By JOHN SLEEPER
SEATTLE – The University of Washington athletic department went to great lengths to honor Curtis Williams, the Huskies’ senior strong safety who sustained a spinal-cord injury last week at Stanford.
Before Saturday’s game against Arizona, 25,000 stickers with Williams’ number (25) were given away at five tents at the main entrances to Husky Stadium. Williams’ initials were embroidered on the upper-left corner of Washington’s jerseys.
Several message boards allowed fans to write notes to Williams. The Washington band formed the letters “C-DUB,” as Williams is known, on both sidelines. In addition, the crowd chanted “C-DUB” over and over.
“The emotion was really high,” UW coach Rick Neuheisel.
Williams was hurt in the third quarter of Washington’s 31-28 victory at Stanford. He remains in the intensive care unit at Stanford Medical Center with a contusion of the spinal cord along the C-2 vertebra, high in the beck of the neck. He is breathing with the aid of a ventilator.
Doctors have not offered a longterm prognosis, but Williams has had some feeling return in his neck. Stanford Medical Center made arrangements for a special monitor in Williams’ room so that he could watch the Husky-Wildcat game.
Head trainer Dave Burton said he talked to Williams’ brother, David, following the game. David Williams said his brother watched the entire game and could be seen smiling, even with the ventilator in his mouth.
While most Huskies said they were able to get past the emotion of Williams’ absence, UW linebacker Derrell Daniels, one of Williams’ closest friends, said he was affected by the pregame ceremony.
“The beginning of the game was hard, with the tribute to Curtis,” he said. “I think a lot of people’s minds were on that in the first quarter and part of the second quarter. After that, we were able to regain our focus and play a lot better.”
His finest moment came in the second quarter, when he slammed full-speed into UA tailback Larry Croom with his shoulder, dropping Croom on his backside.
The crowd let out a gasp.
Carothers said he was initially nervous, but settled down. He said he missed Williams terribly, but needed to concentrate solely on the game following the opening kickoff.
“I didn’t let it affect my performance,” Carothers said. “I know C-Dub very well and I know he would want me to come out and play like I did. The hit felt good. That’s what I’m here for. That’s what C-Dub did and I was just trying to fill his shoes.”
Neuheisel said Carothers didn’t exactly play the part of a freshman.
“When recruiting Greg Carothers, we knew he was a physical player,” he said. “We knew he loved the game. We’ve been really pleased with him, as well as all of our other freshmen who have seen action. He just comes to play. He doesn’t think the game’s too big for him. He doesn’t think he’s not ready. He finds a way. He’s got a great future.”
On the season, the Wildcats held USC to 10 yards on the ground and UCLA to 54. The season high was 137, by Oregon.
But the Huskies rumbled for 211 yards, 116 by third-string tailback Willie Hurst. Washington ran the option more against Arizona than it had against anyone all season.
“Arizona has a very different scheme to run against,” Hurst said. “It took us a while to feel them out and get a body on a body. But once we did, we were blasting them.”
Washington made adjustments at halftime, Neuheisel said. The Huskies switched some blocking schemes and focused on picking up the Wildcats’ linebackers.
“Basically, what it does is cover up your center and two guards,” Neuheisel said. “It’s very much like the old 46 defense, the Chicago Bears defense. One of the great weapons against that defense, if you can shut off the linebacker and flow from the inside out, is the option. We were able to make some plays on it.”
Arizona coach Dick Tomey said UW quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo was the key, making the correct decisions on when to pitch and when to keep the ball.
“It hurt us,” Tomey said. “We had a lot of trouble with it. We busted assignments. Option football is the most difficult thing to defend in college football if it is run correctly by the right kind of guy. They have the right kind of guy.”
It was on that drive that tailback Leo Mills put Arizona ahead 32-28 with a 51-yard run with 4:48 left in the game.
“That was on one of our assistant coaches who, in the heat of the battle, apparently said something he shouldn’t have,” Neuheisel said. “It’s unfortunate, and all of us will learn from it.”
The outrage likely stemmed from a call on the Huskies’ previous offensive series, in which UW tight end Jerramy Stevens was pushed out of bounds by a Wildcat defender on a pass that went over Stevens’ head. The Huskies thought a pass-interference penalty should have been called, but officials ruled the pass was not catchable.
“I wouldn’t count Pat Conniff out of anything,” Neuheisel said. “This is his senior year. I would say that he will find a way, if there’s a way.”
Neuheisel said it is likely Conniff may need surgery on the shoulder after the season.
Despite having four turnovers on the day (three fumbles, one interception), the Huskies gave up just three points on turnovers – Sean Keel’s 38-yard field goal in the third quarter … Arizona’s first-quarter touchdown drive of 13 plays for 84 yards (6:03), was the Wildcats’ longest scoring drive of the year, in terms of number of plays, yards and duration.
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