Scott White (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)
The Rose Bowl was eerily silent after UCLA's come-from-behind 21-17 win over Washington Saturday night in the Rose Bowl. The Husky players and coaches still had the task of cleaning up, packing their things and getting on the bus for a difficult trip back home to Seattle. The game was well within their grasp until 14 Bruin fourth-quarter points, the final touchdown coming with just barely over a minute to go in the game. UW couldn't catch a break, and had trouble making their own luck.
"This one cuts deep," said junior linebacker Scott White minutes after Washington's final drive came up short and the #20 Bruins had escaped their home confines with a win. He described the mood in Washington's locker room as 'somber' and 'disappointed, but not discouraged'.
"We had the game right there, controlling the game the entire game," added White. "A couple of plays determined it. We were actually really fired up and ready for the challenge. I thought the coaches really prepared us well for what we were going to see."
Junior quarterback Isaiah Stanback wasn't nearly as effusive in expressing his disappointment, but the sentiment came through loud and clear. "It's tough, we should have had it," he said matter-of-factly. "We didn't put them away, that's what we have to do."
Despite some solid defensive play early in the fourth quarter, it was a UCLA eight-play, 73-yard drive in the final minutes that gave the Bruins their four-point cushion. The back-breaker was a 39-yard pass play from Drew Olson to Marcus Everett down a sideline, a play the Huskies had bottled up for a meager gain, but Everett was able to elude the grasp of a number of would-be tacklers before C.J. Wallace made a touchdown-saving play.
As it turned out, Wallace's play just delayed the inevitable.
"We didn't make a couple of plays, and that was the difference," said White. "And if we had been executing throughout the game, we're not in the situation. That's the disappointing thing about the game, we had so many chances to close it out."
"We missed some tackles," added Washington Defensive Coordinator Kent Baer. "That's disappointing. I think we're a better tackling football team than that."
The disappointment must have been ten-fold for Baer once he looked at the final statistics packet. The final stats were exactly as he would have hoped for - except for the one statistic that really counts...the final score.
"Our plan was to try and come in and see if we could be effective shutting down their run and we played that well," said Baer. "I was really excited about that. And I thought we did a great job with their passing game, but we were shuttling some guys in and out and we needed to make a play."
The Bruins' run game was non-existent. Maurice Drew, who blitzed through the Husky defense last year to the tune of 322 yards, had 33 yards all night on his home field. Drew Olson looked befuddled and bewildered for nearly all the first quarter - the only points he was able to muster came courtesy of an Anthony Russo punt muff that the Bruins recovered deep in UW territory.
Conversely, Washington's offensive effort was just as impressive early in the game. After the first quarter, the Huskies had a 12-3 minute lead in time possession, holding the potent Bruin attack to only eight plays the entire quarter. As the passing game was the key to Tim Lappano's offensive game plan against Notre Dame, his game plan against UCLA was the exact opposite.
"I believe that we can control the football," said Lappano. "I was concerned with our ability to be physical and run and we proved that tonight. We probably get Joe Toledo back for the Oregon game and that should further help stabilize our offensive line. Tonight was encouraging with running the ball and being physical. That's something to build on. But we need to grow up and quit making stupid mistakes.
"We were really fortunate with the fumble in the end zone. That could have really cost us."
There were mistakes made on both sides of the ball and on special teams that top teams just don't make. While UCLA had more penalties than UW (13-8), the penalties levied against Washington came at key times, either killing touchdown runs or putting them in holes they couldn't recover from.
"UCLA is a great team. They played hard and we should give them credit," said running back Kenny James. James and Louis Rankin combined for 161 rush yards. "But we made some crucial mistakes. We know the kind of athletes we've got and we know we have great coaches. We can certainly turn things around. It's just a matter of finishing and using what God gave us.
"Give credit to the line, they opened some holes up for us. We were just running through the holes that the offensive line gave us."
While James had a nifty run off-tackle for a 20-yard touchdown, it was the elusiveness and burst of Rankin that provided the Huskies' biggest spark in the backfield. "He got up and out of there," Lappano said. "He ate up angles on them. He played well. He made a couple of moves, but he wasn't dancing out there. He saw some grass outside and took it. That's what he can do."
The other player that made big plays for the Huskies was sophomore receiver Craig Chambers. He caught four passes for 65 yards. Listening to Lappano talk about Chambers, expect his role to continue to increase.
"Craig Chambers is really emerging and I think we need to give him four or five more shots with him a game," said Lappano. "I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't do that more."
And Stanback's play? "I thought he did some good things, made some nice throws," said Lappano. "He ran OK. I'm really pleased with the deep ball. We probably should have taken a few more shots."
So now the Dawgs get a week to lick their wounds and come back swinging again on the road - this time against Oregon. "For the most part, guys will be able to bounce back," said White. "We'll use the bye week to get healthy. We've got some guys banged up. We're going to use this experience as a positive and move forward."
"In some ways I'm glad we have the bye," added Baer. "We came into the came kind of beat up."
So what will the players and coaches be thinking about on the plane flight home? "Execution down the stretch," said White. "That's the difference between winning and losing. That's the difference between being 4-1 and 1-4."
"We just have to finish," added James. "Once we do that, we'll be a winning team. You can't get caught up with what the critics say. People are going to say their own things. But we know what we can do. We just came up short. We have to take advantage of the bye week and get ready and not make the same mistakes against Oregon that we made tonight."
Stanback made it unanimous. "We came close, we just have to finish," he said. "We have to do it together as a team."
"Just keep pushing, keep talking about it, keep pushing," said Baer, as if preparing his mantra for his defense in the coming weeks. "We had some key stops in the fourth quarter, but the one we needed most we didn't get."
"We all go through growing pains," added Lappano. "We've got to grow up. It's time. I thought this week it was time. We need to play smart, disciplined and penalty-free. We didn't do that.
"We're making too many mistakes."