The USC defense walked off the field last January disappointed after losing to Texas and exhausted from chasing quarterback Vince Young, who helped the Longhorns end the Trojans' 34-game winning streak.
USC saw the last of Young when he made himself available for the NFL draft, but the third-ranked Trojans have prepared for a reminder of sorts today.
Washington quarterback Isaiah Stanback, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior, has passed and dashed the Huskies to a surprising 4-1 start that includes a 2-0 record in Pacific 10 Conference games.
"He's as good a big-time threat as we're going to face all season," said USC Coach Pete Carroll, whose Trojans are 4-0 overall, 2-0 in conference play. "In the style of offense that they feature him, he's the whole show."
In his second season as the full-time starter, Stanback has helped lead second-year Coach Tyrone Willingham's revival of a Washington program that crumbled after Rick Neuheisel's firing before the 2003 season.
Keith Gilbertson succeeded Neuheisel and compiled a 7-16 record. Willingham, who was fired by Notre Dame after the 2004 season, took over in Seattle last year and the Huskies finished 2-9.
Now, Washington could be bowl-bound for the first time since 2002.
"I would believe that most people that looked at our football team would never have thought that at this time we would be at this place, so that is an accomplishment in itself," Willingham said. "I think the word that is often used is 'buy-in.' I think there is a lot more buy-in into what we're doing in our system."
Washington's offense revolves around Stanback, one of the best athletes in the Pac-10.
Last spring, Stanback finished fifth in the 100-meter event at the conference track and field championships. He has not played college baseball, but that did not stop the Baltimore Orioles from selecting him in the 45th round of the June draft.
This season, Stanback has accounted for 251 yards a game.
Carroll, recalling Young's 467 yards of total offense against the Trojans in the Bowl Championship Series title game, said the quarterbacks are similar.
"Both are real fast and both have the same inclination to take off when things break down in the passing," Carroll said. "[Washington's] offense is a little bit different. This is a more varied offense."
USC players say controlling the elusive Stanback is the key to beating the Huskies.
"You've got to be in the right places at the right time," defensive end Lawrence Jackson said. "It's discipline. You've got to be patient and when it's your chance to make a play, you've got to make a play. If you're supposed to be in a certain place, you've got to be there."
Stanback's unpredictable style could especially challenge a Trojans secondary coming off its worst performance of the season against Washington State.
"He's going to be able to run around back there and maybe avoid some sacks and throw the ball downfield," said freshman safety Taylor Mays, who played at Seattle O'Dea High. "So we need to be able to cover well and then when he does run we need to come up and be able to swarm tackle him."
Stanback has performed progressively better since making his first start against USC in 2004.
In that game, USC beat Washington, 38-0, at the Coliseum, ending the Huskies' streak of 271 games without being shut out. Stanback completed only three of 16 passes for 27 yards.
Last season, Stanback completed 14 of 18 passes for 201 yards and passed and ran for touchdowns in a 51-24 loss to the Trojans at Seattle.
Carroll said Stanback does not look much different, but the Huskies do.
"This team around him is much farther along," Carroll said. "Their offensive line is just much better than they were a year ago. All the rest of the players are basically the same, but they've just grown and they've matured and they're confident now they've had a lot of success in a quick amount of time."
Washington began the season by defeating San Jose State, then lost at Oklahoma. The Huskies needed a blocked extra point to hold off Fresno State but overcame a 16-point deficit to beat UCLA and then defeated Arizona on the road last week.
Stanback accounted for 340 yards against Arizona
"He's put in a lot of time and dedication to studying the game, and not only just the football game and the Xs and O's," Willingham said.
"He's also put time into understanding how to be a more effective leader and I think those are really showing in the way the team plays around him."
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Washington senior quarterback Isaiah Stanback can attack opposing defenses through the air and on the ground. His yearly stats with the Huskies, including the first four games of this season:
*--* PASSING YEAR CMP. ATT. YDS. TD INT. 2006 72 127 951 8 3 2005 143 264 2,136 9 6 2004 23 68 389 3 3 2003 2 2 18 0 0
*--* RUSHING YEAR ATT. YDS. AVG. LONG. TD 2006 64 306 4.8 36 2 2005 100 353 3.5 33 5 2004 41 66 1.6 26 2 2003 8 25 3.1 7 0