Huskies make a case for No. 1 Fate of title bid now up to pollsters ROSE BOWL

January 02, 1992|By Mike Littwin | Mike Littwin,Sun Staff Correspondent

PASADENA, CALIF — PASADENA, Calif. -- Washington's fate was left to the voters. Michigan's was left to Washington. And that was the story of the Rose Bowl.

It was not just a football game. No. 2 Washington's convincing 34-14 win over Michigan yesterday before 103,566 fans was a statement. It was a loud bid for a national championship, intended to be heard all the way to the Orange Bowl, where No. 1 Miami's game with Nebraska was just starting when Washington's season was ending.

There were some early returns. One vote was offered up by Elvis Grbac, the harried Michigan quarterback, who didn't leave the building -- but wanted to.

"I don't think Miami could ever beat Washington," Elvis said.

From the Washington side, there was, not surprisingly, similar sentiment.

"We won, and now we're No. 1," said Steve Emtman, who came out of a sickbed to leave the Michigan offense feeling, well, a little lumpy. "There's no doubt in my mind, and there shouldn't be any doubt in anyone's mind."

Here's what the unbeaten Huskies did. Their defense dominated Michigan (10-2), smothering Heisman winner Desmond Howard in the process. Howard caught only one pass. He was even shown up by Washington's Mario Bailey, who caught six for 126 yards, and who, after a diving touchdown catch, mimicked Howard's now-famous Heisman pose.

"I didn't work on the pose before the game," Bailey would say later. "I worked on it only in my dreams."

It was that kind of day for Michigan.

It was the kind of day when Washington used two quarterbacks, and either one could have led the team to victory. Starter Billy Joe Hobert shared player-of-the-game honors with Emtman. But any of a dozen Huskies might have qualified.

Try tight end Aaron Pierce, who was suspended from the team last winter with a drinking problem after he bit a cop who was arresting him for alleged assault. Pierce caught seven passes.

Try any member of the Washington defense, which held Michigan to 205 total yards. People talk about how fast the Huskies defenders are. They are fast and relentless and ferocious. The tone of the game was set on the first Michigan possession when Emtman bulled two blockers, much like a bulldozer would plow a couple of wrecked Fords, pushing them into Grbac, who fell to the ground for a 7-yard loss. He was sacked again two plays later, and a trend had developed. Washington accumulated six sacks in all.

"We never had a chance to do anything against them," Grbac said. "I never saw a defense like that one."

Michigan coach Gary Moeller said he'd never seen a team quite like Washington.

"I can't envision a better team than Washington's," Moeller said. "They did to us what they do to everyone. Their defense beats you around, and then the offense jumps on you."

The defense does beat you around, all right. Michigan couldn't run against the Huskies at all. Imagine, a Michigan team that can't run. What in the name of Bo Schembechler was going on? But no one runs on the Huskies, who allowed an average of 1.9 yards per carry all season, and, in the first half, gave Michigan 9 yards on 19 carries.

And, when Michigan tried to pass, Grbac couldn't find Howard. He rarely had the time, and when he did, he lacked the aim.

"I'm just one guy," said Howard, whose one catch was a spectacular 35-yarder that set up a touchdown. "I've always said that. When I won the Heisman, I said that."

The only Michigan player you ever noticed was Grbac, and that's because he was the guy the Huskies kept chasing. Michigan had an opportunity to get back into the ballgame late in the second quarter when Washington's then-stalled offense simply broke down. A pass bounced off a receiver's hands and into a Michigan defenders for an interception.

PTC Washington's lead was 13-7 at the time, and Michigan was on the Huskies' 29. Then it was deja vu all over again. Emtman knocked Grbac back 12 yards on first down. He was sacked again on second down. A running play on third-and-26, and that was it for Michigan.

With a minute gone in the fourth quarter, it was 27-7, and the rout was on.

Early in the game, Washington's offense wasn't working. There were two interceptions and a couple of botched opportunities from inside the Michigan 10. But in the second half, everything opened up, and the Huskies eventually accounted for 404 total yards, including 218 in the air.

"It all started with the defense," tight end Pierce said. "They kept giving us the ball back, and finally we started to score. I think a big play was Mario's catch."

That's Mario Bailey, who had come into the game wanting to prove he was better than Howard. The pose said everything he wanted to, although Washington center Ed Cunningham added a few more words.

"Did he show up today?" Cunningham said of Howard. "I don't remember seeing him out there."

Now, all the noise will come from those who vote in the various polls.

"We did everything we could do," Pierce said. "It's out of our hands. We won all our games, and we can't play anyone else. All we can do is hope."

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