SEATTLE – It was no accident that Washington wideout Reggie Williams didn’t catch a pass after grabbing nine in the first half against USC.
“Basically, they had three guys on him,” UW quarterback Cody Pickett said. “It’s kind of hard to get him the ball when that happens.”
The Trojans did it because they thought – they knew – they could get away with it. Having knocked Charles Frederick out of the game with a severely bruised chest, the USC defense focused squarely on Williams.
The Trojans didn’t worry about Frederick’s backup, true freshman Sonny Shackelford, because he’s a freshman who hasn’t played much and hasn’t had time to develop any rhythm with Pickett. Pickett and Frederick have it, as do Pickett and Williams, when he isn’t covered by the entire student body.
“We can just make eye contact,” Pickett said. “He knows what I’m thinking and I know what he’s thinking. We can make plays.”
This is the dilemma facing the Huskies in Saturday night’s game against Oregon. If Frederick can’t play, Shackelford likely will get the start. And Oregon figures to throw a blanket, lasso, anchor and chains around Williams.
Which means Shackelford has to come up big.
“If Charles is out, everybody’s going to key on Reggie,” Shackelford said. “There has to be another guy. Hopefully, I can be that guy.”
Just a year ago, Shackelford was going to school at Beverly Hills (Calif.) High School, where he caught 65 passes for 1,465 yards and 20 touchdowns in his senior year. Now, as most freshmen are, he’s just another guy on the roster.
He is part of a much-publicized group of seven freshman receivers many hoped would come in and make a splash. Those hopes, as it turns out, were excessively high.
Shackelford leads the pack with five catches for 68 yards. Like the rest of the freshmen, he has had to learn the system and get accustomed to the speed of the game. He has had to learn how to read blitzes. He’s had to learn how to recognized disguised defenses. He’s had to learn many routes quickly and how to adjust routes, depending on what the defense does.
“I don’t know that anyone can expect a lot from a guy just out of high school,” UW coach Keith Gilbertson said. “There’s adjusting that goes with playing as a freshman. I think it’s a lot harder than people give it credit for. Sonny has had a good year.”
It’s even harder filling in for someone as valuable as Frederick. How dependent are the Huskies on Williams and Frederick? They have 58 and 39 receptions, respectively.
The receiver with the next-highest number of receptions is Justin Robbins, with seven, and he likely is out for the season with another in a series of knee injuries.
Next is Shackelford, who started for Frederick against Nevada when Frederick was dealing with flu symptoms. Shackelford had three receptions for 47 yards against the Wolf Pack.
Shackelford came to Washington because he wanted to play in big games. Saturday’s against Oregon is just that, because the loser will have been dealt a blow to its bowl hopes.
“My main goal this year was that I wanted to be a freshman All-American, but that’s pretty much what everybody wants to be,” Shackelford said. “They want to come in and make stuff happen, get in the mix and make big plays. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to do the things I wish I could do. I can be a big-play guy if I get the opportunity.”
He might well have a big opportunity Saturday.
Short bursts: Arizona’s offensive line has allowed only one sack in the last three games … UA halfback Michael Bell has run for 276 yards on 27 carries in the last two games, an average of 10.2 yards a pop … Arizona State punter Tim Parker dropped six of 11 punts inside the UCLA 20-yard line Saturday … Cal tailback Adimchinobe Echemandu is averaging 134 yards per game rushing in the last four games, capped by a 201-yard effort Saturday against Arizona … In the last two games, Stanford punter Eric Johnson has gotten off boots of 64, 65 and 66 yards.