Note: Without live active sports to cover, I’m digging back into history for a series on the 1991 Washington Husky football team. I will be covering the season week-by-week, watching game tape where it’s available, and attempting to get in the mind of a Husky fan watching this undefeated National Champion in real time. I was a six-year old in North Dakota when the season happened, so most of this project will by my first time experiencing the games beyond folklore from those who have told me about them.
Rolling through Early Season
The Dawgs seized the momentum in the second half of their showdown in Nebraska and carried it through the next three games. The stretch of home games against Kansas State, Arizona, and Toledo at home looked like a soft spot in the schedule at the start of the year. The Huskies made good on that promise in dominant fashion. UW combined to win the three games 158-3, surrendering only the field goal the K-State and adding plenty of offensive theatrics to go with the defensive dominance.
Coming into the game at 3-0, it looked like K-State might provide some resistance to the #4 Huskies. On the contrary, the Dawgs lit up the scoreboard early and led 20-0 at the end of the first quarter. The stretched it to 35-0 before the Wildcats got on the board with a meaningless field goal before halftime. Billy Joe Hobert played a clean, effective game at QB. The Wildcats didn’t have the DBs to hang with Mario Bailey, who tallied 157 yards and 2 TDs on 7 catches. Beno Bryant, Jay Barry, and freshman Napoleon Kaufman combined for an efficient rushing attack with 188 yards on 29 carries between the three of them. Mark Brunell made his return from a knee injury late in the game, but struggled with a pick and only one completion in four tries. The defense was as dominant as could be, holding Bill Snyder’s squad to -17 net rushing yards and forcing five turnovers on the game.
Another set of Wildcats came to Montlake the following week, but the results were largely the same. Once again, the Dawgs jumped out to a huge lead- 34-0 at the half. Once again, the defense smothered an overmatched opponent, limiting Arizona to 142 yards of total offense. The Cats attempted 39 runs and went backwards on 19 of them. Steve Emtman dominated the line with multiple tackles for loss and Walter Bailey returned a pick for a TD. Mario Bailey caught two more TDs, this time from Brunell, who worked off the rust he showed the week before.
Former Husky OC Gary Pinkel brought his Toledo Rockets to Husky Stadium to play the #3 Dawgs next. Not surprisingly, the MAC foes were greatly overpowered. UW outgained Toledo 548-160. It was a balanced offensive attack, led by Beno Bryant’s 117 rushing yards and Bailey’s 170 receiving yards to go with 3 TDs. Pinkel’s offense could not sustain a drive all game with only two conversions on 16 third downs throughout.
Blitzing the Berkeley Buzzsaw
Cal went 7-4-1 in 1990 and returned QB Mike Pawlawski to lead a solid offense into 1991. Those results led to some optimism, but even the most ardent Cal supporter would not have expected a 5-0 start, an away win over a ranked UCLA team, the best offense in the conference, and a #7 national ranking. Nonetheless, the Bears brought that lofty resume into Memorial Stadium against the #3 Dawgs.
While the UW defense did not allow the sort of gaudy totals that Cal put up in previous weeks, the Bears gave the Huskies all they could handle until the final whistle (and beyond). A big game from unsung hero Jay Berry provided just enough offense for the UW defense to hold on in the end.
Before this game, Cal’s offense thrived on deep passing, but found more success with quick hitting passes and draws against UW’s aggressive defensive front. UC did complete one deep ball early when Pawalski found Sean Dawkins in single coverage against Walter Bailey streaking down the right sideline. Dawkins outran Bailey and scored a 59 yard TD to go on the board first.
The Dawgs answered on the very next drive. Barry came into the game to spell Bryant, who had suffered with the flu for the preceding week. Barry made two big runs to get into Cal territory. Hobert hit Mario Bailey on a deep ball over the middle for a 35-yard TD to tie the game late in the first quarter.
The Dawgs made several offensive mistakes early in the game that could have been much more damaging. Hobert fumbled an ill-advised pitch attempt, Brunell fumbled a snap when he came in for a shaken-up Hobert, Matt Jones fumbled after a completed pass, but all three wound up back with the Dawgs. UW’s Travis Hanson and Cal’s Doug Brien traded field goals, then Hobert threw an interception deep in Cal territory.
The defense held strong and the Dawgs got their own break with a late hit penalty inside the final two minutes of the half. Bryant overcame his slow start with nifty moves on a screen pass that brought the ball inside the 10. Barry ran it up the middle on a draw for another UW TD and a 17-10 halftime lead.
Coming out of the half, Cal tested Walter Bailey on another deep ball. This time, Pawalski underthrew his receiver and Bailey made the interception. On the very next snap, Bryant committed yet another Husky fumble that the Dawgs somehow recovered amidst a sea of blue jerseys.
UW’s defense dominated the Cal offensive line when Pawalski dropped back to pass. The pressure led to nine straight incompletions, including consecutive balls that the Huskies nearly picked inside Cal’s 20. Nonetheless, the Dawgs struggled to take advantage due to a recurrence of the penalty bug that bit them against Nebraska. A hold cost 35 yards of a Bryant punt return. Another one negated a long pass to Orlando McKay. At one point, the Dawgs were penalized on three consecutive offensive snaps.
Cal felt the pressure late in the third quarter and it led to some risky decisions. They converted a fourth-and-short in their own territory. Pawalski completed a long pass to gain a first down after a sack. He was stripped on another drop-back. Although Cal recovered, he threw another interception to Jamie Farr that was returned into Cal territory. A pair of inaccurate Hobert throws led to a field goal attempt by Hanson that he pushed wide left from 34 yards out.
Lindsey Chapman was apparently tired of the offensive ineffectiveness. On Cal’s next drive, the halfback took a draw straight up the middle for a nice 69-yard TD run on which he wasn’t touched by a defender until he approached the goal line. The 75,000 fans in Memorial Stadium were at full volume with the game tied going into the fourth quarter.
On the very next drive, Bryant made up for his poor game with a beautiful cut on an inside run to break open a 65-yard touchdown run. The score put the Dawgs up 24-17 early in the fourth.
After the teams traded punts, Cal got into UW territory on another draw play. The Bears converted their third fourth-and-short of the day to start knocking on UW’s door. Dave Hoffmann exploded into the backfield from his linebacker spot to force a fumble on third and 2. Cal recovered, but couldn’t convert after the loss.
UW responded by running the clock. The offensive line blocked well all the way down the field. Barry found the end zone for a TD that would have ended the game, but it was called back for holding. They had to settle for a medium-distance field goal by Hanson, which went wide for his fourth miss on the season.
Cal got the ball back with under a minute to play and no timeouts. Pawalski found Damien Semien on a broken play and he got all the way down to UW’s 22. Pawalski spiked the ball with five seconds left. It should have left Cal with a single attempt at the end zone, but UW jumped offside on the next snap to give Cal an untimed down after an overthrown ball into the end zone. Pawalski’s final pass was too short down the left sideline and UW survived 24-17.
It was not a clean performance by the Huskies, which is a reflection on Cal’s quality. UW was lucky to recover all four of its own fumbles. The Dawgs missed two makeable field goals that would have put the game out of reach. UW couldn’t get Cal off the field on fourth-and-short. Hobert was only 15-34 on the day. Other than Mario Bailey’s long TD, he and McKay combined for only two more catches for negative yardage. Aaron Pierce made several timely grabs, Steve Emtman and the defensive line created havoc, and the Dawgs did just enough to get out of Berkeley with a win over a top-10 opponent.