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Stanback, Washington offense ready to bite

Matt Puglisi | Friday, September 23, 2005

Like Michigan State, Washington enters tomorrow’s game against Notre Dame on the heels of a big victory over a perennial doormat-the Spartans routed both Hawaii and Kent State before knocking off the favored Irish 44-41 at Notre Dame Stadium, while the Huskies thumped a weak Idaho squad, 34-6.

However, while the Irish loomed as the first real test for the Spartans, the Huskies have already sat for that exam.

They failed miserably.

Hosting PAC 10 rival California at home, Washington was trounced 56-17, yielding the most points at home in the history of the program and showing the college football world that while a new coach in Ty Willingham patrols the sidelines, little has changed thus far-at least in terms of on-the-field results-since Washington wrapped up a dismal 1-10 season last November.

However, if there was ever a time for the Huskies to make a statement and right the ship, tomorrow is it.

With his former team-including many of the players he personally recruited-coming to town, Willingham acknowledges the fanfare surrounding tomorrow’s contest, as well as the impact a Husky victory could have on the rebuilding program.

“This is a big game,” Willingham said at Monday’s press conference. “It will be highlighted and hyped to a great extent by a lot people around the country. So that means a lot of attention will be on it, a lot of eyes on it and you get excited when you have those kind of venues to perform for.”

And oftentimes in hyped games, it isn’t just the stars that make the difference, but the more unheralded players.

While he hasn’t quite matched Irish quarterback Brady Quinn’s numbers this season, Huskies quarterback Isaiah Stanback is 29th nationally in passing yards (688) and has tossed four touchdowns over the season’s first three games.

In addition, Stanback provides a dual threat with his legs, picking up 70 yards and touchdown over 19 carries

“[Stanback’s] a converted wide receiver, very athletic, big arm,” Weis said at Tuesday’s press conference. “Last week he showed how he can run an efficient game.”

While none of his targets boast big numbers-receiver Sonny Shackelford is the only member of the team with more than nine catches or 150 yards, leading the squad in both categories with 12 and 199, respectively-Stanback nevertheless has some options.

A highly touted receiving recruit coming out of high school-he was ranked 11th nationally at the position by recruiting website rival.com-Craig Chambers provides the Huskies with a deep threat, a particularly valuable commodity against a young and vulnerable Irish secondary.

Starting only four games last season, Chambers racked up 408 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 19 catches, including a big eight-catch, 189-yard performance against California.

This season, Chambers has mostly been a non-factor, grabbing only five balls for 129 yards and a touchdown.

Although his talent isn’t immediately evident in his 2005 numbers, Weis and the Notre Dame coaching staff aren’t fooled.

“He’s somebody that won’t sneak up on us,” Weis said.

On the ground, running back Louis Rankin has posted respectable numbers, rushing for 265 yards on 55 attempts. Rankin paced the Huskies offense last week, grinding out 115 yards and a touchdown in the victory.

Like Chambers, Rankin was a well-respected recruit. In his senior year of high school, the sophomore found the end zone 41 times and posted 2,245 rushing yards.

Rankin’s 41 total touchdowns (35 rushing) were the second highest total in California during 2002 and nearly carried him to the Cal-Hi Sports California Mr. Football player of the year award-he finished as one of 10 finalists.

While the visiting Irish have the edge over the Huskies in almost every category, the games are played for a reason, and the Huskies can’t wait to show the Irish their bite is much worse than their current soft whine of a bark.