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Sunday, October 24, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Bob Condotta
LOS ANGELES Manase Hopoi had one ready explanation for why the Washington Huskies were able to mostly shut down the USC offense in the first half of yesterday's game here at the Memorial Coliseum.
"I think they underestimated us," Hopoi said after the Trojans who led just 10-0 at halftime beat the Huskies 38-0.
Well, they had good reason, considering this will be the first UW team to finish with a losing record since 1976 and came into the game ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in total defense.
Underestimating Hopoi, however, is another matter.
Hopoi, a defensive tackle for UW, is having an all-conference-type season. He came into the game leading the conference in tackles for a loss with 13 and is third in sacks with five.
He added mightily to both totals yesterday, notching six tackles for a loss to tie a UW single-game record set by Jerry Jensen (1997 against Arizona State), three of which were sacks.
"He's had a very good year," UW coach Keith Gilbertson said of Hopoi. "But he put a lot into this season."
Hopoi got one of his greater rewards when he sacked USC Matt Leinart on a third-and-goal at the UW 3-yard line early in the second quarter. The play forced the Trojans to settle for a field goal after USC had taken over at Washington's 6-yard line following an Isaiah Stanback fumble.
At that point, Hopoi said, the defense was feeling good, with the Huskies down just 3-0.
That was one of five tackles for a loss by Hopoi in the first half. Interestingly, it was his first full game back at defensive tackle since the opener against Fresno State. He moved to end during the UCLA game after an injury to Mike Mapuolesega. But Mapuolesega is back, and UW has since lost tackle Dan Milsten, so Hopoi has moved inside once again.
Hopoi had one tackle for a loss in the second half as he said USC "kind of caught on and doubled-teamed me."
The UW defense also began to falter under the weight of the ineptness the Huskies' offense. The UW offense had nine possessions that lasted three plays or less.
Still, the 38 points USC scored didn't seem to do justice to the effort turned in by the UW defense.
"I was really pleased how our guys played much of the game," Gilbertson said.
None were better than Hopoi, who has played so well lately that some will likely wonder if he will return next season. Hopoi who came to UW in 2001 as a partial academic qualifier is listed as a senior but can gain another year of eligibility if he graduates by the start of next season. He has said all season that's what he plans to do.
Yesterday, though, he left the door open to leave for the NFL, saying, "If the opportunity comes at me, then I think I might think twice. But right now I've got a lot to improve on to go to the next level. I don't know if I'm ready for the next level. I've got a lot to improve on speed-wise and strength-wise."
Besides, he said, he likes the look of the future.
"We've got a young team, and I think I can help out leading in the right way," he said.
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