December 31, 1996 in Sports

Sky Falls On UW, Thanks To Coy

Art Thiel Seattle Post-Intelligencer

As regards the issue of items falling from the sky, it has not been a good holiday season for the Puget Sound region.

The snow, rain and sleet, you know about. But if you were to busy shivering in the dark, or purchasing an amphibious car, to notice Monday night’s Holiday Bowl, it must be reported that a lot of miserable stuff fell upon the heads of the Washington Huskies too.

It wasn’t moisture. Monday night was an almost balmy 64 degrees at Jack Murphy Stadium. Even the threatened rain stayed away.

What soaked the Huskies was Koy Detmer and a Colorado passing attack that was one of the greatest single-game sky dumps in Husky history. Its relative dryness was of small consolation to a team that, like the folks back home, had expected a much more pleasant holiday.

The fact that the Huskies lost 33-21 wasn’t such a surprise. They were five-point underdogs to the Big 12 runners-up, a more veteran team with more wall-to-wall talent.

What was startling was the fact that the Huskies had the Buffaloes early, 14-0, which was the perfect script for a team well-equipped to squat on a good lead with a grinding rushing game.

Instead, the Huskies picked up six first downs over the next two periods and seemed ill-suited by design or execution to sustain any advantage. As with the Apple Cup fourth quarter against Washington State, the Huskies looked around and couldn’t quite believe where they were.

As the Wallendas always said: Never look down.

The Huskies did not resemble the undermotivated, underprepared team that collapsed against Iowa in the Sun Bowl last year. In fact, the pre-game speculation here suggested that Colorado, which had national championship asipirations as well as expectations of a Jan. 1 bowl, didn’t much care about this matchup, much as Washington last year was mostly unmoved by a Christmas in the bleak prairie of West Texas.

But whatever dismay the Buffs felt about their lot in the goofball collegiate postseason vanished after the first 12 minutes. A 76-yard touchdown bomb from Detmer to All-America wideout Rae Carruth - the longest TD pass in this bowl’s 18-year history - signaled Colorado’s re-entry into the holiday spirit.

That began a 33-point, tableclearing run Washington answered only with a TD kickoff return. Buffalo coach Rick Neuheisel plotted the nightmare the Husky coaches feared all season and remarkably went unexploited except for the season’s first and last games - a pillage of an inexperienced secondary.

Redshirt freshman corners Mel Miller and Jermaine Smith were the primary victims of Detmer’s 371 passing yards. The Huskies gave up 279 passing yards to BYU in the home opener, but that was a lot of catch-up yards in a 29-17 win.

Monday night’s carnage was the fourth-greatest total rung up by an opponent in Washington’s century of grid engagement. Only Cal’s Pat Barnes (389) and Joe Roth (380), along with Stanford’s Guy Benjamin (376) made more toast in the Husky secondary.

Not even John Elway, Jim Plunkett, Steve Bartkowski or Jack Thompson lit up the Huskies as did Detmer, who joined his brother, Ty of BYU and now of the Philadelphia Eagles, as Holiday Bowl most valuable players.

Detmer’s first-quarter bomb to Carruth, who blew past Smith and then broke his tackle, began the shocking exploitation of the vulnerable corners of Washington’s defense.

Detmer wasn’t exactly perfect, hitting on 25 of 45 passes. The Husky defenders had their hands on Detmer tosses numerous times, yet never managed to tuck away an interception, and landed on just a single fumble.

The dropsies were epidemic on offense as well, with numerous drives thwarted by flubbed passes. After an 8-for-8 start in the passing game, UW quarterback Brock Huard went 13 for 29, but the multiple drops and five sacks made him press beyond his ability.

The mistakes, including seven penalties for 75 yards, that pickled the Huskies’ final three quarters evoked some of the bitter moments from the Huskies last two big-time appearances against Iowa and Notre Dame.

It can’t be said that the Huskies threw away the progress shown in the regular season’s six-game winning streak. But coach Jim Lambright is 0-2 as a bowl coach and obviously stumped as to how to obtain the carryover from the regular season that punctuated the Don James’ regime in the postseason.

Lambright said before the game a bowl win was necessary for a springboard into next season. But after going nearly dead for three quarters, including just 31 yards in the second half from Corey Dillon, Lambright may have to manufacture, Clinton style, another bridge to the future.

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