A PURPLE HAZING
Austin Murphy reports on last Saturday's Washington- Oregon game.
Decisions, decisions. Having reduced to dog meat its most formidable Pac-10 competition to date, Washington might find its greatest challenge ahead to be settling on a nickname for its fleet, carnivorous defense. On Sept. 22, the Huskies pinned a 31-0 goose egg on Southern Cal. Last Saturday they made Duck soup of Oregon in a 38-17 romp. Washington, which is 5-1 overall, is the only undefeated team in the Pac-10, and its fans, who have not been to the Rose Bowl since 1982, are phoning their travel agents.
So what would be a suitable sobriquet? Deep Purple and the Purple Wave of Pain are being bandied about in the Pacific Northwest. Nostalgic fans prefer Purple Haze, because 1990 is the 20th anniversary of the death of Jimi Hendrix, the most famous alum of Seattle's Garfield High. Out of the running is Purple Reign, the calling card of the '84 Husky defense, which sent nine players to the NFL. That team ended up 11-1 and No. 2 in the polls.
Though it was barely discernible to the naked eye, Washington sank into a slight funk after that spectacular season, averaging a mere seven wins per annum from 1985 through '88. Several things were happening at once. The nucleus of coach Don James's sterling staff left for better jobs, and the Husky brain trust whiffed on some recruiting decisions. "I'm talking about kids we could have had, but either did a poor job recruiting or rejected outright," says James. "A couple of them turned out to be All-Americas. And just like a lot of people who have some success, I guess we got a little fat."
He isn't just talking complacent fat. He's talking Mrs. Sprat fat. As in WIDE LOAD, PASS WITH CAUTION. Washington went through a period in which it coveted above all else huge offensive linemen in the 6'5" or 6'6" range. Mobility did not matter to the Husky coaches, bulk did.
James got a wake-up call at the '86 Sun Bowl. After spending the afternoon watching Alabama halfback Bobby Humphrey and linebacker Cornelius Bennett run circles around his team, James vowed to recruit leaner, faster players. The fruits of that decision were apparent early against Oregon. Six minutes into the game, tailback Greg Lewis scored untouched on a 53-yard run through a hole opened by center Ed Cunningham and guard Dean Kirkland, who both fit James's updated profile for shorter, quicker linemen.
Lewis, who ended up with 169 yards on 23 carries, has rushed for more than 100 yards in all six of Washington's games. Here is a guy who can find daylight, but for the first month of the season he couldn't find his way onto anyone's Heisman watch list. "Please, don't bring it up," said Lewis after the game. "I don't even think about it."
That, of course, is what they all say. However, something about Lewis's agenda for the upcoming week makes one believe him. "On Sunday I teach a disciple-ship class," he says. "On Monday I teach Bible studies on campus, and on Thursday night I lead a prayer group."
Oregon's Bill Musgrave, who had quietly emerged as the conference's best quarterback, passed for 302 yards against the Huskies, a heroic performance considering the thrashing he took during and after almost every throw. By land, the Ducks, who are now 4-2 overall and 0-2 in the Pac-10, gained a measly seven yards on 35 carries. "We were beaten, and I feel beaten," said Musgrave, expressing much the same sentiment as USC quarterback Todd Marinovich did when he came out of the Washington game shell-shocked, muttering, "All I saw was purple."
The Purple Haze was little more than a pale magenta wisp most of last season. After Arizona State struck for 493 yards in its 34-32 win over Washington in November, defensive coordinator Jim Lam-bright decided it was the time to give his charges more freedom to gamble and attack. Since then, the Huskies have been blitzing more and giving a blitz "look" on virtually every non-first-down play. As a result, when an opposing quarterback gazes across at them, he often sees eight or nine Washington defenders crowding the line of scrimmage like thirsty patrons at some Happy Hour bar.