Say what you will about the 2006 Washington Huskies, but they are not quitters. They have had trouble playing four quarters of football for the last few years, but it looks like those days are finally gone. UCLA's Head Coach Karl Dorrell paid a compliment to the Dawgs after his team was snuffed out like an old cigar yesterday, 29-19.
"They did a nice job of finishing the game in the second half. My hat is off to them, they are a hard playing team and played all the way for sixty minutes, and we had an opportunity to win it and we didn't."
Earlier this week, coach Tyrone Willingham said he didn't think any of past history of these two teams would matter Saturday. The way UCLA came out to begin the game made it look like they had something to prove. They basically marched down field, but got straightened up up by the defense, and settled for a field goal.
We didn't know it at the time, but this was the way it would go for Kent Baer's group all day. Put into a corner early, the defense did a huge job stopping the Bruins short of the end zone several times, and they had to settle for three points. The UCLA offense didn't put together one drive of more than 6 yards that resulted in a touchdown.
Special teams immediately failed the Huskies after they went three and out on their first possession. The punt attempt was blown when Sean Douglas couldn't control the snap, and after a futile scramble, was downed for a 16 yard loss. This put UCLA back in great field position at the six yard line, on their second possession. Junior Chris Markey scored on two carries, and its 10-0.
Another three and out, it's downright embarrassing as UCLA stuffs the run, lay in wait for the short pass to Anthony Russo, and Douglas has to punt. Again, good punting - this time it's 48 yards and a one yard return. UCLA can't sustain their drive, settle again for three points.
The large purple crowd of some 60,000 began to get restless and loud, and following another three and out, a few boos could be heard. Isaiah Stanback says he never hears that. Douglas again comes on, and has another monster kick, for 61 yards and no return. Although the Bruins converted another field goal, it's not what they envisioned for themselves.
Markey, the latest Bruin superstar in training, rushed 19 times for 124 yards and the only UCLA touchdown. He busted out for 63 yards on what turned out to be the longest run of the afternoon. In the interview room, he seemed at a loss for words.
"I can't say exactly what it is we're doing wrong, other than the fact we're not executing. When we get into the red zone, we have to be able to convert for a score. The defense got a couple of turnovers for us, and we weren't able to convert for some points."
No, they couldn't.
With the score 16-0, and 5:41 to go, UCLA forced a Stanback fumble but Roy Lewis nailed Ben Olson for a big loss on first down, Marcus Everett dropped a wide open pass, and Forrester nearly intercepted the next pass, so UCLA had to punt.
Then everything changed for the Washington offense.
"I just had to I had to relax." said Stanback. I was relaxed, but - I had to re-focus, I guess you could say. I was almost too comfortable, I wasn't throwing the ball accurately. I just needed a couple of completions to get my mind straight, and, Warren Moon said something to help me also."
Isaiah Stanback had been sitting on the bench alone, and Warren Moon joined him, leaned over and whispered into his ear.
"He asked me if I was mad or if I was okay - I told him I was fine, but he knew I wasn't. He been in this position, you know, and he was telling me to complete the easy ones. You complete the easy ones, and you get back into rhythm. Then you can start completing the rest of them."
Isaiah then started to pick apart the Bruin secondary, with 3 step drops, and guided the Huskies into the end zone. Sonny Shackleford made big catches, and seems to be the guy that wants the ball and make the big play. As the second half began, Stanback again came out and spread the ball around on a touchdown drive, and all of a sudden, Washington was in control.
"Coach Lappano started changing it up on them. He does a really good job mixing up our plays, mixing up our looks. He's a great offensive coordinator, and he did his job today."
Defensive end Bruce Davis put a lot of pressure on Stanback Saturday, and was impressed with the UW senior.
"Stanback just took over the game. His team was down and he is obviously the leader of this team. he stepped up and made some good plays. He is an amazing football player and I have a lot of respect for him, his team and coach Willingham."
Time and again, it seemed the Huskies would shoot themselves in the foot, but unlike Husky teams of the recent past, these Dawgs made a positive statement.
Following yet another fabulous 64 yard punt in the third quarter, UCLA freshman Terrence Austin got some blocks and slicing up the middle, he broke outside and appeared headed for a sure score. Instead, in what coach Willingham called the "highlight of the play," Greyson Gunheim, a big kid listed at 265 pounds - saved the touchdown by "flat out running him down. That's impressive."
Austin gained 79 yards on the play but the Husky defense came out fired up and answered the challenge. Starting inside the 10 yard line, UCLA had to settle for the three points and a 19-14 lead.
"We're a bend, but don't break defense" said cornerback Roy Lewis. They may have gotten us in the red zone, but we bared down when the time came, and only gave up three points in the second half"
UCLA came back again at the Huskies, but Stanback was intercepted. They didn't get down. They stayed intense and didn't let up. Bruins had to punt again. The Huskies came back again,
"I'm pleased with how they've played." said Baer, of his secondary. "The longest pass today was 16 yards and that's awesome."
Stanback by now was zoned in. He was making reads at the line of scrimmage, and came up big on a drive ending with a TD pass to Johnie Kirton with 7:22 to go - and Washington had it's first lead of the game, and completed the comeback. Stanback then hit Kirton again on a two-point conversion to give Washington a three point lead, 22-19.
"Honestly," confessed the big tight end, "I didn't play very well today, but my number was called, and I came through. I'm just glad he threw it to me."
Scott White led the team in tackles, and Lewis, C.J. Wallace, Tahj Bomar, Greyson Gunheim made play after play. The much maligned secondary did a solid job, especially in the fourth quarter.
"We were psyched." said Lewis. "We knew we had to capitalize on some opportunities. We did what we needed to do."
The most emotional play might have been Dan Howell's interception return off Olson on the next series by UCLA - and that was really the game. Waxing poetic in the interview room, Willingham suggested divine intervention just might have been at work on the play.
Ben Olson, couldn't resond under pressure on his next two series. He couldn't find his receivers, and Markey could break any more big runs, and the Huskies let the clock run out.
"They haven't played this team yet," Stanback said before the game.
"Bend, don't break," said Lewis.
"I think we can go to the Rose Bowl, I honestly think we can win out," laughed Johnie Kirton, " I don't think we can be beat, but we got a lot of work to do, and we're ready to do it."