PASADENA, Calif. -- Washington clamped a powerful stranglehold on Michigan -- and possibly a national championship -- yesterday with a 34-14 rout of the Big Ten champions before 103,566 stunned witnesses in the Rose Bowl.
"We lost to as good a football team as I've ever seen," said Michigan coach Gary Moeller. "I haven't seen Miami, but I can't imagine them being a better football team than this one."
Neither could Washington coach Don James. "I'm going to go watch a couple of games and then go vote," said James.
"I'm going to vote for Washington. But you've got to watch Miami play and then make a judgment on what you see. I can't believe anyone can be a whole lot better than us."
The Huskies, completing a 12-0 season in smashing fashion, used a dominating defense in outclassing the Wolverines.
Michigan's most heralded weapon, Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard, was rendered useless as a sword that never leaves the scabbard while the Huskies' own terrible swift sword, Mario Bailey, slashed huge gashes in the Michigan defense.
Howard caught only one pass, but it did set up the tying touchdown early in the game. Bailey, who caught six passes for 126 yards, set up two touchdowns with catches inside the Michigan 10 and polished off the Wolverines with a diving 38-yard touchdown catch from backup quarterback Mark Brunell.
Bailey's regular-season statistics were nearly as good as Howard's, but he got not nearly the attention.
"Obviously he had something to prove," said Howard, "because he kept mentioning my name all week."
Huskies starting quarterback Billy Joe Hobert and defensive tackle Steve Emtman were voted co-players of the game. Emtman, though weakened by the flu, set the defensive tone on Michigan's first series when he caved in the entire left side of the Wolverines' line to nail quarterback Elvis Grbac.
Grbac had a frustrating afternoon, falling five times under the punishing Husky pass rush and gaining only 130 yards through the air. "The thing we did with Grbac," said James, "was to let him know we knew where No. 21 was."
"Our corners played extremely well," said Emtman, "and that was the key to our defense. Those guys did a great job on Desmond."
Michigan had only 94 yards of total offense through the first three quarters and 205 for the game.
Hobert threw two touchdown passes and scored one himself while Brunell, last year's Rose Bowl hero, came in for just one first-half drive and the fourth-quarter bomb to Bailey.
Michigan's defense played well in the first half, but couldn't sustain its performance for 60 minutes.
"I don't think the defense played very well in the second half," said Moeller, "but the offense put them in too many holes. Your defense can't give up big plays, but your offense can't keep throwing the defense back out there and feeding them to the fire, either."
The Wolverines didn't start to feel the heat until Bailey got behind Deon Johnson to grab a 34-yard pass at the Michigan 6 late in the first quarter. On the first play of the second quarter Hobert scored on a 2-yard keeper after tailback Beno Bryant executed a beautiful fake leap into the line.
Michigan came right back to tie it when Howard made his 35-yard catch at the Washington 9. The pass was underthrown by Grbac but Howard came back to snatch it right out of defender Dana Hall's hands.
Two plays later Grbac found flanker Walter Smith in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown. Those were Grbac's only two completions of the first half.
Brunell came in to direct the next Washington drive and the Huskies had an apparent touchdown called back before settling for the first of Travis Hanson's two first-half field goals.
"I felt great with that halftime score [13-7] as poorly as we'd played offensively," said Moeller.
He didn't feel so great when Hobert directed an 80-yard drive in the third quarter, finishing it with a 5-yard pass to tight end Mark Bruener, who caught the ball while tiptoeing along the end line.
Hobert turned the heat up even higher when he rolled out and completed a 3-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Pierce to make it 27-7 just two plays into the final quarter.
The desperate Wolverines gambled on fourth-and-two at their own 37 after the kickoff and Grbac was stopped short on a keeper. Brunell's bomb to Bailey came on the Huskies' first play after that.
Washington eased the defensive chokehold just a bit after that and freshman tailback Tyrone Wheatley was able to break a 53-yard touchdown run on a draw play to help the Wolverines save a little face.
But that's all they managed to salvage against a team on a mission. The Huskies did what they set out to do, but still had to wonder if it was going to be enough.
"I can campaign all I want to," conceded Hobert, "but I'm just a peon in the football community. I think we deserve the national championship, but if Miami goes undefeated they deserve it as well as us."
"If Miami wins and either of us doesn't get a national championship it will be disastrous," said James.