Pass the Tequila

The Huskies are reminiscent of that early-'70s, pre-Don James show.

An old newsroom joke that applies everywhere but Seattle Weekly: Reporters can write but can't spell, editors can spell but not write, and the publisher can't do either. Applied to the suddenly gagging University of Washington Husky football team and its trio of quarterback prospects: Isaiah Stanback can run but can't throw, Carl Bonnell can throw but not run, and Casey Paus can't do either. The problem is that Paus is the starter, or was Sunday in the inept Sept. 5 season-opening 35-16 loss to Fresno State.

The defeat leaves the program in its worst shape in nearly 30 years, with a 2-9 or even a 1-10 campaign possible. This comes just as the new athletic director, Todd Turner, is talking about plans to improve storied Husky Stadium. Presumably, he means expanding seating capacity. But if the no-shows and early-exit folks of opening day are any indication, maybe the smart play is to reduce seating, converting some of the unneeded stadium space to classrooms that are sorely needed on campus.

First, the good news about the Fresno State game.

Now for the bad: Paus ain't the guy. We sensed this during the protracted competition for the team's key position. The belief was that the junior, who led a heroic second-half charge when called upon against Oregon last year, would be a make-do solution during a down year for the program. His lack of mobility is obvious, but at least Paus was supposed to be able to pass. He was 18 for 39 but had three interceptions, possibly because he has the slowest setup and release since Dick Cheney told a joke that one time. ("A five-time draft-deferred Halliburton CEO, his pornographer wife, and gay daughter walk into a bar. . . . ") Opposing defenders love guys like Paus because he never looks off from the primary receiver (senior Charles Frederick had nine grabs; see, there was some good news). They also love Stanback because, despite his mobility (he scored from the 8 on an option keep to put UW up 7-0), he passes like he's setting up a volleyball spike. Stanback's stupid floater toward the end of the first half resulted in a gift pickoff and a 7-7 halftime score.

Fresno State, competitive against big-time competition during recent seasons, nonetheless represented a significant break in the way the Huskies have been launching football campaigns. During the past two years, UW opened at Michigan and Ohio State, two of the most intimidating places in college football. Fresno State might be a breather: a warm-up, maybe, for the more pressing business when conference play starts here Saturday, Sept. 18, against UCLA after a bye week. But frustrated Husky partisans in the stands and at tailgate wakes and nearby watering holes afterward were in agreement about the program's condition: It's as bad as it was before Don James took over in 1975. Mark Saturday, Oct. 9, on your calendars. San Jose State comes to town and could be the one Husky victim in a season featuring probable road-kills at Notre Dame, USC, Oregon, and Washington State.

Some see hope for the Huskies amid selected statistics, but the optimism is easily offset. Stanback did, after all, lead an 87-yard, nine-play TD drive. But much of it came from a Fresno State letdown that allowed Zach Tuiasosopo to gallop 50 yards until the fullback was caught from behind. The Huskies did outgain the opponent by nearly 100 yards, but turnovers gave the FSU defense three touchdowns. Juniors Joe Lobendahn (16 tackles) and Evan Benjamin played like maniacs at linebacker, but the Husky secondary let Fresno State keep drives alive in critical third-down situations. Maybe the one indisputable bright spot: Running back Kenny James, a sophomore who seems to have been in the program for about five years, had 75 yards on 17 carries with one touchdown.

But the play of James and Tuiasosopo means future opponents know only too well what Husky strengths need to be defended against. Paus, the starter by default, is such an easy read for defense coordinators that UCLA, Notre Dame, et al., no doubt will concentrate even more on shutting down the Husky ground attack. Second-year coach Keith Gilbertson, looking during much of the game like a guy who just rear-ended a cop after hearing of an audit notice, has a few options to consider. One would be to take Stanback, said to be among the splendid pure Husky athletes of the past decade, as far away from the quarterback picture as possible. The sophomore should be catching, not "throwing." That would give balance to what is now an all-Frederick receiving "corps." It also would allow former prep phenom Bonnell a better chance to press Paus.

Gilby's predicament is unenviable if only because it's tough to recruit to a program that might at best wind up 3-8. Then again, the second-year Washington mentor has two new bosses (AD Turner and football-nut school prexy Mark Emmert) and might find himself a former coach after this season. Nothing to joke about, but he could have local company, too: "Keith Gilbertson, Bob Melvin, and Nate McMillan walk into a bar. . . . "

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