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In truth, it's a miracle that the Huskies are making a second straight visit to the Rose Bowl and their fourth bowl appearance in the last five years. They began the season with only three holdover offensive starters. And, as it turned out, those were the good old days. Tailback was supposed to belong to Vince Coby, who sat out 1980 with a knee injury. But when Coby showed up for practice this fall, it was clear that the layoff had robbed him of his speed, and other runners got a look; five others, in fact, have played tailback for Washington this year. Then there was Clifton Johnson, who was said to be set at fullback after also missing 1980 with an injury to his knee, but that injury finished his football days. Coby thus moved to fullback. Meanwhile, over at tight end things were taking on the appearance of a big-city emergency room on Saturday night, with the lame and the halt, albeit willing, trying to keep James from having to devise a 10-man offense.
And the situation at quarterback was hardly better. Senior Tim Cowan injured a tendon in the thumb of his throwing hand in the second game of the season. That's how Pelluer got the job.
Even off the field, Washington seemed bent on self-destruction. Robinson fell on some steps, tore open two knuckles on his left hand and missed eight games. Bill Daley, the punter, went out for dinner with his parents at a Seattle-area restaurant after the Oregon game in September. His father went into the rest room and was attacked by two men. Young Daley rushed into the fray and seriously sprained his right knee. He hasn't played since.
All this naturally put the burden on the Washington defense, and it came through by merely being brilliant—leading the conference by giving up only 280.7 yards per game. Though five of the starters have missed at least one game, somehow the unit has held together. Against Stanford, in a 3:09 stretch, the Huskies scored four touchdowns set up by a blocked kick, a recovered fumble, an interception and a punt return for a score. Says defensive coordinator Jim Lambright, "That's when our defensive guys said, 'Hey, we can really help win a game.' "
So could the special teams. In all, they have blocked five kicks, scored twice on punt returns and recovered a fumble on a kickoff for a touchdown.
The Huskies' defensive stalwarts throughout the season have been Jenkins, a happy-go-lucky music major who nonetheless meets ballcarriers quickly and in a foul mood, and Linebacker Mark Jerue, who is philosophical about the team's offensive shortcomings. "The offensive guys stuck with the defense last year when we were young," he says. "So now we'll stick with them." Jenkins and Jerue, the defensive co-captains, each were credited with eight tackles, but the star last Saturday was Linebacker Ken Driscoll, who had a fumble recovery, a pass interception and 15 tackles, 11 of them unassisted. "I like the satisfaction that I've kicked somebody's butt one on one," says Driscoll. "It's not painful—for me."
Come late November, teams often have a lot of injuries and are reduced to bragging, be it justified or not, about their defense taking up the slack. And the players say their success has come because they've never been on a closer team. So if all this stuff is malarkey, why then are the Huskies 9-2?
The answer is Nelson, the field-goal kicker. "I worry about everything—except Chuck Nelson," says James.
Nelson's three field goals Saturday were buried in an avalanche of praise for the Washington offense, which produced a modest 280 yards rushing and an anemic 58 passing.
Having Nelson, Pelluer says, is "a great weapon." He has hit 16 of 20 field-goal attempts in '81, winning the Cal game (27-26) with a 21-yarder with 11 seconds to go and sewing up the USC game, which Washington won 13-3, with a 46-yarder in the kind of weather that gives typhoons a good name. Against Texas Tech, in a Texas-size wind, he kicked four field goals, including a 51-yarder into the teeth of the gale, as the Huskies struggled to a 14-7 victory.