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Even Struggling, Usc Has Lambright’s Respect UW Coach Has Admiration For Level Of Trojans’ Talent

As a University of Washington football player in the 1960s, Jim Lambright can still remember missing a tackle on USC running back Mike Garrett.

“One of the most non-athletic plays you’ll ever see,” Lambright cringes.

Over the years, USC has soured Lambright’s mood more than probably any other conference opponent. In 1995, USC escaped a 21-0 hole in the fourth quarter to tie UW 21-21, sending the Trojans to the Rose Bowl and UW to the Sun Bowl.

Lambright, as UW coach, is 1-2-1 against the Trojans, who visit Seattle on Saturday.

So seeing the Trojans with a pedestrian 4-3 record does little to comfort Lambright. He noted that USC, like Washington, has won four of its last five.

“USC has always recruited and has the best talent in this conference,” he said. “They have outstanding athletes with size and speed, and appropriately so because they’ve been rated in every recruiting class in the tops of the nation since I’ve been here.”

Asked later if he meant USC is the Pac-10’s most talented team, Lambright softened his stance, saying he has the “greatest appreciation for the level of their talent.”

But his point was clear. USC still has quality personnel. Lambright tried to recruit, among others, Trojans wide receiver Billy Miller, guard Travis Claridge, fullback Rodney Sermons, cornerback Daylon McCutcheon and linebackers Chris Clalborne and Antuan Simmons.

“I’ve taken second, third, fourth and fifth in recruiting a lot of their athletes, so you have a respect level,” Lambright said. “Just go through all these names… . I pretty much know what their homes are like.”

The Huskies just concluded a three-game Pac-10 road swing with wins of 27, 30 and 28 over Cal, Arizona and Oregon State. Now it gets interesting. After USC, UW entertains Oregon, visits UCLA and returns home against Washington State in the Apple Cup.

“It’s very easy for our athletes to focus,” Lambright said. “Those are November games and this is when you win if you are a championship caliber team.”

To run or pass?

UW offensive coordinator Scott Linehan seemingly has the perfect job. He can either call runs for the Pac-10’s top back, Rashaan Shehee, or throws for Brock Huard, second in pass efficiency.

But it isn’t easy satisfying all of the needs of a talented cast.

“He’s under such a wonderful responsibility because everyone in the stands is calling the plays, too,” Lambright smiled. “But Scott has excellent repoire with the coaches and the players.”

When in doubt, UW seems to stick to the ground. “The strength has to be controlling the line of scrimmage,” Lambright said. True. To a degree.

Linehan “was reading a newspaper article before (Saturday’s) Oregon State game and they were saying they wanted to stop the run and make us do something we’re uncomfortable doing,” Huard said. “Coach kind of took offense to that and so did the rest of us. With the experience we have and the talent we have, it (passing) isn’t something I feel uncomfortable doing.”

No kicks on kicker

Freshman walk-on Nick Lentz, who beat out Spokane’s Randy Jones for the kicking job, is 3 of 5 on field goals, missing twice from 40-49 yards, but he’s impressed Lambright. “He’s a young kicker who is growing like mad because of the experience,” the coach said.

Pac-10 honors

Shehee, ninth nationally in rushing, was the Pac-10’s offensive player of the week. He ran for 169 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries in Saturday’s win over Oregon State.

USC linebacker David Gibson is the defensive player of the week and teammate Marc Matlock the special teams player.

Gibson had nine unassisted tackles, including three sacks, in USC’s 24-22 win against Oregon. Matock, a tackle, blocked a 36-yard field goal attempt with 8 seconds left.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo