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.
Huskies Plow through Pac
After a frighteningly close call in Berkeley, the Huskies bounced back in the heart of conference play. The Dawgs ran through Oregon, Arizona State, USC, and Oregon State without an opponent keeping the game within single-digits. The 10-0 record brought UW all the way up to #2 in the AP polls behind only the similarly undefeated Miami Hurricanes.
Washington bounced back from the uneven performance against Cal with an absolute drubbing of an over-matched Oregon squad in Seattle. UW gained more than triple the Ducks’ total yardage and forced four turnovers for a 29-7 win. Orlando McKay and Mario Bailey both tallied more than 100 receiving yards and combined for three touchdowns. The only Oregon score came on a short field after a blocked punt.
The subsequent win over Arizona State was every bit as dominant. The Dawgs led 31-0 at halftime behind another transcendent performance from Bailey (139 yards and a touchdown). Mark Brunell, Napoleon Kaufman, and several other supporting players cycled into the lineup late in the game, but the Dawgs still totaled twice ASU’s yardage en route to a 44-16 victory.
No trip to the LA Memorial Coliseum is an easy one and USC did its best to maintain that reputation. The Huskies had a hard time finishing drives against the Trojans, but the defense made sure that USC never put much of a dent in an early 14-0 lead. Beno Bryant carried the ball 26 times for 158 yards and a pair of scores in the return to his home town. Those scores were enough for a 14-3 victory. Dave Hoffmann controlled the game from the linebacker position with five tackles for loss, including two sacks. Four times, the Trojans had the ball inside the Husky 35 and came away with no points.
Finally, the Dawgs clinched a trip to the Rose Bowl with a 58-6 romp over the Beavers in Corvallis. Oregon State did not complete a pass and averaged under two yards per rush on the way to an 83 yard output. The one-sided affair led allowed a dispersed offensive contribution, but Mario Bailey again led the way with three receiving TDs. The rainy weather contributed to a sloppy 11 combined fumbles, but the Huskies’ physical superiority showed through.
Dawgs Smelling Roses after Apple Cup Triumph
With only the Apple Cup standing between UW and a shot at a National Championship, the Huskies didn’t leave anything to chance. Washington dominated the Cougars 56-21 with a complete performance on offense and defense. Billy Joe Hobert found Orlando McKay and Mario Bailey for big plays all day, Beno Bryant had plenty of room to run, and the Husky defense made life miserable in WSU QB Drew Bledsoe’s maiden voyage to Husky Stadium.
From the start of the game, the Cougars struggled to stop the Husky rush offense. Bryant compiled 127 of the team’s 194 rushing yards on the day. When WSU committed more defenders to stop the run, Hobert picked apart the pass defense with short passes to McKay and Bailey. Despite an early 1st and 25 created by a personal foul, a play action pass to McKay went for 69 yards and the game’s first TD.
After the teams traded stalled drives, Bledsoe led WSU on its most complete effort of the day. Head Coach Mike Price called a QB sneak on 4th and inches from WSU’s own 20 yard line, but the gamble paid off. The Cougars used UW’s aggressive defense against itself with draw plays to keep the drive alive. On the 13th play of the drive, Bledsoe faked a hand-off and found Augustin Olobia deep for a 34-yard TD. WSU took advantage of UW’s missed PAT to go up 7-6 and hold the lead at the end of the first quarter.
From that point onward, it was all UW. The Huskies scored the game’s next 28 points, including a Walter Bailey interception return for a touchdown and a Jaime Fields sack for a safety. While Fields recorded the safety, the entire Husky pass rush created havoc for the Cougars. Steve Emtman, Andy Mason, and Donald Jones consistently made their way into the backfield. Even though WSU compiled a respectable yardage total, four fumbles, two interceptions, and numerous tackles for loss kept UW comfortably ahead.
Mario Bailey’s touchdown early in the fourth quarter was his second of the day and 17th of the season. The total tied him with Hugh McElhenny and Chuck Carroll for the school record for touchdowns in a season. He also became the second Husky to ever top 1000 receiving yards in a season. All these accolades came after Bailey called the girlfriend of Cougar DB Torey Hunter earlier in the week to pass along the message that Hunter would not be able to cover him. As Muhammad Ali said, “it’s not bragging if it’s true.”
Despite the decisive score, the Huskies left some room for improvement. Travis Hanson continued to struggle in the kicking game with a failed PAT and a miss on a very makeable field goal. The teams combined for 17 penalties in the first half, nine of which were committed by the Huskies. Cougar RB Shaumbe Wright-Fair used the aforementioned draws to put together a solid 94 yards on 20 carries, one of the more effective rushing performances of the year against UW’s dominant defensive line. Although the game was never in doubt, WSU kept plugging away late while UW’s defense let down a bit. The Cougars added a pair of TDs that made the game as close as 42-21 at one point. Nonetheless, Bryant bounced back with a beautiful cutback run that set up a Jay Barry touchdown to finally break the Cougar spirit.
The 56 points set an Apple Cup record for UW, surpassing last year’s total of 55. At 11-0, UW finished its first undefeated regular season since the Woodrow Wilson administration in 1915. Halfway across the country, Michigan dominated arch rival Ohio State 31-3 for its eighth consecutive win. The Rose Bowl will feature #2 Washington and #4 Michigan and a showdown between two receivers- Mario Bailey and Desmond Howard- who combined for 36 touchdowns on the season.