Nationally, the Heisman Trophy voters have been looking in exactly the right direction this year: Toward Los Angeles.
Most Washington coaches and players have come to that conclusion this month.
And Washington is the West’s 1988 barometer team--the best on the Coast to appear on the schedules of both UCLA and USC.
Two weeks ago in a 24-17 game on a sunny day in Seattle, UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman beat the Huskies with one big fourth-quarter pass.
In a 28-27 game on another such day at the Coliseum Saturday, as 62,974 sat in, USC quarterback Rodney Peete “took us out with (a series of) passes and runs,” Washington Coach Don James said afterward.
“Peete made the plays that had to be made to win it,” James said. “He’s a constant threat to any defense. He can either throw it in for touchdowns or run it in.”
Washington’s assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, Jim Lambright, considers Peete more difficult to handle than Aikman.
“I’ll take Peete,” Lambright said when asked to compare them. “Today, Peete beat us on the critical downs, throwing on the run sometimes, and running sometimes.
“Nobody is more accurate than Peete throwing while moving. And he’s so fast that he’s a real threat when he keeps it.”
Said James: “If Peete gets one step on your defense, you’re in trouble.”
Question: Are the Huskies plugging Peete for the Heisman?
Without committing himself, James said: “A guy who can run as well as pass scares you more than a guy who just passes.”
Does this mean that the Huskies are taking the Trojans over the Bruins at the Rose Bowl Nov.19?
“It’s a pick-it game,” said James, a veteran fence-straddler.
Although Lambright gives the edge to Peete over Aikman, he is voting for UCLA over USC because the Bruins are deeper in quality players.
“I picked USC last year after our game,” he said, referring to the day that USC won in Seattle, 37-23. “But this year, UCLA hurt us with more different people.”
Washington’s players, perhaps after conferring with James, declined to take sides in either the Aikman-Peete or UCLA-USC arguments.
“They’re a match,” Washington quarterback Cary Conklin said of the two Los Angeles quarterbacks. “And we (Huskies) are real close to both (UCLA and USC). We could have won from either of them.”
In James’ opinion, the only edge that Aikman and Peete have on Conklin, a junior, is experience.
"(Conklin’s) pro career will be at least as long as either of theirs,” the Washington coach predicted.
Brian Slater, the Huskies’ 6-foot 4-inch flanker, who scored with 3 of Conklin’s passes, said the UCLA-USC game is a tossup. Putting Conklin in the same class with Aikman and Peete, he said:
“Aikman is a throwing quarterback, Peete runs and throws, Conklin is a passing quarterback who will tuck the ball and run it.”
Washington linebacker Chico Fraley expects the USC-UCLA game to be decided when Aikman is on the field.
“I like his (passing),” Fraley said. “I like USC’s defense. I like their defense a lot.”
Lambright, the No. 2 Husky coach who has been on the staff for 20 years, or 6 years longer than James, was asked how UCLA and USC will defense one another Nov.19.
“Against USC, the first thing you want to try to do is take away Peete’s big plays,” Lambright said. “You can’t change up defenses on him too much because you have to keep pressuring him.
“It’s a problem. If you rush (Peete) with too many players, that leaves single coverage on Erik Affholter and John Jackson, and you don’t want to do that too often.
“But the key is to somehow get to Peete, keep him inside.”
“Against Aikman, the key is to change up defenses. You can do that because he doesn’t run too much. In a series of 40 plays, we’ll use maybe 10 defenses against Aikman, disguising each one as well as we can before the snap, mixing up the coverages and the fronts and the rush.
“In a series of 40 plays, we’ll rush Peete 39 times.
“Aikman can beat you with one throw.”
In fact, at Washington 14 days ago, he did.