Steve Rudman and Art Thiel of SPNW discuss, debate and mull over Washington’s 40-32 victory over the University of Hawaii on Saturday at Husky Stadium.
STEVE: Any word yet on whether Desmond Trufant has been invited to New York to attend the Heisman Trophy presentation ceremony?
ART: Returning a blocked PAT kick for a touchdown (one week after he was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week for a game-saving interception against Eastern Washington) has to rank as one of the great freak plays in Washington football history. If he doesn’t get the Heisman, he’ll rate a statue at the renovated stadium.
STEVE: So freaky that the UW doesn’t even track the last time it happened, so that will, alas, require another archive dive. But I also thought his fourth-quarter interception was an equally big play.
ART: The pick was desperately needed because the defense was getting shredded between the 20s by Hawaii QB Bryant Moniz. I was prepared to be skeptical, but he’s a wonderful college QB. His 333 yards passing means UW’s defense has given up 806 yards in the air in the first two games. Washington’s opponent Saturday, Nebraska doesn’t throw like that. But how can they resist?
STEVE: That’s the most yards given up by the Huskies in any two consecutive games in UW history. Old record: 791 in 2002 when Arizona and USC bombarded the Huskies in consecutive weeks (Oct. 12, Oct. 19).
ART: Linebacker Cort Dennison said, “We knew we weren’t going to stop that offense. We just had to keep them from making big plays.” The biggest denial was early in the second quarter when UW stopped Hawaii on fourth down at the Huskies’ 9-yard line. Worst decision the Warriors made. If they kicked the field goal, the game changes. Then again, if they can’t kick PATs, maybe a a 26-yard field goal is beyond them.
STEVE: One more stat before I ask for your general impression: The Huskies saw 120 passes in their first two games. Never before have they even seen 100 in two straight games. Only four times have they seen between 90-96. They saw a combined 96 from Oregon and Stanford in 1972, when Sonny Sixkiller was a senior.
ART: Those are the kinds of records destined to be broken regularly because the game has changed so much to favor short passing. The spread attack, which Oregon uses so well, is everywhere now, particularly among schools that don’t typically get big backs/big linemen, like Eastern Washington and Hawaii. You can’t coach size, but you can coach deception. Next week’s opponent, Nebraska, is, of course, the total opposite.
STEVE: Okay, enough of the numbers. The biggest difference between this week and last week: Washington played with a lot more emotion and enthusiasm against Hawaii, perhaps as a result of a week’s worth of chewing out of the players by UW coaches.
ART: Dennison, again: “That was one of the toughest weeks of practice I’ve had in my five years here.” Coach Steve Sarkisian was embarrassed to the point of shame by the 30-27 win over Eastern. The coaches laid wood to the players all week in practice, and they responded. Sarkisian said, “I was too cautious last week,” owing in part to QB Keith Price’s knee strain. Price admitted afterward that the knee bothered him, but the man threw for 315 yards, and completed his first eight passes in putting up the Huskies 21-0. Amazing game start, especially for a gimp.
STEVE: The guy’s got seven TD passes in two weeks. I confess I didn’t know what to expect out of this guy, but he looks right now to me to be a more natural passer than Jake Locker.
ART: The breath-taker to me was the first-quarter bomb to WR Devin Aguilar that went 59 yards to set up the third TD. It was more than 65 yards in the air. If it had been 66, Aguilar scores untouched. I had no idea Price had the gun to make that pass.
STEVE: Given the threat he is to run, I can see that if Price remains healthy, Nick Montana may leave the UW in three years as an unfounded rumor.
ART: Price’s four TD passes were one short of the UW single game record held by Locker (2010, Oregon) and Chris Rowland (1973, Cal).
STEVE: That was Rowland’s first college game, and he didn’t even start. UW lost 54-49, but Rowland got the start the next week against Oregon State. He threw no TDs and three INTs in a blowout loss. But back to Price. He actually threw a “fifth” touchdown pass. Unfortunately for him, it went 99 yards the other way, the longest INT return for a TD ever against the Huskies. Fortunately for the Huskies, it didn’t seem to faze him.
ART: Afterward, Price said, “I saw (WR Kevin Smith) perfectly. It was a mis-communication between two young guys . . . coach tried to take the blame for it on the sidelines, but it was on me.” For Huskies fans, the best part was that Price came back on the next possession to lead a 59-yard drive, hitting Aguilar for a 31-yard TD. That’s Locker-style chops — with better accuracy. He was 13-for-17 in the first half.
STEVE: Before talking about the UW defense, a question about Chris Polk. He had his 13th career 100-yard rushing game Saturday (107), No. 3 on the UW’s all-time list behind Napoleon Kaufman (17) and Greg Lewis (15). Where do you rank him among the best UW running backs (forgetting oldies like Hugh McElhenny) and assuming Corey Dillon, at least for one year at Washington (1996) and his subsequent NFL career, is the best?
ART: 1, Dillon, because he was bigger and stronger; 2, Kaufman, because he was quicker and faster; 3, Polk, but he’s close, and easily the best runner after first contact I’ve seen in a Washington uniform. And speaking of uniforms, what did you think of the first-ever white helmets with the red, white and blue “W” decal?
STEVE: Maybe because of the novelty, I actually couldn’t keep my eye off the helmet decal. Nor could I decide whether I liked it. It didn’t offend me; it didn’t excite me. I guess ultimately it’s just another thing to sell in the team gift shop, the reason for “alternate” equipment and apparel in the first place.
ART: All the players seemed jacked up about it, because it was different, and when you’re a teenager, anything different is cool. To me, it didn’t look like the Huskies without the gold helmet, because so many teams already feature white helmets. Hey, I even liked Jim Lambright’s all-purple helmets, even if a gang tackle ended up looking like a still-life painting of grapes.
STEVE: In recent years, it’s a good thing not to look like the Huskies.
ART: Here’s one way that this group might be distinguishable from predecessors. This is from WR James Johnson: “All I can say is No. 17 (Price) is awesome. We have so many receivers (Jermaine Kearse, injured last week, scored his first two TDs of the season) that you never know what you’re going to get from us. It’s a blessing to have a quarterback like that.” He’s right, and it sounds like Johnson is all right about Jake moving on.
STEVE: So the Huskies are 2-0 and I would say they’re headed in the right direction, except that their next direction is Lincoln, NB.
ART: Here’s the scary defensive stat that will haunt Huskies’ fans this week: Hawaii converted 11 of 14 third downs, making UW opponents 21 for 30 (70 percent this season). The Cornhuskers offense probably has a small plane at Boeing Field ready to take the Huskies to Lincoln.
STEVE: Opponents are 21-for-30 on third down? It won’t be a small plane, it will be the Dreamliner.