Last year, the Washington Huskies turned in a baseball score for their spring football game — a 3-0 snoozefest that thrilled only Cougars and Ducks fans.
On Saturday, Washington's spring game again brought to mind a baseball analogy — pitch and catch. Only this time, Huskies fans actually enjoyed the game.
Using three long passes from quarterback Isaiah Stanback, two that went for touchdowns, the Purple team (consisting of the starters) beat the Gold team (backups) 24-3 at Husky Stadium.
"We wanted to throw the ball down the field today," said Huskies offensive coordinator Tim Lappano.
And while all three came against a secondary consisting of backups who left receivers wide open each time, Huskies coaches and players said there was still a lot to feel good about.
"Last year, guys were open and the ball would be overthrown or we'd drop the ball or run the wrong route," said receiver Anthony Russo, who caught the first TD of the day, a 43-yarder from Stanback on the first possession of the game. "We are making those plays that we weren't last year, and that's a big change."
Stanback hit Chancellor Young with a 55-yard touchdown pass on the Purple's second possession of the game, and in the second quarter connected with Cody Ellis on a 67-yard pass that set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Kenny James. Stanback completed 6 of 9 passes for 190 yards overall in further solidifying his hold on the starting quarterback job. That's a far cry from last year's spring game, when the position still seemed uncertain.
"Everybody knows who the general is right now," Lappano said. "It's hard on your offense when guys are really not sure who is the leader, who is going to take us down the field. They know that Isaiah can do all that now."
Stanback had little choice but to throw as the coaches wouldn't let him run, not wanting to tip off opponents on some new additions to the playbook designed to have him use his legs more this fall. But he didn't mind doing little but handing off and throwing, saying he feels more comfortable in every aspect of second-year coach Tyrone Willingham's offense.
"I have a greater understanding of the offense, and that allows me to free-flow and make more plays and that helps my confidence level a lot," Stanback said.
Backups Carl Bonnell and Johnny DuRocher each spent time with both the Purple and Gold teams. But only Bonnell was able to lead a score, directing a 28-yard drive that ended in a field goal.
"I'm really pleased with him right now," Lappano said of Bonnell, who also had a 28-yard run and completed 4 of 12 passes for 25 yards. "Because we can win games with him, and it's nice right now knowing that if something were to happen with Isaiah that you have a guy who can come in and play."
The running game was spotty as a rebuilt offensive line continued to struggle at times. Willingham declared James the leader at the tailback spot after he rushed seven times for 19 yards. Louis Rankin, who had been No. 1 on the depth chart coming into spring, had 50 yards on six carries, 30 coming on one play.
"I'd probably say that's an area I did not feel as comfortable with as I'd like coming out of the ball game," Willingham said of UW's rushing attack.
The Purple defense predictably had its way with the Gold offense, whose only score came on a field goal following a fumble at the 8-yard line.
The secondary seemed particularly sharp, notably cornerbacks Roy Lewis (seven tackles, three pass defenses) and Dashon Goldson (one interception).
Defensive coordinator Kent Baer said he wished he felt more "comfortable with our depth," a concern that seemed apparent watching how easily the starting offense passed its way through the backup secondary.
"We wanted to come out and be explosive and score quick and have fun," Russo said. "We had to come out and show people what we can do and get our fans excited."
• The biggest disappointment of the day was a likely season-ending knee injury suffered by backup punter and place kicker Ryan Perkins. Perkins was hurt when Caesar Rayford tumbled into him while being blocked. DT Wilson Afoa also was injured, wearing a boot on one foot as the game ended, but Willingham said it wasn't serious.
• James, who was slowed with a shoulder injury much of last season, said he has added about 10 pounds, rising to 220, and said, "I feel a lot faster, smoother and more explosive" than a year ago.
• The Huskies have experimented with the offensive line all spring. The starting line they unveiled for Saturday consisted of redshirt freshman Ben Ossai at left tackle, Stanley Daniels at left guard, Juan Garcia at center, Clay Walker at right guard and Chad Macklin at right tackle.
• Lappano again said DuRocher "has to be more accurate." Said DuRocher, who was 6 of 16 for 65 yards: "I don't know why I wasn't really accurate this spring. I threw the ball pretty well all winter and I just came out and had a couple flat days." DuRocher also had two fumbled snaps.
• WR Marcel Reece, a JC transfer receiver whom UW signed last winter and expects to be eligible this fall, watched from the sideline and looked every bit the 6-3, 235 pounds he's listed. "We're going to have a lot of fun together," said Stanback as he looked at Reece while talking with reporters.