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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Shifty Stanback returns to fluster Wildcats’ defense

    If a bloated sense of security wasn’t what led to the Arizona football team’s shocking 38-14 home loss to Washington last year, Isaiah Stanback was.

    The then-junior quarterback led a ferocious rushing attack against a Wildcat team seemingly caught off-guard after a 38-point win over then-undefeated UCLA the week before, giving the Huskies their first Pacific 10 Conference win in almost two years.

    Washington, once a Pac-10 power, is 4-2 since the win in Tucson, and much of the credit for the program’s surprise improvement has gone to Stanback, whose fortunes, not to mention his on-field development, have jumped alongside those of his team.

    “”I’m proud of it, but I don’t really listen,”” Stanback said in a phone interview Tuesday. “”I don’t read the paper, I don’t really watch the news. I’m kind of just with my team and taking care of business.””

    Stanback entered this season, his second as a full-time starter, with a reputation as a scrambler who had no reservations about tucking the ball and rescuing broken plays – of which the Huskies had many in a 2-9 season under first-year head coach Tyrone Willingham.

    His proficiency as a passer remained under the radar in light of his skill as a ball-carrier, a reputation enhanced by his success in the 100-meter dash with the Washington track and field team.

    While he showed flashes of brilliance in the pocket, completing 22-of-39 passes for 301 yards against California, it hadn’t been until the first four games of 2006 that Stanback finally demonstrated a true duality in the pocket.

    Stanback, now a redshirt senior, threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in the Huskies’ 21-20 win over Fresno State on Sept. 16.

    The next week, he went 18-of-29 for 200 yards and a career-high three scores through the air in the team’s 29-19 comeback win over UCLA on Saturday, accounting for 248 of Washington’s 249 yards of total offense.

    Stanback’s performance showed he can be just as much a threat with his arm as with his shifty feet, yet he said he considers the game, by his standards, a disappointment.

    “”That’s the most passes that I’ve ever missed,”” he said. “”We’ve had dropped balls, we’ve had miscommunication, but as far as just missing throws, I just missed way too many.””

    One pass Stanback didn’t muff in last year’s game against the Wildcats, and which both teams have said likely made the difference in the outcome, was a 69-yard Hail Mary to wide receiver Chris Chambers at the end of the first half.

    The play – now immortalized for callers on hold with the Huskies’ ticket office – tied the game at 14 and led to the road team scoring 24 unanswered points.

    It didn’t hurt that Washington ran for 333 yards on the day, including Stanback’s 96.

    “”That was kind of the thing that got everyone going in that game, besides the rushing well,”” he said, adding that the pass was the farthest he’s thrown with pads on. “”It felt good.””

    Stanback was the clear focus for UA head coach Mike Stoops during his Monday press conference.

    Stoops said his ability to dodge sacks, throw deep and serve as a de-facto second running back when needed will place pressure on the entire Wildcat defense.

    “”He’s the guy you got to stop to win the game, there’s no question,”” Stoops said. “”He’s throwing the ball with more accuracy than he ever has. It’s going to be a tall task, but we’ve got to come up with some stuff to give him problems.””

    The Wildcats have faced a couple of mobile quarterbacks already this year in Louisiana State’s JaMarcus Russell and Stephen F. Austin’s Danny Southall, but senior safety Michael Johnson said Stanback will present a new challenge altogether.

    “”The guy from SFA, he was pretty athletic, but Stanback, I saw him last year, he ran around the field a lot,”” Johnson said. “”He’s pretty athletic, also, but the D-line should be able to contain him. We have a ton of speed on the D-line, and hopefully they’ll gobble him up.””

    Said defensive tackle Lionel Dotson: “”We want to try to keep him in the pocket. He’s an athlete, and we don’t want him to scramble like he did against us last year.””

    Stanback said he has always considered himself a pass-first quarterback, and in the offseason he tried to address every aspect of his game, starting with his mental awareness on the field.

    Having graduated from Washington in June, Stanback considers football his livelihood at the moment.

    But if the sport can’t take care of him beyond this final season with the team, he said he still plans to be a professional athlete.

    The Baltimore Orioles selected him as a center fielder in the 45th round of June’s amateur draft, despite Stanback never suiting up for his school’s baseball team.

    “”It was good,”” he said. “”Baseball’s something I’ve been doing my whole life. I actually was better at baseball than any other sport, but (right now) I’m a Husky. Thank God I have something to fall back on.””

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