When Washington's 14-game Pac-10 losing streak finally ended, you could hear the collective sigh of relief all the way in Seattle. The UW celebrated "an awesome high" according to Roy Lewis, whose late TD pick "put the nail in the coffin" as time was running out for Arizona (3-7, 2-5). The Wildcats had won two games in a row with freshman Willie Tuitama at the helm, the last a shocking 52-14 victory over a number 7-ranked UCLA team last week. But the 18-year-old showed his inexperience today, throwing three interceptions and fumbled the ball to the UW twice in his third collegiate start as the Huskies defeated Arizona 38-14 Saturday in Tucson..
All week, the doom and gloom from Saturdays effort against OSU seemed to dog the Dawgs like a personalized storm cloud. People have been questioning the ability of their starting quarterback to run the team, and then the offensive line allowed Isaiah Stanback's replacement to suffer a season ending injury at the hands of the Beavers. Did they take it personally? "Definitely," said Stanley Daniels after the Huskies finally "finished" an up-and-coming Arizona team. Ty Willingham's comments after the game that his guys play with "a great deal of pride, and the ability to bounce back" was in evidence today.
Apparently, the coaches made a point of preaching "FINISH the GAME" all week in practice, and it seems the guys took it to heart. The Dawgs 333 total yards rushing on the day was the best since the 2000 Apple Cup and a sight to behold. Their success backed up Willingham's claim earlier in the week that to win this week, "we have to run the football." Run the football, and take advantage of the opportunities that come your way, be they interceptions, fumbles, or penalties.
James Sims, aka, "the Human Ping-Pong Ball" had another brilliant effort as a starting tailback, going 200 yards in 30 carries.In addition, Sims became the first Huskies' player to gain 200 yards rushing since Marques Tuiasosopo gained 207 against Stanford in 1999. He had great success breaking tackles and driving defenders backward, and left me wondering why he's not the starting tailback from day one. Again, it was Daniels who spoke out, saying "I call him a human ping pong because he keeps on moving, but he ping - pongs' around, he just keeps going, he's a strong guy, fastest guy on our team-he's told us all year to 'get me the hole,' and i'll do what i have to do" (to get it done).
Speaking of doing what you have to do, the defense answered the call all day long, and despite giving up 30 yards in defensive penalties in the first quarter, offensive and defensive penalties combined 6 for 60 yards in the first quarter, seven penalties at the half.
The Arizona running game was shut down very effectively, the Dawgs gave up less than 100 yards on the day, and the secondary responded with one of it's better efforts, featuring 3 interceptions. Willingham's message to his team at half time? Quit making mistakes, and use the momentum of Isaiah Stanback's 69 yard TD pass to Craig Chambers with 0:00 on the clock, and take it to the 'Cats.
With key player Joe Lobendahn out for the year, Evan Benjamin's really elevated his game and his inspired effort included 10 tackles, 1 interception, 1 sack. Josh Okoebor was back in the lineup after injuries forced him to miss a handful of games, and he responded by intercepting an early third quarter pass - but fumbled on the return. The football Gods were smiling as Arizona recovered, because it was awarded to the Huskies at the Wildcats 33 yard line. Three plays later from the shotgun, Stanback scored, going 28 yards on the quarterback draw you knew was coming. Talk about reversal of fortune, the TD put Washington ahead 21-14 with 12:45 left in the third, and Sims scored again soon after.
Stanback was effective today because he was more of a threat to run the ball. He only went 10 of 19 for 158 yards with an interception, but he ran for 95 yards, and scored twice. The play that everyone will remember - and probably talk about for a long time, is the TD that ended the first half. Discussion on the radio was saying the pass could have been for 72 yards - IN THE AIR - which would be truly amazing, and Chambers got good position to make the catch at the two, and walk in to the end zone.
"It was a great catch, and then the momentum of the catch took us into the locker room and really carried us and really brought us back out into the third quarter - once you could get another score on the board in the third quarter, then you start to say it's possible" said Willingham, who went on to spread the praise around.
"We were very fortunate, our coaches did a great job on both sides of the ball did I thought just a wonderful job, they kept our guy's heads up, our attitudes up, kept them working - and tonight we were able to see the fruits of their work".
Next week is the Apple Cup, and that kind of focuses the microscope even more as we will close out the 05 season.