By John Sleeper
SEATTLE – While his teammates on offense struggled to move the ball against Michigan, Washington tight end Jerramy Stevens could only stand on the sidelines and watch.
Stevens, the Huskies All-America candidate at tight end and almost certain first-round choice in April’s NFL draft, sat out the first half against the Wolverines as punishment for his part in a traffic accident last spring.
Stevens, 6 feet, 7 inches, 260 pounds, got a misdemeanor charge after he drove his vehicle into a Seattle home and left the scene. It was the latest in a series of problems Stevens has had with the law, dating back to before he even enrolled at Washington.
Washington coach Rick Neuheisel had hinted that some punishment would be forthcoming, but wouldn’t say what it would be. Stevens was benched the first half Saturday, but returned in the second half and caught two passes for 24 yards.
“Man, I was dying,” Stevens said. “That was the longest first half of my life, waiting to get in there. I knew I could help out. It was just hard being out.”
Before training camp opened last month, Stevens publicly addressed his legal problems for the first time, saying that he’d committed himself to staying out of trouble. One of the decisions he’d made, he said, was to quit drinking alcohol. Neuheisel said Stevens also is taking part in an on-campus program. Stevens also worked in a homeless shelter last summer.
“Publicly, there are a lot of questions about his character for those that do not know him,” Neuheisel said. “I feel comfortable that, even though Jerramy has made mistakes, he has realized that he is accountable for his actions. He needs to make some great decisions.”
Hard grader: No one is tougher on UW outside linebacker Kai Ellis than Ellis himself.
Following his first game as a Husky, a game in which he had a team-high 13 tackles, seven unassisted, Ellis said he’d grade himself a four on a scale of one to 10.
“I’ve got to get off the ball faster on the pass rush,” Ellis said.
It was the first taste the former California Junior College Defensive Player of the Year had of Husky Stadium at its raucous best, and he came away impressed.
“I’ve never, ever experienced anything like this,” Ellis said. “It’s like going to Disneyland. It’s the kind of thing you see in the movies.”
Ellis said the noise was deafening on cornerback Omare Lowe’s fourth-quarter touchdown off an interception, just following Roc Alexander’s touchdown off Lowe’s block of a field-goal attempt.
“First the fans were sitting down, then I saw them putting their hands on the back of their heads,” Ellis said. “Then we scored and everybody’s on their feet. Then the Michigan fans fans sat down. They couldn’t believe it. It was just wild.”
Offensive line struggles: As observers predicted, the UW offensive line, with just one starter returning, had its problems against Michigan’s defense.
Too often, quarterback Cody Pickett was hurried and the running game produced just 69 yards.
“Basically, my big job was to keep everybody calm if things went wrong,” said senior center Kyle Benn, the line’s only returning starter. “They did a good job of that. We didn’t do what we wanted to do. We were a little timid when we needed to be aggressive. That comes with four guys making their first start against Michigan. But we can only improve. I’m proud of how we did.”
Besides Benn, the starting front five includes redshirt freshman Khalif Barnes, sophomores Nick Newton and Todd Bachert, and junior Elliott Zajac, who lettered primarily through his work on special teams.
Although the Wolverines sacked Pickett just once, Michigan rolled up 10 tackles for loss. Linebacker Larry Foote led the way with six tackles for loss among his 12 total tackles.
“We did shoot ourselves in the foot, but the younger guys didn’t do as bad as they could have done,” Benn said. “Cutting your teeth against Michigan is no small deal.”
Short routes: Marquise Walker’s 15 receptions were the most ever by a Michigan player or a Washington opponent. His first-quarter blocked punt was the third of his career. … The Huskies had seven new starters on offense, not including Paul Arnold, a former running back who started as a flanker. There were two new defensive starters and 13 players saw their first action ever for Washington. … Under Neuheisel’s tenure, Washington has come from behind in 14 of its 19 wins, including nine fourth-quarter comebacks. … Washington’s 14 fourth-quarter points came before its offense took a snap from scrimmage. … UW kicker John Anderson converted three field goals for the third time in his career. … The crowd of 74,080 was the seventh largest in Washington football history. The largest was 76,125, a Band Day game against Army in 1995.