UW defense bucks up

  • JOHN SLEEPER / Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, November 15, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports


Herald Writer

SEATTLE – The Washington Huskies are going into their third Saturday without strong safety Curtis Williams, but the pain, predictably, is not even close to dissipating.

Williams remains at Stanford Medical Center with a spinal-cord injury. Sure, the Huskies turned away Arizona and UCLA since Williams was injured, but something’s missing.

“A lot of times, Curtis would just come up and bang someone and the crowd would go, ‘Ohhhh,’ ” nose tackle Larry Tripplett said. “It would pick up the defense and we would start playing better. In losing Curtis, we lost that a little bit.”

It’s all part of losing a two-year senior starter, a fierce hitter who directed the defensive backfield. Although Greg Carothers has done a creditable job, he is a true freshman and can’t be expected to fill Williams’ void. And, although Hakim Akbar is a marvelous safety, his leadership is one by example, as opposed to Williams’ very vocal leanings.

The defense’s dip in performance the last two games can’t be pinned exclusively on Williams’ absence (Washington has given up 60 points and 840 yards in its last two games). But the Huskies have been giving up big plays.

Big plays are the forte of Washington’s next opponent, Washington State.

Quarterback Matt Kegel, filling in for the injured Jason Gesser (broken tibia) completed just 12 of 32 passes agauinst USC Saturday, but they went for 242 yards. That included an 88-yard touchdown throw to wideout Marcus Williams, the second longest pass play in WSU history.

That is what the Huskies are up against, sans their senior strong safety.

“We’re past him being hurt,” Tripplett said of Williams. “But there are critical plays that Curtis has made before that we’re not getting right now. It’s just going to take some of the young guys stepping up.”

  • Blind to Civil War: With so much on the line, Washington’s players might be excused if they let their eyes wander to the Martin Stadium scoreboard for a look at the Oregon-Oregon State game. The Civil War begins three hours before the Apple Cup. If Oregon wins, the Ducks are the Pacific-10 Conference champions. If Oregon State wins, Washington must beat WSU to earn the conference title.

    All of which usually sits about as well with coaches as a fumble. Any distraction from the task at hand, the reasoning goes, isn’t anything good.

    “We certainly can’t sanction them to not show the score,” UW coach Rick Neuheisel said. “But we’re very focused on Washington State. The kids have a very healthy respect for the Cougars.”

  • WSU platooning kickers: While WSU placekicker Nick Lambert continues to nurse an injured thigh muscle, the Cougars have been scrambling to find a suitable replacement. It was thought to be Anousith Wilaikul, who took over in late September.

    Wilaikul, however, has been in a slump, having missed five of his last eight, including attempts from 32 and 39 yards. He also has missed three PATs.

    It was a blocked extra point and a missed field goal against USC last week that put Wilaikul on the bench in favor of Drew Dunning, a freshman. Dunning’s only attempts were three PATs against the Trojans, which he converted.

    “If I was going to give Drew a chance, I didn’t want Apple Cup to be his first chance, with all the pressure,” WSU coach Mike Price said. “We put him in a game that wasn’t a life-and-death situation and he did a fine job.”

  • UW lands recruit: The Huskies got a verbal commitment from Joseph Lobendahn, a 6-foot, 225-pound linebacker from St. Louis High School in Honolulu. Arizona and Colorado also were in the hunt for Lobendahn’s services. Commitments are not binding until recruits sign letters of intent in early February.

  • Fleming honored: UW punter Ryan Fleming was named to the District VIII all-academic team for the second straight year. Fleming, a senior, has a 3.27 GPA. His major is accounting.

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