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PACIFIC 10 FOOTBALL / DAN HAFNER : Conference's Best Won't Be in Rose Bowl

October 20, 1994|DAN HAFNER

It seems likely that when Arizona and USC play at the Coliseum on Nov. 12, they will be playing to see which will represent the Pacific 10 Conference in the Rose Bowl game.

That's largely because of the Washington factor.

The Huskies, with their 1-2 punch of Damon Huard and Napoleon Kaufman, are probably the best team in the conference. But the Huskies are ineligible for postseason play, so the best they can do is spoil it for others.

In that regard, though, USC and Arizona are sitting pretty. The Trojans caught Jim Lambright's powerful group at the start of the season and came away with a 24-17 victory.

And Arizona doesn't play Washington this season.

The Wildcats are 3-0 in conference play, the Trojans 3-1. Washington State, Oregon and California also have only one loss apiece in the Pac-10, but all must still play the Huskies. The main enjoyment the Huskies are going to have the rest of the season is in knocking teams out of the Rose Bowl.

Huard, a 6-foot-4 junior from Puyallup, Wash., opened last season as Washington's No. 1 quarterback. But when he had a dreadful game against Arizona State late last season, he lost his job to Eric Bjornson. Bjornson returned to wide receiver this season and Lambright resolved to stick with Huard.

"We knew Damon had matured and gained confidence," Lambright said. "He was definitely not to blame. We had some problems, but I was upbeat. I was sure we were going to have a good team. Now we're thinking in terms of 10-1. That would be something, especially with the schedule. You can tell those other teams, the road to the Rose Bowl goes through here.

"I was very impressed with Arizona (in a 10-7 victory over Washington State last Saturday). Especially after giving up the ball late in the game. They just weren't going to lose."

Huard and his teammates did an amazing about-face against Ohio State after losing to USC, were positively brilliant at Miami, where the Huskies pulled the stunner of the season, and seem to be getting better.

Huard's effectiveness has made it easier for Kaufman. If you stop one, the other might go wild.

Arizona State Coach Bruce Snyder decided to concentrate on stopping Kaufman. The fleet Heisman Trophy candidate gained only 80 yards, but Huard completed 20 of 33 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns. With a minimum of help from Kaufman, Huard and the Huskies built a 35-0 lead.

"This is a big improvement over last year," Huard said. "Last year was tough. But I grew up and I learned a lot. This season started bad at Southern Cal, but the last five games, we've been awesome. We're doing things right."

*

Ballyhooed events often fall flat, but the defensive battle between Arizona and Washington State more than matched the hype.

Arizona, by the barest of margins, proved it is once again the best defensive team in the conference. No matter what the statistics show.

And the Cougars were almost as good as they thought they were.

Two things stood out in the performance of Arizona's Desert Swarm:

--The Wildcats gave up 85 yards and a touchdown on one play. The rest of the game, Tedy Bruschi, Sean Harris and friends gave up an average of only two yards a play in 66 plays, 29 of them passes.

--And instead of falling apart after Ontiwaun Carter had fumbled on the Arizona 28 with 2:27 to play, Arizona rose to the occasion.

The Cougars reached the 15, but on third and eight, linebacker Akil Jackson sacked Chad Davis.

That turned things for the Wildcats. The Cougars let the clock run down, even though they had two timeouts, then they missed the field-goal attempt that would have tied the score.

Although the Wildcats have always figured out a way to miss the Rose Bowl bid in recent years, they have moved into the best position once again.

With five games left, Coach Dick Tomey doesn't want to talk about it. Maybe he should. Last season when the Wildcats scored their seventh in a row, a three-point victory over Washington State, he didn't want to talk about it. They were knocked off by the next team, UCLA.

Next opponent? UCLA again.

*

Coach Rich Brooks of Oregon didn't have much time to enjoy the Ducks' comeback victory over California, which, for the time being at least, put Oregon back in the bowl picture.

"You know what we have next?" he asked. "The Huskies and the Desert Swarm. Somebody keeps trying to say this is an easy league.

"Our defense played its usual strong game and our running game returned. Getting Ricky Whittle back was the key. He ran for 177 in 24 carries. That will make it easier for Danny O'Neil to throw the ball. O'Neil's finger is healed (after surgery for an abscess). But while he was out, he lost his receivers. Now he has to get his timing down with two new receivers, a couple of true freshmen (Damon Griffin of Monrovia and Pat Johnson of Redlands). Johnson is only 5-10, but he's doing a heck of a job.

"Our defense will run up against the most versatile offense in the conference. How can you stop Kaufman and Huard? Huard threw three touchdowns last week. If we can win these next two, we're something special."

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