Woodson plays his usual role of victor Heisman winner quietly contributes in many ways

January 02, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

PASADENA, Calif. -- Michigan All-American Charles Woodson didn't dominate the 84th Rose Bowl. He didn't single-handedly shut down NFL-bound quarterback Ryan Leaf. He wasn't named the game's Most Outstanding Player.

He just did a little of everything as top-ranked Michigan scored a 21-16 victory over Washington State, and he showed again why he recently became the first defensive starter to win the Heisman Trophy.

Woodson picked off a pass in the end zone to squelch a promising second-quarter Washington State drive and made a key offensive play as the Wolverines were killing the clock in the final minutes of the game. He also showed his stuff on a couple of punt returns, but deferred happily to quarterback Brian Griese when they handed out the game's Most Outstanding Player award.

The trophy would probably get lost on his mantel anyway. Woodson has won almost every imaginable honor during his three seasons in the Michigan defensive backfield, but had to wait until the final frightening seconds ticked off the clock yesterday for a share of the Wolverines' first college football national championship in 50 years.

Maybe that's a little premature, since the votes aren't in yet, but Woodson doesn't think that the issue is worthy of debate.

"National champs. No doubt," he said. "That's the way the whole team feels. Nobody gave us a chance to be in the Rose Bowl. Everybody expected us to have another 8-4 season, but we all felt we could go undefeated. It was just a matter of going out and playing hard every week."

It wasn't a convincing victory, and it might not have been a victory at all if Woodson had not picked off a potential touchdown pass with 11 minutes left in the first half.

The play was huge. The Cougars already were ahead by a touchdown and Leaf appeared to be gathering momentum, but Woodson said afterward that it was not a do-or-die situation.

"If they had scored it would have been tough," Woodson said, "but we just would have had to do what we have done in the past."

Instead, Woodson did what he has done in the past. He stepped in front of Washington State receiver Kevin McKenzie in the end zone to snatch a poorly thrown ball that Leaf regretted as soon as he let it go.

"I pretty much knew what route he [McKenzie] was going to run," Woodson said. "I cut in front of him and then Ryan Leaf threw kind of a wobbly pass at me."

Woodson's offensive contribution was just as important. He was supposed to be the middleman on a double-pass play in a crucial third-down situation during Michigan's long march in the fourth quarter, but pulled the ball in and ran 7 yards for the Wolverines' final first down.

Still, he endorsed the decision to name Griese as the game's Most Outstanding Player.

"Brian played as good a game as he could today," Woodson said. "That's the way he is. If we didn't have a player like him who can stay calm in situations like that, we wouldn't be where we are today."

Now, the only question is where Woodson will be tomorrow. He figures to be one of the top five players selected this year if he enters the NFL draft, but has yet to make his intentions public.

Leaf is in the same situation. Both declined after the game to say which way they will go, but Leaf has called a news conference for today and is expected to turn pro. Woodson spoke highly of the Michigan program and indicated that it will be difficult to pass up his senior year, but he also is expected to play in the NFL next season.

Pub Date: 1/02/98

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