Players echo similar themes

As Washington center Brad Vanneman made his way to the locker room after losing to Arizona State 44-20 Saturday, he did so with a bit of a hitch in his stride. About half way there, he let out a common one-word expletive. While the Washington players had plenty to say about the defeat, it was pretty clear their private feelings could have been nicely summed up by Vanneman in four letters, none of them suitable for printing here.

"Very somber," UW linebacker Scott White said when asked about the mood of the team after letting a win elude their grasp. The game was very much in doubt until the Sun Devils scored with a little over five minutes left in the game to put themselves up 31-20. "We are disappointed, of course. We had a chance to put away a quality opponent and we didn't. We continued to make the mistakes we have all year and that is the most frustrating thing."

"The frustration is there," added senior running back James Sims, who rushed for a career-high 140 yards on 24 carries. "We just have to come back and keep battling hard."

It appeared from the onset that the Huskies had prepared well offensively. They went up top and UW quarterback Isaiah Stanback connected with Anthony Russo for a 61-yard pass play, the longest of Russo's career. In a bit of deja vu, he hooked up with Stanback on the first play of the second-half for his only other catch of the day.

"It's a play we've been practicing all week and we knew it was going to be open," Russo said of the Huskies' early fireworks. "I just did what I had to do."

With regular starter Louis Rankin out and Kenny James hampered with shoulder issues, it appeared on paper that the Huskies were going to have a difficult time running the ball, despite the fact that the Sun Devils were giving up nearly 180 yards on the ground per game, 8th-worst in the conference.

James Sims changed all that.

"Going into this game, we felt like we could exploit some of their tendencies," Sims said, and the senior from Las Vegas put his head down and ran for nearly a hundred yards in the first two quarters. "It felt good," he added. "It was exciting to be out there. I tried to take advantage of the opportunities out there and the offensive line did a great job."

"We wanted to get a running game going, that was the plan," added Stanback. "Our offensive line did a great job and our backs did a good job of finding the holes. We wanted to run the ball on them."

The Sun Devils - the most potent passing attack in the Pac-10 - did what they do best right from the get-go. And even though normal starter Sam Keller was out with a thumb injury, backup Rudy Carpenter stepped in without missing a beat. He threw to four different receivers in the first 30 minutes, going 15-20 for 240 yards and 2 touchdowns. Carpenter would end up setting an ASU record for completion percentage in the game.

"Carpenter played well for his first collegiate start and made some big plays for them," said White.

During halftime, it was clear Washington had to do something to stop Carpenter, who was camping out in the pocket and playing pitch-and-catch with his receivers. Defensive Coordinator Kent Baer went to a more attacking blitz package, and it included using some personnel that normally wouldn't play with their hand down - linebackers Joe Lobendahn and Chris Stevens.

"The coaches wanted to change some things around," Lobendahn said of the package. In all, he roughly played ten snaps at a rush end position and came up with two sacks. "They wanted to see some more pass rush. I did the job, but I didn't do enough."

"We were just trying to put some pressure on the quarterback," added Stevens, who had a sack on his own and also forced a fumble. "We were just trying to spread it out and hit them from everywhere."

Defensive end Greyson Gunheim was the main recipient of the added pressure provided by Lobendahn and Stevens. The sophomore from Sebastopol, California finished with 2.5 sacks, two of them coming in the third quarter. "We did a couple of stunts inside to create some space to get through the hole and get to the quarterback faster," he said of the changes that allowed the Huskies to rattle Carpenter.

Despite being down four late in the third quarter, the Huskies were playing the Sun Devils tough and had just forced ASU to punt the ball. They proceeded to make a couple of first downs, and then came the play that started Washington's downhill slide.

A fumble.

Sims coughed the ball up near midfield, and it was recovered by the Sun Devils' Dale Robinson. Sims had to go into the locker room after that play to have his arm x-rayed, but they came back negative and he eventually returned to the game.

"I got scared," he said when asked about the play. "I thought maybe I had fractured it. My whole arm went numb when it got it. It's still sore, but it's going to be OK."

It was a tough break to a team that needed every bit of luck on their side. From the press box, it was easy to sit back and say, 'here we go again'. The team apparently knew it too.

"We tried to keep away from the thoughts of 'here we go again'," said Sims. "This one was more exciting because we knew we could do it and stay into it. We did it for the most part, but the bad stuff just kept compiling."

And unlike the loss at UCLA, Arizona State was actually playing well, so a win on the road against a team playing well would have given the Huskies a huge shot of momentum going into the rest of the season. But when the offense needed to pick it up, move the chains, and keep ASU's potent attack off the field, they wilted. And as the quarterback, Stanback felt the most pressure to make plays.

"I don't know what happened, I don't know what I was doing," he said of his play in the final stanza. "I wanted to make a play so bad. Everybody's looking to me to lead the team, and go down there and score, and I'm messing up."

The last part is arguably an unfair assessment, but it is clear that the offense as a whole didn't make plays at key times. Case in point: a third-and-one from the Washington 43 with roughly 11 minutes left in the game. Sims was out of the ballgame getting x-rayed, so James took over at running back.

Instead of making one move and then cutting upfield for the first down, James continued to move sideways toward the sideline, hoping to turn the corner on ASU's defense. He never got there.

"We thought he might be able to get it," said Stanback of the play. "As a runner, you see different things, so you never know."

With fourth-and-one now staring UW in the face, Huskies head coach Tyrone Willingham decided to play position. An attempt to bury ASU deep in their territory backfired, and the subsequent Sun Devil drive put the game out of reach for good.

"I wanted to go for it," Russo said of the fourth-down call. "He (Willingham) has confidence, but I think it was the best move to play it safe."

So where does this loss leave the Huskies? Instead of scratching their heads, they are probably banging them against the wall, trying to figure out why the same mistakes keep popping up.

Stanback comes up with a quick - and logical - remedy. "Stop turning the ball over," he said. "We stop that, we'll be fine."

"We are not finishing and doing the things we need to do to win," added White. "It is just disappointing, and the way we are losing just makes it more so. We made some plays and we're stopping them in the second half, but we just didn't finish."

Eliminating mistakes and finishing games - common themes brought around through common results. Top Stories