UW has one word for its magic: character

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

By JOHN SLEEPER

Herald Writer

SEATTLE – It was 20 minutes after Washington’s latest stunt – a 35-32 two-comeback corker over Arizona Saturday – and Derrell Daniels didn’t know whether to giggle or check himself into Harborview.

“It’s crazy,” the Huskies’ senior inside linebacker said. “I get so many gray hairs during these games, I’m going to be 60 years old by the time I graduate.”

You’d think Daniels would be used to it by now. Of Washington’s eight victories this season, seven have come after the Huskies have been behind. And five, count ‘em, five, came when Washington entered the fourth quarter behind.

The Huskies are either the luckiest team in the nation or the toughest to beat when a game is on the line. Coach Rick Neuheisel, who can hardly contain himself anymore, constantly reminds anyone who’ll listen about the character of his team, a character that won’t allow it to quit.

That, more than anything, has given Washington an 8-1 mark and a No. 6 rating in the Bowl Championship Series poll.

The Huskies aren’t a team that will administer a game-long bludgeoning. Typically, they will hang around for three quarters, look at times as though they’re disinterested, often allow their opponent astonishing statistical advantages and then strike.

Who knows why? Certainly not the coaching staff.

“When we can’t afford to do anything but play, we play,” Neuheisel said. “We are on a quest to find a way to do that earlier in games.”

It is a team with more positive energy than skill, one that makes the sing-song cheery Mary Poppins look like Bob Knight. Quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo has thrown more interceptions (11) than touchdown passes (nine) and has a baffling penchant to fumble while trying to squirm for an extra yard.

It is a team devoid of a deep-passing threat, has just four interceptions and has outscored its opponents by just 52 points.

Yet, the Huskies have come back from 12 points down in the fourth (Arizona) and 11 down (Cal). They blew a 24-6 lead at Stanford, fell behind 28-24 with 53 seconds left, only to go 80 yards in three plays and 36 seconds to win.

Against the Golden Bears, the Huskies forced three turnovers and blocked a punt en route to a 23-point fourth quarter.

The Comeback is commonplace at Montlake this year.

“What are your alternatives?” Neuheisel asks. “Start writing the memoirs of defeat with 13 minutes left? You’ve got lots of time to deal with defeat later. With five minutes left in a ballgame, let’s figure out a way to win.”

So they do.

An in-depth look at the five games Washington won after trailing in the fourth quarter – against Colorado, Oregon State, Cal, Stanford and Arizona – reveals no one area in which the Huskies have blown away foes, with the exception of turnovers.

In those five games, Washington forced six turnovers in the final quarter (three against Cal). In turn, Washington has been relatively free of turnovers late in the game, with just two in the final frame. That, more than anything, contributes to an 86-45 Husky points advantage in the last 15 minutes.

Yes, Washington enjoyed its best rushing performances in the fourth quarter of those five games, yet it allowed opponents their best rushing quarter as well. The Huskies also allow opponents their best quarter of passing yardage.

Think time of possession is the most important stat for winning teams? Washington has scored nearly twice as many points as the five above opponents, yet had the ball nearly six minutes fewer (40:25-34:35).

It’s turnovers, but it also is efficiency. For the season, Washington holds a 130-61 point advantage in the fourth quarter. Much of that is because of Tuiasosopo, who not only keeps panic out of the Washington huddle, but also makes his teammates believe with clutch plays.

“There are guys who can make plays, and then there are guys who can make plays at crunch time,” UCLA coach Bob Toledo said.

Neuheisel agrees.

“Anytime you have a triggerman like Marques who has great confidence and exudes that confidence in the huddle, then you’ve got a chance. We’ve been fortunate and dodged a lot of bullets this year.”

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