Friday, December 13, 2002
On the Mike: Huskies and Tuiasosopo are college football's cardiac kids
By Mike Diegnan
Has there been a team that has better exemplified this wild college football season than the Washington Huskies? Everyone talks about the cardiac New York Jets, but they'll have to do their fourth quarter tricks a few more times to get into the same class as the Huskies.
Since the first week in September, the Huskies have been slammed and put down almost as much as Big Ten defenses. But here they are, in the second weekend of November, with a shot at the Rose Bowl or another BCS bowl game.
How they got there is what has made Washington the most exciting team in the country. Each week, you are left thinking the Huskies have finally tapped their resources. But each week, they do it again and surprise you even more.
"We have great character in our program as well as guys who seemingly don't panic when things don't look like they are going well," said head coach Rick Neuheisel. "Any time when you have a great trigger man like we do with Marques Tuiasosopo, who has great confidence and exudes that confidence, you have a chance. We have been fortunate and dodged a lot of bullets."
That might be the understatement of the season. I guess that's what you call an 8-1 team that has trailed and been outgained in eight of its nine games. Four times the Huskies have trailed entering the fourth quarter. As a team, the Huskies rank in the top 35 of just one major offensive or defensive category (27th in rushing offense). But if not for a rally falling just short at Oregon, the Huskies would be undefeated.
Nonetheless, Tuiasosopo and his warriors have been nothing short of thrilling. He may not have the numbers of Chris Weinke, the pre-injury legs of Michael Vick, or the arm strength of Drew Brees, but Tui has a bigger heart than a seeing-eye dog.
And it has rubbed off. Take, for instance, the past three weeks:
Oct. 21 vs. California: Trailing 24-13 heading into the fourth quarter, the Huskies scored three times in a 2:15 span to crush the Bears' threat and win 36-24.
Oct. 28 at Stanford: Curtis Williams goes down with a serious spinal cord injury and Washington watches its 18-point lead evaporate. With just 53 seconds to go, the Cardinal take a 28-24 lead. But Tui and Co. respond in a hurry. With 17 seconds to go, Tui hooks up with Justin Robbins to cap an 80-yard drive and clinch another comeback victory.
|Rick Neuheisel has enjoyed the Huskies come-from-behind tactics.|
Nov. 4 vs. Arizona: With Williams in the back of their minds all week as he laid in a Palo Alto hospital, the Huskies trailed 25-10 midway through the third quarter and a Wildcat upset seemed well in hand. No matter, Tuiasosopo's 2-yard TD plunge with 1:10 completed a 22-point fourth quarter, giving the Huskies their seventh come-from-behind win.
"It's unbelievable how this team has been able to do this week after week," said wide receiver Wilbur Hooks. "It doesn't matter what the situation is, we are going to find a way to pull through. As long as there is time on the clock, we feel anything is possible."
"It's becoming known that we like the fourth quarter," said Neuheisel, who seems to revel the games going to the last minute. "Our kids are great in the fourth quarter. I don't think that they hold back anything for the fourth quarter, they just seem to come alive in the fourth."
The Huskies have outscored opponents 130-61 in the fourth quarter this year. What they have accomplished this season leaves one to ponder the possibilities at U-Dub in the final weeks of the season:
Neuheisel, feeling charitable to his alma mater, spots UCLA seven points to start the game, leaving his team again in a deficit. In order to motivate his troops, Neuheisel has the scoreboard operator change the quarter to four to start the game. The maneuver works as Washington cruises to a 31-7 victory.
In order to help Oregon State beat Oregon and get Washington back to the Rose Bowl, Neuheisel sends his first defense to Corvallis to help the Beavers. It helps Washington State score 24 points in the first half on the Huskies second-team defense. Undeterred, Tuiasosopo sparks Washington to a 31-point second half, including a last-second game-winning field goal by John Anderson for a 31-30 victory.
Husky Stadium is not the setting for a new Hollywood picture, but America loves teams and athletes that leave it all out on the field, like the celluloid portrayal of Roy Hobbs in The Natural. There won't be any light bulbs crashing Saturday when UCLA heads to Seattle, but another thriller will be on display.
Mike Diegnan is the editor of BCSfootball.com.
|Willie Hurst scored two TDs in the Huskies comeback over Arizona last week.|