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Saturday, November 18, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Huskies suffer without Stanback

Seattle Times staff reporter

PULLMAN — The easy answer to the question of what has gone wrong for the Huskies since that glorious 4-1 start stood on crutches Monday, insisting it wasn't really that simple.

"Me not being able to play anymore shouldn't be the reason that we are losing," Isaiah Stanback said.

But that will be the inescapable conclusion when the history of Washington's 2006 season is written for a season that ends with today's Apple Cup game against Washington State.

"You can't lose Isaiah Stanback and be the same football team," said athletic director Todd Turner.

And the Huskies haven't been.

Consider a few numbers:

• In the first six games, before Stanback suffered a season-ending foot injury in the fourth quarter of game seven against Oregon State, the Huskies averaged 24.3 points per game. Since then, they have averaged 16.2.

• In the first six games, UW averaged 367.7 yards per game. Since, 255.

• In the first six games, UW averaged 200.7 yards passing and 167 yards rushing. Since, 170.2 passing and 84.8 rushing.

• Stanback's absence has been most stark on third down. In the first six games, UW converted 43 percent of its third-down attempts (36 of 84). Since then, UW has converted 22.9 percent (17 of 74).

While the defense has also struggled some, its numbers aren't as drastically off from what they were. For instance, UW allowed 352.2 yards per game with Stanback, and 402.8 since then, which includes two overtime periods, and the fact that opponents have had more possessions because the UW offense hasn't been able to keep the ball.

Maybe the best comparison is yards per play. In the first six games, UW averaged 5.7; since then, 3.8. The defense, meanwhile, gave up 5.3 yards in the first six games, and 6.1 since.

And while some might argue that the schedule has gotten tougher, UW's first six opponents are a combined 34-25, while the last five are a fairly comparable 28-23.

Washington offensive coordinator Tim Lappano said defenses are giving the Huskies vastly different looks since Stanback was injured, particularly the last three weeks once they saw how UW is playing without him.

Specifically, teams are playing man-to-man coverage in the secondary and using an extra defender to crowd the line of scrimmage and stop the run.

"Isaiah presents a lot of different problems for the defensive coordinator with his ability to get outside, his ability to pull it down," Lappano of Stanback's ability to run.

Because of that, Lappano said teams rarely played man-to-man coverage.

"But we're seeing some of that now," he said. "Basically what they are doing is getting in a lot of man coverage and they are loading up the box and coming after us a little bit."

It's a strategy, Lappano said, in which opponents are saying "we dare you to beat us deep."

The only way to beat it, coaches say, is to make a play. For a receiver to get open deep and the quarterback to hit him, or for the offensive line to win some battles up front and pave the way for the running back.

"We have to make some plays," Lappano said. "We had the opportunity to do that a couple of times on Saturday [against Stanford] and we just broke down. But it will be the same thing this week. We've got to make some plays."

But Stanback was not only the one often making those plays, he was the team's emotional leader. Without him, other players haven't seemed as confident in their ability to make those kinds of plays.

"It's been just a difference of 2-3-4-5 plays in a game that has made the difference," coach Tyrone Willingham said. "You get to this last segment of games and we have not played like a confident football team, not made plays and not done the things that you have to do. And as I always say, that's one of the most difficult things for a coach because then you have to be perfect. We don't have that margin of error."

Nagging problems have turned into a six-game losing streak that has killed all the momentum gained in September.

That the Huskies seemed ready to fulfill Willingham's stated goal of a bowl game before Stanback got hurt, however, has him convinced that things are still on track, even if the team has gone off the rails.

"We had positioned ourselves where we had a legitimate opportunity to be a bowl team and who expected we would be in that kind of position?" Willingham said of expectations before the season. "So we are getting close to being that kind of team. There is still a lot of reason to hope. Not just hope, but to know that there are good things coming in the program."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com. Read his blogs on Washington football and basketball at www.seattletimes.com/huskies.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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Football schedule

DateOpponentTimeTV
Sept. 2San Jose StateW, 35-29
Sept. 9at OklahomaL, 37-20
Sept. 16Fresno StateW, 21-20
Sept. 23UCLAW, 29-19
Sept. 30at ArizonaW, 21-10
Oct. 7at USCL, 26-20
Oct. 14Oregon StateL, 27-17
Oct. 21at CaliforniaL, 31-24, OT
Oct. 28Arizona StateL, 26-23, OT
Nov. 4at OregonL, 34-14
Nov. 11StanfordL, 20-3
Nov. 18at Washington StateW, 35-32

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