Oct. 6, 2006
SEATTLE (AP) - Off to a surprising 4-1 start this season, the Washington Huskies are thinking big this week. Their goal is to beat Pac-10 kingpin USC in Los Angeles.
"You've got to keep a certain mindset about going down there to win," UW coach Tyrone Willingham said Thursday.
Despite Washington's fast start, with consecutive victories over Fresno State and UCLA in Seattle and at Arizona last week, the Huskies were listed as 19-point underdogs against the third-ranked Trojans for Saturday's game.
Last October in Seattle, the high-powered Trojans rolled over the Huskies 51-24 behind the passing of Matt Leinart and the running of LenDale White and 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush.
But the Huskies are feeling euphoric after winning more games in their first five starts in Willingham's second season at Washington than the three victories they managed in 2004 and 2005 combined.
They're knocking on the door of a ranking in the Top 25. Even in their lone loss at Oklahoma, they were tied at halftime.
"I honestly think we've gotten a lot of attention," Willingham told reporters at his final Seattle news conference before the Huskies fly to Los Angeles. "It's good. Hopefully, we're making progress and moving forward."
The confidence of the Huskies coaching staff has rubbed off on Washington's players. The Huskies haven't beaten the Trojans since 2001, when they won 27-24 at Husky Stadium in Rick Neuheisel's next-to-last season at Washington, but this year's players think they have the talent to be winners.
"We still haven't put together a satisfying game, to us," said junior defensive end Greyson Gunheim, who said the Huskies would like to go from 1-7 in the Pac-10 to 8-0 in the conference this season. "We're trying to chase perfection."
Then Gunheim noted that Leinart and Bush are playing in the NFL this season.
"I don't think (the Trojans) have as much talent as they did before," he said.
"I feel like we've got this thing rolling," said Shackelford, from Beverly Hills High School in the Los Angeles area. "We know we can win. We know we can play with anybody, rather than just saying it."
Washington football is catching back on in Seattle, too. In the Huskies' opener on Sept. 2, only 52,256 fans turned out, Washington's smallest home crowd since 50,410 saw Arizona State on Oct. 3, 1981.
Last Saturday night, almost 7,000 people nearly filled Hec Edmundson Pavilion on the Washington campus to watch a closed-circuit TV broadcast of the Arizona game.
The Huskies players have noticed.
"They're really behind us right now," Gunheim said. "It feels great to be here right now."
It won't be easy for the Huskies in the Los Angeles Coliseum. Washington ranks last in pass defense in the Pac-10 going into the game, giving up 235.6 yards through the air, against a USC offense that features new starting quarterback John David Booty, who is averaging 241.5 yards passing.
But the Huskies will be helped if All-America wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett is out again with a shoulder injury. Jarrett was listed as questionable on Thursday.
Willingham enjoyed a 4-3 coaching record against USC when he was the coach at Stanford (1995-2001), but he went 0-3 when he coached Notre Dame (2002-2004) and is 0-1 at Washington. He's confident, but he's also realistic.
As he wrapped up his news conference Thursday, a Seattle newspaper columnist wished him good luck in Los Angeles.
"We need it," he said as he hurried out of the room to get to the Huskies' practice.<
Notes: Willingham said he expects to have starting tight end Robert Lewis available for the USC game. Lewis, a junior, broke a bone in his foot in the San Jose State opener and hasn't played since.