Running game shines in football home opener
Sept. 6, 2003
By Mason Kelley
Special to GoHuskies.com
SEATTLE, Wash. - Seven rushing yards, that was all the Huskies could muster against a stingy Ohio State defense in their season opener. For Washington to pick up a win in week two - against Indiana, another Big Ten opponent - they knew they were going to have to run the ball better.
They did just that taking the ball right at the Indiana defense, racking up 195 yards on 52 carries, leading Washington to the 38-13 victory. Of the Huskies 33 first half plays 19 were on the ground, uncharacteristic for a team that boasts the dynamic duo of Cody Pickett and Reggie Williams.
On Washington's second drive of the game, the Huskies drove 86 yards in 15 plays, capped by Charles Frederick's touchdown catch. The running game set up that score recording 10 carries for 51 yards.
'As a unit we did great today,' senior Rich Alexis said of the Huskies ability to run the ball. 'There is still a lot of improvement for us to make, this is just a little stepping stone. We want to keep improving each week.'
The Huskies would improve in a big way in the third quarter exploding for 28 points. Shelton Sampson, a red-shirt freshman making his Husky debut, would come up big scoring two touchdowns in the quarter. For the game Sampson had 39 yards on 10 carries.
Sampson gave the Huskies a 24-13 lead with 5:21 left in the third quarter, when he took a handoff - the first carry of his career - around the left end using his speed to get across the goal-line from six yards out.
'It was cool, it was a blessing,' Sampson said of his first career rushing touchdown. 'I just went out there and did what I love doing, the best way to do well is to just go out and have fun doing it.'
Sampson got the Huskies on the board again with 1:54 left in the third quarter, taking a toss sweep around the right side, giving the Huskies a 31-13 advantage.
Stepping up at a crucial junction of the game is a lot to ask of a red-shirt, but no matter what the situation Sampson was ready to shine.
'I always expect to have a good game,' Sampson said. 'I just play my hardest and if playing my hardest will give me the outcome that I had today, then it's cool.'
Alexis anchored the running game today with 75 yards on 18 carries. While he led the team in rushing he acknowledges that he still has a long way to go.
'It feels good, but it is no where close to where I want to be,' Alexis said of his performance. 'I still have to keep improving every week and hopefully I can do that.'Zach Tuiasosopo, returning from a one-game suspension was fired up to start the game. He would come one yard short of his career best in rushing with 17 yards on three carries. His previous best was 18 set against Arizona State in 2002.
He also recorded the longest reception of his career when Pickett hit him with a 35-yard pass up the right sideline.
'It was great,' Tuiasosopo said of his reception. 'Cody broke out on the naked (bootleg) and I just happened to be an outlet on that play. The offensive linemen held their blocks and the coaches just called a good play.'
With plenty of able bodied backs at the Huskies disposal, Washington has been fortunate enough to rotate series', giving the running backs plenty of rest. While some players might be frustrated with the lack of carries, this group just wants to win.
'It is a friendly competition, I love those guys,' Alexis said of splitting time with other backs. 'We have gotten to a point where whoever is hot, you have to respect that and let them in the game.'
On Saturday the Huskies rushed for 195 yards, their highest total since they rushed for 212 against Idaho in 2001. It is only one game, but the Huskies are on their way to rebuilding a running game that has turned out greats like Napoleon Kaufman, Corey Dillon and Greg Lewis.
This group doesn't have just one back that can run, they have six, if you throw Kenny James and Chris Singleton into the mix and a little option from Isaiah Stanback at the end of the season there will more to the Husky offense than the passing game.