If only the Washington Huskies could have defended as unflappably Saturday as coach Jim Lambright did Monday.
Not bothering to sweep up the shards of their shattered national championship dreams, the Huskies moved on Monday to a more realistic goal of trying to win the Pacific-10 Conference title - a mission that begins in two weeks against defending champ Arizona State.
During this bye week, said Lambright, they’ll absorb the lessons of Saturday’s 27-14 pounding administered by Nebraska - a loss which dropped UW from second to 10th in The Associated Press poll - and try to get quarterback Brock Huard healthy enough to resume practice the week of the ASU game.
But those lessons, the coach insisted, have nothing to do with any strategy Saturday that may have put him on the hot seat.
The most controversial: Lambright’s decision to onside kick in the third quarter after the Huskies had closed the Nebraska lead to 21-14. Randy Jones’ chip shot sailed out of bounds before Tony Parrish could recover, giving the Cornhuskers just a short drive for an insurance field goal.
“I have no question in my mind that it was time to take a shot,” said Lambright. “That meant to me that we would keep the momentum going and keep my defense on the sideline one more series.”
Lambright said the Huskies had worked on the play often in practice with great success and Nebraska was vulnerable to the strategy, had the kick been executed properly. Also, the Huskies have succeeded on 9 of 11 onside tries under Lambright.
“It’s a shot I’ll always take,” Lambright said. “You try to keep giving your team momentum opportunities, in big games especially.”
Lambright’s decision to surrender and punt with 1:13 remaining also met with boos in Husky Stadium. But mindful of a play at BYU last year during which Shane Fortney was injured, Lambright said he decided to protect backup quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo from an all-out Nebraska rush and avoid having to defend a short field again.
“I didn’t need to put my defense on the 35-yard line one more time,” Lambright said.
“I know there are people, some folks in Florida for instance, who like putting 80 points on the board. I didn’t know for a second that for national numbers, they wouldn’t try to score. That’s something you can’t say and I can’t say.”
Neither of Lambright’s decisions had any meaningful impact on the final score - Nebraska having established its dominance on both sides of the football long before that.
“This was a lesson in preparation,” Lambright said, “about getting people ready to win those wars in the trenches. You don’t do that by wishing you were stronger and more physical.”
The ankle sprain that knocked UW’s starting quarterback out in the first quarter of the Nebraska game isn’t expected to keep him out of the ASU contest. Huard will wear a protective boot and undergo treatment this week, and will be evaluated during the weekend.
More severe is the medial collateral ligament sprain suffered by linebacker Marques Hairston, who is in a knee splint. His status for ASU is more questionable.
Once again, the Husky placekicking job is up for grabs.
Jones, the sophomore from Spokane’s Ferris High, who missed a 33-yard field goal after UW’s first possession, will have to re-win the job over freshmen walk-ons Nick Lentz and Jim Skurski.
“It’s not satisfactory that we’re 2 of 6 in field goals,” Lambright said. “Randy struggled last week in practice. I don’t know whether it’s a matter of him pressing too hard or what. But you have to step up and kick it through on game day.”
Lambright said punter Sean O’Laughlin’s job is safe, despite two horrible punts Saturday, because “realistically, he’s the one guy we have with a strong leg. Ryan Chicoine will be right there competing, but we just have to get Sean to kick every kick like he does in practice. He actually seems to kick the pressure kicks better than he does the more casual ones.”
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