By JOHN SLEEPER
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.”
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.”
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.”
Talk to us
- You can tell us about news and ask us about our journalism by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 425-339-3428.
- If you have an opinion you wish to share for publication, send a letter to the editor to email@example.com or by regular mail to The Daily Herald, Letters, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206.
- More contact information is here.