The Washington Huskies will have Brock Huard back at quarterback Saturday.
But unless they have a notion to try something wild - Marques Tuiasosopo at tailback, perhaps? - the Huskies must still find a way to jump start their punchless running game when they meet ninth-ranked UCLA in Pasadena.
Coach Jim Lambright acknowledged as much Monday in the wake of last weekend’s shocking 31-28 loss to Oregon - a loss which did more damage to the Huskies’ reputation than to their Rose Bowl ambitions.
Victories in their final two games will give the Huskies the Pacific-10 Conference championship, a challenge Lambright said should answer any questions about motivation that arose against Oregon.
“All the chips are on the table,” he said. “You’ve got everything to win.”
But now the Huskies have to go through two teams also in the Rose Bowl hunt to get there. None of the other three schools tied for first place - Washington State, UCLA and Arizona State - have to play more than one contender.
UW’s hole card is Huard, who missed the Oregon game with an ankle sprain suffered against USC.
“He’s our starting quarterback,” announced Lambright. “He’ll be 95 to 100 percent by game day.”
It’s the second time this season Huard has had to come back from an ankle injury. Lost to the Huskies early in their loss to Nebraska, Huard returned against Arizona State the next week and had his least effective outing of the season.
“But this is different than the last injury,” Huard said. “The last one impacted my throwing more because it was more of a rotational injury - it effected the way I pushed and rotated on it. This one is just more pain. I don’t think it should have the same impact.”
While Huard returns, tailback Rashaan Shehee has only been cleared to begin jogging this week as he attempts to get his injured knee ready in time for the Nov. 22 Apple Cup.
His absence was more deeply felt than Huard’s in the Oregon game.
Tuiasosopo threw for 261 yards against the Ducks. But he also led the Huskies with 95 yards rushing - mostly on scrambles and rollouts - as backup tailbacks Maurice Shaw and Jason Harris combined for just 53 against what was the Pac-10’s worst defense against the run.
“We have to program in more outside runs because you can’t count on the bouncing out and the cut-back ability of Rashaan,” Lambright said. “His vision gives you that sort of bouncing ability. Now you have to book it in by plays, to make sure you’re getting off-tackle and outside plays.”
But Huard noted that “if teams are going to line up all their guys in the box and wage war against the run, we’ve got to make plays down the field.” And while Tuiasosopo - the first true freshman to start at quarterback for UW in the modern era - did complete a number of long passes, he missed several reads that could have resulted in touchdowns.
There are similar concerns on the other side of the ball.
The Huskies surrendered 24 first-half points to Oregon, unable to contain either quarterback Akili Smith or shut down tailback Saladin McCullough. UCLA brings in two similar weapons - a mobile, scrambling quarterback in Cade McNown and an 18-touchdown running back in Skip Hicks.
The hate factor
Several Huskies admitted the team may have come out flat against Oregon - and a few Ducks admitted they couldn’t have been more motivated.
“I hate the Huskies,” said Pat Johnson, who caught the winning touchdown pass.
Lambright backed off on a statement that his staff didn’t have the Huskies ready, however.
“What I said was, it’s the responsibility of the staff to prepare the team for a rival game,” he said. “I have a hard time with hatred in a rival game. I will never get into it. I know it’s being coached and it’s a shame it has to be in the game, and you probably give up a lever as far as getting a team ready.
“But I’m not going to take things that someone else says and turn them around to make them look like they’re acting superior to us and promote an inferiority complex. So it’s a matter of how you get your team ready in other ways.”
So what about the revenge factor?
UCLA has it - Washington has dominated the Bruins physically and outscored the Bruins 116-45 in their last three meetings.
“I think we’re more physical than we’ve been in a long time,” said UCLA coach Bob Toledo. “We’ve made strides. How far we’ve come, we don’t know yet.”
Toledo said he’s tried to instill a tougher approach in practice - and admitted some of it stemmed from UCLA’s 37-34 loss at Washington State and insinuations afterward that the Bruins were “soft.”
“Some of that came into play, obviously,” he bristled. “But when they (the Cougars) have that many points being scored against them, I don’t know who they’re talking about being soft. Sometimes when players win, they have a tendency to say they’re more physical than the other team.”
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