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Huskies need to earn their way back into the fans' hearts
Seattle Times colleges reporter
On a day of workmanlike football, it wasn't really USC or Washington that put up the most confounding number, but the fans.
The Trojans did what the Trojans do to people, winning 51-24 but somehow not winning impressively. They did it on maybe the last pleasant sunny day until, what, maybe mid-April? And somehow, Husky Stadium was about 8,500 people short of a sellout.
Seattle has been described as a big-event city, one that dotes on the occasion. In the college-football realm, it doesn't get much bigger than USC coming to town, marching toward an unprecedented third straight national championship, trailing behind it Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Dwayne Jarrett, Pete Carroll, the song girls and the ghosts of John McKay and Howard Jones.
Now we know better. The people vacating those empty seats don't go to consort with legends. They go to get geeked about Washington football.
"Been a long two years," sighed Huskies offensive coordinator Tim Lappano. For the record, the first was spent going 2-14 under Dennis Erickson with the 49ers. But Huskies fans weren't exactly yukking it up in 2004, either.
In those two seasons, the Huskies are 2-0 against bad Western Athletic Conference teams — Idaho and San Jose State — and 0-16 against everybody else. You know, the programs that have computers in their offices and blocking sleds on their practice fields.
It's a malaise with staying power, and you can forgive the recalcitrant among the fans for taking this tack: Something's got to change before they get back on board.
Fact is, there aren't any Extreme Makeovers on the immediate horizon.
In the dying five minutes of the game, we almost had the sparks for a little firestorm. Johnny DuRocher, the transfer quarterback from Oregon, entered in place of Isaiah Stanback and marshaled the Huskies downfield before a drive died at the Trojans 13.
No matter that the postgame seagulls were already circling the place. There's an appreciable faction out there calling for DuRocher to get more playing time at Stanback's expense. Then again, there are people who buy the magazines at grocery-store checkout lines as well.
"He picked up some receivers on his second and third progression, which I haven't see him do for a while," said Lappano. "He's growing, he's doing some good things. He's not just forcing the football all over the place."
When the new staff inherited Stanback, he was as wild as a coyote. He, and they, have invested a lot.
"He's learned how to play the position, learned how to read coverages," said Lappano, who recalled what he told Stanback upon the arrival of Tyrone Willingham and Co. " 'You either buy into this thing and learn how to watch film, how to study it and work at it, or you're going to have to play receiver.'
"When you don't know what Cover 2 and 3 are, and you're a junior in college ... "
The "Wheeere's Johnny?" camp would like to see more of DuRocher, partly because Stanback has only a year remaining after 2005 and DuRocher two. But there's a practical consideration getting in the way.
Stanback gets about 80 percent of the reps in practice, Lappano said. "And he needs them, too," the coach added. "It's not like he's a seasoned veteran out there."
Similarly, when Louis Rankin developed a sprained toe yesterday and Kenny James left with a recurrence of a shoulder bruise, it was tempting to think the Huskies should shove freshman J.R. Hasty into the breach.
But that train has probably left the station, too. The coaches discussed playing Hasty the week before the UCLA game Oct. 1. That night, the Huskies rushed for 213 yards without him. And during the ensuing bye, Hasty got sick, slowing his progress.
Now the decision essentially has been made to redshirt him, although it could be revisited this week if Rankin and James can't play. But who wants to think about 2009, when he'd be a fifth-year senior?
Hasty could create some buzz. The better question is whether he would create some victories.
"There would be a learning curve for him," Lappano said. "He's never played, so the speed of the game would be different. To be fair, it would probably take two or three games to adjust to that. It's not really worth it."
So you stay the course, and in late October, it's hard to argue with that. This is Ty ball, grinding and unglamorous, where you don't smash the champagne on the house before you lay the foundation. It's not what they'd want to hear in those 8,500 seats, but it's reality.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company