Sept. 24, 2005
By Benton Strong
The glory days of Husky football were ripe with big plays by big players in big games. Trips to Miami and Ohio State, and home dates against revered football programs like Notre Dame and Nebraska are what propagated the buzz for Washington over the years. They traveled to Michigan and Colorado, while always inviting the best the Pac-10 had to offer. It was in those big games that stars were born and the foundation for great teams were built.
Quarterback Isaiah Stanback is quietly becoming a playmaker and a Husky team that survived hell has risen to a respectable force again. Yet, these Huskies are unable to get over the proverbial hump.
Coach Tyrone Willingham talked about the positive attitude on Saturday in a locker room that had just lost 36-17. Not too many teams can smile after that, but Willingham saw improvement. He saw his defense hold an offensive machine to 12 points in the first half, even after that offense was aided by two Washington turnovers. He watched his quarterback throw for 353 yards, a career best, including a 69-yard strike to start a drive.
Stanback completed 50-percent of his passes, 17 of 34, to 10 different receivers. That's serious improvement from his 7 for 28 performance against USC last season and is bound to raise eyebrows from opposing coaches.
Each of those 10 receivers had at least one catch for at least 13 yards, led by the resurgent Craig Chambers who hauled in five balls for 127 yards and a touchdown. For the second straight week he caught a ball with a defender in his face as he was falling backwards to the turf.
It was just a few mistakes that cost the Huskies this time. Willingham called it five plays that broke the game. Stanback was a little more blunt.
"We have to stop hurting ourselves," he said. "It's puts our defense in a bad situation."
But the fact that they were in a good situation is a statement in itself. A crowd of 71,473 got to see what was almost vintage Washington football.
Stanback was so close, but yet so far. Not quite the fourth quarter comeback kid, but certainly the leader of this football team. He is learning to be a playmaker and the team is learning to follow him.
"You have to get accustomed to making the play," Willingham said. "I think our offense is still improving, still growing, still getting better. The most important thing to us is winning, and I think that our young men would say the same thing, it's about winning."
It is likely that the Huskies are at their most difficult step. They were so close against one of the best teams in the country in the element that Husky football is used to. Fans want to see the team play the likes of Notre Dame, Michigan and Oklahoma in an environment like Saturday's surroundings.
They will come out in bunches to see Isaiah Stanback develop into a great player, but he will only do so against great competition. Husky fans like good football.
For a moment this was Husky football again. A moment in which Husky fans could see the hope, feel the electricity and soak up the sun. The 'Return of the Dawg.' But in the end, the Huskies came up short, still in search of that next 'someone' to make that big play in the big game.