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September 17, 2006University of Washington head coach Tyrone Willingham was facing the media after the game Saturday, and his mood was upbeat. In fact, it was downright jovial. And why not? His Huskies had just won their second game of the young season 21-20, equaling their entire win total from last year, and he wanted everyone to know exactly how he felt.
"I know the first question is going to be how does it feel, and it feels good. It was exciting to get the win, and now we'll look forward to next week."
In 2004, it was Junior Casey Paus who started against Fresno State, but then coach Keith Gilbertson, still undecided about his quarterback situation made sure sophomore Isaiah Stanback was one of his three quarterbacks to see action. Isaiah didn't have a great game and Fresno returned two UW interceptions for touchdowns. Brian Morris took a Stanback fumble in for another score and Fresno State celebrated 35-16 win in Seattle.
Stanley Daniels said "I remember every moment of that game, I played in that game. I'm upset the way we lost that game. They are a very physical team."
"Smash mouth, bloody nose football," said another Husky.
"I would characterize this as physical." added coach Willingham describing the game earlier in the week.
Coach Pat Hill's comments early in the week that they'll play anyone, anytime set the tone for what was a brutal, physical football match up. That is the way coach Hill's teams like it or they play somewhere else.
"It's going to get physical next week," said coach Hill after the game.
"That bye week isn't going to be a fun week. We're going to find some new players if we have to. I challenged that team in the locker room. We are going to get to work, and we are going to get this thing turned around."
Going into Saturday, the general consensus was that this game was going to be a high scoring affair, where the game would be won by the team that won the battle of the line of scrimmage.
That turned out to be half true.
A high scoring game it was not, but with the game on the line, the battle was won, as the point after touchdown was blocked with over four minutes to play. A bad snap gave Caesar Rayford time to knock away Fresno's last attempt to tie the game.
"I just visualized myself blocking it, and it happened. It's a great feeling," explained Rayford.
"I looked at the scoreboard, they didn't have 21, so that was big. Hey, he won the game for us. That's what you can do when you're 6'8", joked Isaiah Stanback. When asked if he was relieved that he didn't have to win the game all by himself, Stanback gave his team mates credit.
"It's not all on me. There's a bunch of other guys who can make plays."
Fresno State's plan was to try stab at the weak underbelly that is the Husky pass defense. Stuff the run game, and make Stanback throw the ball.
"We knew we had to contain number four. All their rushing yards came out of number four. They couldn't run the ball with their tailbacks," said coach Hill.
The Huskies needed to control the ball on the ground, control the line of scrimmage, and control the the passing lanes on defense. Coach Willingham knew that this week they faced "a very different challenge" from what they faced last week against Oklahoma.
"They like to run the ball north and south as opposed to east and west" he said.
After Fresno's first series, it didn't look good for the Dawgs.
On Fresno's opening drive, they passed the ball just once on their way to pay dirt. Instead, they ran the ball seven times, with six of those carries going 43 yards for the TD to Dwayne Wright. Wright was key in Fresno's win in 2004, rushing for 109 yards, and has done nothing but improve his game since then.
Fresno State went 75 yards to the end zone in 8 plays.
Asked what adjustments were made after the opening drive, and at the beginning of the second half, the mantra of the coaching staff was "tackling."
"We started out not tackling," said defensive coordinator Kent Baer.
"To me, we didn't tackle very well that first drive, we didn't tackle very well to start the second half. We've got to figure out how to come out and get going. That back is a heck of a back. We knew he was going to pour it down hill at us. We had to step up and make some physical tackles, and he ran over us a couple of times. To me that was basically it. We just weren't as physical as I thought we should have been to start the game, and to begin the second half."
The Dawgs came back to score on 13 plays, spreading the ball around, and on what looked like a busted play, Stanback scrambled, froze the pursuit and hit Johnie Kirton in the back of the end zone.
For the Huskies to succeed in the Pac-10 this year, Stanback needs to continue with his mix of legs and arm. Fresno thought they could control the Dawgs by forcing Stanback to beat them, and he did. Stanback ran for 91 yards but the Huskies did very little in the aspects of the running game. Washington had just 128 yards on 35 carries and just 26 of those on 17 carries by both Louis Rankin and Kenny James
With the run game not working, more adjustments had to be made.
Coach Tim Lappano addressed that after the game.
"I just didn't want stay stubborn with the run. We tried getting the ball inside, we tried getting the ball outside, we tried getting the ball on the edge and we weren't doing it. So, we spread them out a little bit. We got five wide this week. Isaiah made accurate throws. If we don't drop three or four of them, we keep drives going and we score more points."
One of the new targets Isaiah has started going to is Marcel Reece, the transfer student from El Camino Community College in Torrance, California. The big man had three catches for a team-high 62 yards to lead the team. Reece said later that he's "getting back to himself" and feeling comfortable with the offense, and the coaching staff. He described how he loves the opportunity to challenge himself and the coaching staff to use him more and more.
"I'm just waiting to have my coming out party," he said.
He's looking ahead to UCLA, and when told that coach Willingham expects big things from him, Reese laughed.
"That's definitely a challenge. I love the challenge. I plan on stepping up to the challenge. Make him see (the break out game) it, make him see it real soon, maybe against UCLA. I just need to keep working."
One of the new defensive players J.D. Williams is very excited about, Mesphin Forrester, had the interception and runback to the two yard line, sealing the deal on a hard fought effort with a very satisfactory result.
C.J. Wallace described the attitude in the locker room.
"All I know is we had to turn it up. Coach tell us all the time we got to start fast and finish faster, and that's basically what we did. We had to come out and make plays and I think we played a better second half than first half - and if you play better second halves, you have a good chance of winning the ball game. "
The Dawgs are 2-1!