Huskies, Vanneman ready for ‘real’ battle

Brad Vanneman wanted to hit someone last Saturday.

Someone he didn’t know. Someone other than a Washington Husky teammate.

But no one was available. The Huskies had the day off.

So Vanneman had to be content with watching other college football players beat up on one another on TV.

Which made him about as snappish as Teresa Heinz Kerry when she hears the term “First Lady.”

Normally, after the season begins, the Huskies scrimmage only two days a week if they have a game on Saturday.

With no game last weekend, they slammed pads with one another for four days the previous week to try to stay sharp.

Now it was Monday. A regular week of practice was about to begin. A real opponent loomed on the horizon. Someone Vanneman could take out his aggression on from his center position in the Husky line. Someone he hadn’t seen every day since fall camp began.

His spirits were rising. His appetite was growing. Small sandwiches were disappearing into his mouth as he sat eating lunch in the Don James Center after coach Keith Gilbertson’s weekly press conference.

In five days, he would play another real live game.

Happy days are here again. A chance to get nasty and make it count. An opportunity to knock someone down and have it mean something.

Brad Vanneman don’t need no stinkin’ bye week.

“I hate bye weeks,” the Issaquah junior said. “You’re starting to get into a rhythm and then it’s just like going back into training camp. It’s like hitting yourself.”

He can whip up on someone else this afternoon. The UCLA Bruins are coming to town.

Trouble is, the Huskies usually come out the whippee in these meetings. They’ve muzzled the Bruins only once in the last seven games.

Fresh in Husky minds is last year’s debacle. The Dawgs held a 16-7 halftime lead, then were outscored 39-0 in the final 30 minutes.

If that doesn’t make you antsy to play a game after two weeks off, nothing will.

Aside from the Huskies’ recent struggles with the Bruins, this game has “big” written all over it for a couple of other reasons. It’s the first Pac-10 game for both teams. The Huskies are still looking for their first win after a 35-16 thrashing by Fresno State in the season opener and a 0-2 start with a road game against Notre Dame the following week wouldn’t exactly bolster spirits.

The Huskies need to win this week or you’re going to hear grumblings about Gilbertson. Not that they haven’t already begun. “You think he can get the job done?”

Don’t think that question hadn’t been asked more than a few times before the Huskies ever suited up for their first practice this year.

Yeah, I think he can. If he can find a quarterback.

Is Casey Paus the guy? He wasn’t against Fresno State. Three interceptions and only 18 completions on 39 attempts for 183 yards.

He looked like someone who had never started a game. Which is what he was. The jitters should be gone. He’s had two weeks to improve on what he didn’t do well. He wants to show his critics that he can play.

Can he? Guess we’ll see starting at 4 p.m. today.

If not, we’ll get a look at Carl Bonnell, the No.3 quarterback going into the season who became No.2 last week after Isaiah Stanback got injured against Fresno.

If both have an off day, that’s where Vanneman and his linemates have to pick it up.

Can you say, “ground game?” The Huskies had a decent one against Fresno State, popping for 170 yards, though it should be noted that 50 of those came on one carry by fullback Zach Tuiasosopo.

It should also be noted that UCLA has given up 634 yards rushing in its first two games and that the Bruins have a defensive front comprised of one pure freshman, one redshirt freshman, one sophomore and one junior with nary a start among them coming into the season.

If the Huskies can do a little bullying in the trenches, it’ll take the heat off Paus to be perfect with every pitch. Which is what guys in a hurry trying to prove themselves often do.

With three starters returning, the line should be good. “We can be one of the best in the Pac-10,” Vanneman ventured.

Can be. “I hate that word ‘potential,’” he groused, knowing full well what it means: “That we haven’t done anything yet. It’s easy to talk about but hard to perform.”

At least, he gets to hit someone else today.

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