Huskies’ young offensive line comes of age

  • John Sleeper / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, October 30, 2001 9:00pm
  • Sports

By John Sleeper

Herald Writer

SEATTLE – They talked to Khalif Barnes and Todd Bachert before the game.

His University of Washington teammates did. His coaches did. So did his family.

Don’t be intimidated, they said.

Yeah, sure. Don’t be intimidated. The Husky offensive tackles, playing their first full season on the offensive line, were going to face Terrell Suggs, Arizona State’s great defensive end, who was leading the Pacific-10 Conference in sacks.

It largely was Barnes’ and Bachert’s responsibility to keep Suggs an area code away from quarterback Cody Pickett, whose throwing shoulder still felt like it caught fire even when someone looked at it wrong, never mind when someone slammed Pickett to the turf on it.

So the trick was to calm them down.

” (The coaches) threw the challenge down to them,” Husky guard Elliott Zajac said. “They said he’s the same age as they are. Just go out there and play your best and don’t be afraid of him. I think they did a pretty good job.”

Suggs finished with four tackles, none for loss. And he failed to lay a hand on Pickett all night.

“When I saw him on tape, I said, ‘Oh, my gosh. I have my work cut out for me,’” Barnes said. “Every cut of tape I saw, he was creating tackles for losses against every team he played. He was all over the field.

“On Saturday night, it was just two athletes on the field. Him on that side and me on my side. I had my mind set on him not to getting to Cody at all. If he did, there was going to be trouble. Trouble for me, trouble for Cody. I couldn’t let that happen.”

Saturday night may well have been a breakout game for an offensive line whose four of five members never or rarely played before. Barnes is a redshirt freshman who’d never played offensive line before he tried it last spring. Bachert is a sophomore. Guard Nick Newton is a sophomore who’s coming off ankle surgery. Zajac is a junior whose experience was mostly limited to special teams. Senior center Kyle Benn is a two-year starter.

In a strange way, Pickett’s shoulder separation served as a rallying point to the O-line, maligned for giving up negative rushing yards to UCLA and vilified for the perception of being the team’s weak link.

“When Cody came back, (offensive line coach Brent) Myers stressed it in our meetings that no one can touch our quarterback,” Barnes said. “The guy has a third-degree separation in his shoulder and he goes out and throws for 455 yards against Arizona. I mean, what’s he thinking? He’s putting his health on the line to come out and play with us every Saturday.

“The least we could do is not have anybody touch him at all. We set that as a personal challenge.”

As for the UW running game, that, too, showed marked improvement against ASU. Tailback Willie Hurst had a career-high 185 yard on 21 carries.

“The fingers were pointed at us, like, why aren’t we running the ball,” Barnes said. “We have a great passing package. I’ll put our receivers up against any DBs in the country. But you need to run the ball, too. You have to be balanced. We’ve stepped up the last couple of games. We want to be consistent and do it every week now.”

ASU was a start, UW coach Rick Neuheisel said.

“I thought it was a tremendous effort by our front,” he said. “The kids are improving. These are four guys who never played. We’re growing. We’re trying to improve.”

No TV: The UW-Stanford game will not be televised, a disturbing turn of events, considering it’s the best game of the week in the Pac-10, along with UCLA-Washington State.

ABC picked the USC-Oregon State game in the summer, believing then it would be for something more than sixth place in the conference. Fox was left with the 3:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. slots and chose UCLA-WSU for its 3:30 p.m. time.

Washington’s policy is that it will play no night games in November because fans who arrive at the game in boats would do so at more of a safety risk.

ABC and Fox have three options for selecting games: before the season, 12 days before kickoff or six days before kickoff.

Homecoming games, and this was where USC-Oregon State comes in, are the exceptions. They must be selected before the season because school activities are planned around games. ABC gambled on USC-OSU and lost.

Short routes: Defensive tackle Larry Tripplett was named one of 12 semifinalists for the Lombardi Award, which honors the nation’s top collegiate lineman. Others are UCLA linebacker Robert Thomas and Miami offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie. The winner will be announced Dec. 5 in Houston … Freshman tight end Joe Toledo took part in practice for the first time since breaking a foot early in preseason practices … Guard Aaron Butler ran with the first-unit offense in place of Elliott Zajac, who has been troubles with neck stingers.

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