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Wayward Huskies Still Remember Shortcut To Plank

John Blanchette The Spokesman-R

Now there’s only one team in the state that can win the national championship this year.

Heh, heh, heh.

It was hull-to-hull parking for the yuppie armada in Husky Harbor Saturday afternoon - led by Skipper Bill Gates and the USS Windows ‘98 - and all the salty Dawgs dropped anchor and happily shuttled to shore imagining Nebraska as that big, flat stone their heroes would use as a toehold back to greatness.

Ahoy! Team overboard!

That man you see trying to wrestle his way out of the concrete life vest is Washington coach Jim Lambright, who in the biggest of games always manages to get his tiller jammed when it’s time to dodge the icebergs.

The biggest. Ohio State. Notre Dame. Any bowl.

And now Nebraska.

“We just can’t win one,” conceded linebacker Jerry Jensen. “I don’t know what it is.” If memory serves, the technical term is “not good enough.”

There is no shame in that, but unfortunately no glory, either. And the 27-14 licking the Cornhuskers put on the Huskies on Saturday stings as bitterly as any of those other pratfalls, perhaps more.

The Huskies were, after all, just a heartbeat away from the No. 1 ranking, supposedly re-established fully as something other than a middling power sapped by NCAA sanctions. And this, on a dazzling afternoon, was to be their bar mitzvah - on national TV, in front of the sixth-largest crowd in Husky Stadium history.

Maybe that’s why it hurt. Or maybe it was just the fact that they got worked so damned bad.

“This is devastating,” said quarterback Brock Huard.

Huard had reason to be devastated even more than his despondent teammates, having limped to the bench with a sprained left ankle as the first quarter ended. Within minutes, he was done for the day - jersey and shoulder pads off, a scowl frozen on his face, ankle iced and propped up on the bench, where he was nearly beaned by the 2-yard punt teammate Sean O’Laughlin shanked his way.

The shank which led to the Nebraska touchdown that made it 21-0.

It was about this time that rival Washington State’s 35-22 victory over Illinois was announced and, graciously, the crowd roared its approval, happy to have something to cheer.

Huard’s injury would have been the perfect alibi, except that even before that the Huskies were being dominated so thoroughly that you’d half expect the Huskers’ phone number to turn up in Marv Albert’s little black book.

Besides, for what price they may have paid for having a raw freshman at quarterback for three quarters of the game - Marques Tuiasosopo hasn’t even attended a class yet, folks - the Huskies probably received as much or more in the way of a desperately needed emotional jolt.

“What happens,” said Nebraska defensive coordinator Charlie McBride, “and what I was afraid of, is that the team picks it up a bit and really fell in behind him.”

Hey, it was downright inspirational. On his third snap, the kid completed a 41-yard screamer to Jerome Pathon and just about every series thereafter included a Roman candle or a cherry bomb, including two of the nerviest bullets ever seen over the middle to tight end Cameron Cleeland. Tuiasosopo got the Huskies back to within a touchdown and, not long after, ABC’s cameras caught him yawning.

He finished with 270 yards passing, completing 12 of 22 passes - and that sound you’re hearing is probably Luke Huard, Brock’s little brother, leafing through some other school’s recruiting brochure.

“We didn’t lose hope,” insisted Tuiasosopo, who 10 months ago was running the option for Woodinville High School. “We’re never going to give up until that clock says :00.”

Yeah? Then we must have been hallucinating when we saw O’Laughlin in to punt with 1:13 remaining. Sure, the cause was lost, but didn’t the situation demand one really futile gesture be made on somebody’s part?

And weren’t the Huskies just the guys to do it?

No, the kid quarterback’s dazzling relief couldn’t obscure the obvious. Things are bound to be different in the Pac-10, but the Huskies couldn’t handle either of Nebraska’s front lines, a fatal flaw compounded by inadequate preparation and muddled decisions.

“We had seen some game films last year where people were able to pound it right at them,” said quarterback Scott Frost, who came up 3 yards shy of giving the Huskers three 100-yard rushers for the day. “That’s the style of football we win with around here.”

Lambright admitted the Huskies were completely crossed up when Nebraska played away from its tendencies, but surely Washington knew those tendencies were established against token opposition.

Indeed, both of Frost’s touchdown runs “were new plays we hadn’t shown before,” Osborne said.

Nor did the Huskies do themselves any favors offensively. They had faith they could run behind All-Americans Benji Olson and Olin Kreutz, but neither moved anyone much all day. And Rashaan Shehee isn’t going to create his own space the way Corey Dillon did, especially on fourth-and-1 with the middle stacked. Of course, maybe Huard audibles out of that one.

But there was no one to audible out of Lambright’s brainstorm to onside kick after UW closed to 21-14 - “a chance,” he said, “to regain momentum.”

Sure was. For Nebraska.

“It was too early in the game to do that,” groused Pathon. “I’m not trying to tell the coaches how to coach, but it was frustrating because the defense didn’t really have a chance to stop them.”

Offered Nebraska’s Grant Wistrom, “We had the better coaching staff. It really showed today.”

And now the Huskies must bail, the way they did so admirably after taking on all that water at Notre Dame last year.

If nothing else, it’s what they’re getting good at.

, DataTimes MEMO: You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.

This sidebar appeared with the story: SPORTSLINE For live updates, final results and pregame reports on the Huskies, call The Spokesman-Review Sportsline at 458-8800 in Spokane and 765-8811 in Coeur d’Alene and enter 4515.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.

This sidebar appeared with the story: SPORTSLINE For live updates, final results and pregame reports on the Huskies, call The Spokesman-Review Sportsline at 458-8800 in Spokane and 765-8811 in Coeur d’Alene and enter 4515.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

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