Roughin' it: For the Seattle folk who are addicted to their morning mochas, it was a difficult morning town. Not a Starbucks or even any sort of coffee shop anywhere to be found in the desert. Either we've been spoiled or they just don't make Folgers as good as they used to. But give credit to the caffeine-starved El Paso residents – they certainly helped fill the stadium on this lovely sunny afternoon. There were 48,917 in attendance, the eight-largest Sun Bowl crowd.
Tailback heaven: The buzz up in the press box today was, what tailback WOULDN'T want to go to Washington? From former coach to beat writer alike, the lack of a rushing threat for the guys in the gold helmets was the hot topic. Washington once again showed zero running attack, making folks wonder if recruits like Reggie Bush and Louis Rankin were paying attention. Rich Alexis' high ankle sprain limited his action and Braxton Cleman was just not fast enough to get anything if it was there. Chris Singleton remains an enigma as he doesn't get any carries. Kenny James and Shelton Sampson are both redshirting so no one really knows what they will bring to the table. It's a very uneasy situation in that regard. Incoming recruits Durrell Moss and Anthony Russo have to like it, though.
Names to watch for: On this trip, it was fun to see the guys that have had solid years on the scout team. The players to watch for in 2003 are defensive tackle Dan Milsten, offensive guard Clayton Walker, tailback Shelton Sampson, nose tackle Stanley Daniels, defensive end Brandon Ala, and cornerback Matt Fountaine. All of these guys drew rave reviews for the way they have looked. Ala looks like the next pass rush terror that Washington needs, and Milsten can be dominating at times. Don't be surprised to see Ty Eriks get more reps at fullback in the fall. Also Andy Heater may move from TE to fullback, but he also plays some in the slot as well.
Recruiting buzz: There was a lot of talk about how Washington has 22 verbal commits already. Is that too many? Is the class too unbalanced? Former Husky coach Dick Baird likes what they've done, considering that Rick hasn't been able to visit the players in home. The Huskies decided to bring all their big visits in December, after the season, and then hammered them for commits while they were visiting Neuheisel on their visits. It's paid off in some early commits. The recruits that are getting the most buzz based on scuttlebutt and film are TE Jon Lyon and safety C.J. Wallace. Those two are reportedly huge gets for the Huskies, according to Baird, and will be impact players. Lyon could get immediate reps in the spring, as we've heard that Joe Toledo may need shoulder surgery to correct a lingering problem. Wallace is a legacy recruit, as his uncle Ken Conley played at Washington. Cecil, Wallace's father, told us yesterday that he's thrilled that his son will be following his brother to play for the UW. Washington has a need at safety and Wallace was reportedly one of the top safeties on the Husky wish list.
Lop-sided first quarter: Washington has been famous for not starting off the game with that spark. The thin air helped provide that spark. The Huskies absolutely dominated the first quarter, jumping out to a 17-0 lead. Purdue was held to -8 yards on offense, had no first downs, and coughed up two turnovers, both leading to Husky touchdowns. Washington did not punt and had no penalties, but Purdue had four flags for 45 yards, including a respect pass interference call on Antwaun Rogers who was defending Reggie Williams. The respect came when the referees first marked off the penalty 20 yards downfield. I wonder how many boilermakers that linesman had imbibed?
Lop-sided second quarter: Could Washington's points have come a little too easily in the first quarter considering their longest scoring drive was just 40 yards? Purdue owned the second quarter, scoring 14 points on drives of 91 and 66 yards. They had 13 first downs to Washington's two. They outgained the Huskies in total yards 210-49 for the quarter. Cody Pickett completed only three passes, equaling the number of Derek McLaughlin punts. Then came the debacle that was the third quarter….enough.
A little Purdue nastiness: Could Purdue have had a little Rose Bowl revenge on their minds? They had three personal foul penalties just three minutes into the second quarter. The third penalty cost them dearly as they had driven down to the one-yard line, and Purdue's Brandon Jones shoved Chris Massey in the face, and moved the ball back. They ended up missing the FG on their best scoring opportunity up until that point. It wound up being inconsequential, but was huge at the time.
Nevermind, Washington came with a little nastiness themselves. Rumor has it that they were already practicing their punches on the team bus earlier in the morning, which explains the broken window on the team bus. They personal-fouled themselves into a big hole, helping Purdue score their first points of the game in the second quarter. Kai "don't call me Jimmy" Ellis seemed to be the main participant in the action, giving a right cross to one Boilermaker, then causing a fracas under the pile on the next play. Coach Neu had seen enough as he called a team meeting at the 25-yard line to calm the boys.
Third Quarter Doom: Trying to stop the Boilermaker momentum of the second quarter, the Huskies allowed Purdue their longest kick-off return of the season of 51 yards and were called for a 15-yard facemask penalty. Purdue quickly evened the score at 17 at 12:10 left in the third quarter. On their ensuing drive, Washington gave up its first turnover when Niko Koutouvides picked off a Pickett pass that bounced off of Williams' hands at the Purdue 44. Purdue started another drive on their 47-yard line, and this time took it to the house to go up 24-17. The next series fared no better, as Gilbert Gardner made a Kai Ellis-type play, and took the ball from Pickett and strolled 19 yards for Purdue's 31st unanswered point. To sum it up, Washington had only three first downs, three yards rushing, and gained 47 total yards in the mess that was the third quarter. Game, set, and match.
Sun-faded uniforms? Could you even see the Purdue players on the TV screen? They must have left them out on the clothes-line a few too many hours in the desert sun. The head-to-toe pale gold uniforms with white numbers were not a hit in the press box. We could only see their numbers while squinting through binoculars and only if the sun hit them just right.
Overall, the Sun Bowl experience was a fun one. The Sun Bowl committee welcomed everyone who visited the team hotel that read, "El Paso Welcomes Washinhton." If you can get over the nightmare travel just to get here, the local barbecue joint can cure anything. The best barbecue find was actually just across the border in New Mexico, where Bill Fleenor bought the "How to Talk Country" CD.
Warm Mexican greeting: As we walked through the El Paso airport, we were greeted with a Mariachi band, hired to welcome the Husky band to town. The Washington musicians were due to arrive several hours earlier but were unable to get a pilot to fly their charter, so they didn't get in until 5:30, right about the time we were sauntering in on December 29th. That band rocked and so did the dancers.
Look at the bright side: As a group of Husky fans gathered at Jaxon's on Airway in El Paso to watch the Seattle Bowl, you would've sworn there was a Husky game. The rooting for Wake Forrest was loud, boisterous, and hilarious. The 8th place Pac-10 team didn't fare much better than the Huskies did.