchdown.

The reality is that 98% of Husky Nation doesn't care if a three-headed alien from Neptune is quarterbacking the Huskies—as long as that alien goes to class, is a good citizen, and can win games. If those wins come against Oregon, even better.

Isaiah Stanback is one of the nicest guys on the team, and someone that you want to see succeed. His pure athleticism is far superior than other signal-callers the Huskies have had. His off-season dedication has brought such astonishing improvement in his skills that opponents such as California coach Jeff Tedford have been quick to give him accolades. And former Husky coach Don James commented last week that the team needs to stick with Stanback and let him develop.

With Stanback in the game, there is always a feeling that his athleticism might create a special play. But it often feels more like russian roulette and less like football. There is always that hovering dread for what irrevocable damage his next critical error will inflict on the game's outcome. Will he run out of bounds when the Huskies need to keep the clock running? Will he elect to force a pass into double-coverage when he has acres of green in front of him to run free? When in the huddle and his teammates are need of either encouragement or a scolding, can his demeanor deliver the required message? Does he possess the fire and determination to put the team on his back and come through in clutch situations?

There is no guarantee that DuRocher is the answer. But with the Huskies now eliminated from bowl game consideration, Stanback and DuRocher need to share time. The final four games constitute the easiest part of the 2005 schedule. Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham needs to make sure he doesn't repeat the same mistakes made by his predecessor Keith Gilbertson in 2004. Gilbertson stuck with the ineffective play of Casey Paus at the expense of both Stanback and Carl Bonnell, who never got a chance to develop. For the most part, Stanback and Bonnell stood on the sidelines and rotted while Washington floundered to a 1-10 season.

This year, Willingham needs to make sure he has a good sense of what both Stanback and DuRocher can do when the chips are down as Washington (already) looks forward to 2006.

Derek Johnson can be reached at midnightjazz@msn.com


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