Bonnell to start for Washington for injured Stanback

Updated: October 19, 2006, 8:53 AM ET
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- The once-promising Washington Huskies' season, which got off to a 4-1 start, is now in the hands of backup quarterback Carl Bonnell.

That's because the Huskies lost senior starter Isaiah Stanback in a demoralizing home loss to Oregon State last weekend with a season-ending foot injury.

On Saturday, when Bonnell and the Huskies face No. 11 California in Berkeley, they'll be trying to avoid their third loss in a row. Cal has won six straight games and might be playing the best football in the Pac-10 right now.

Bonnell, a junior, will be making only his third career start for the Huskies.

"I don't know if you can fill Isaiah's shoes," Bonnell admitted this week. "He by far took over the leadership role on this team a long time ago. I just have to go out and get the guys on my back to play their butts off. We've got some big challenges left this year."

In coach Tyrone Willingham's second season at Washington, the Huskies (4-3, 2-2 Pac-10) need two more victories to become bowl eligible. Of their final five games, they might only be favored in one -- against Pac-10 cellar dweller Stanford in their final home game Nov. 11.

The Huskies are 23-point underdogs against Cal, which won 56-17 last season in Seattle.

Willingham is eager to find out what kind of performance he'll get from Bonnell.

"When everybody talks about Isaiah, you get enamored with what Isaiah brings, because it's pretty special," Willingham said. "There's not many guys in the country who have that. You look at Carl and you say, 'What a difference,' but that difference is not as great. He's a fine athlete in his own ability. He has the ability to run with the football as well as throw it. It'll be interesting to see."

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Bonnell has played little this season after missing 2005 with a severe thigh bruise suffered in fall practice. In six games this year, he's completed seven of 14 passes for 51 yards and one touchdown, with one interception.

As a freshman under then-coach Keith Gilbertson in 2004, Bonnell started games against Stanford (a loss) and San Jose State (a victory). However, he suffered a groin injury in the first half of the San Jose State game and missed the remainder of the season.

Cal coach Jeff Tedford acknowledged his job will be easier this week because he doesn't have to face the athletic Stanback.

"Isaiah was a major part of their team," he said. "He was so dangerous running the ball."

Stanback was No. 2 in the Pac-10 in total offense, behind Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon, with 239.3 yards per game, including 189.3 passing. Against Cal last season, Stanback threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns.

Bonnell knows he has to play well in his first Washington start since Oct. 9, 2004, for the Huskies to avoid their fifth consecutive loss to Cal.

"They're one of the most talented teams in the country," he said. "They put up a lot of points. It'll be a test this week."

Tim Lappano, Washington offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, is trying to take some of the pressure off Bonnell.

"Carl can throw the football," Lappano said. "He can cut it loose. But he doesn't have to feel like he has to do it all by himself."

Former high school teammate and starting Huskies senior linebacker Tahj Bomar agreed.

"We've just got to rally behind Carl," Bomar said.

Bonnell, a nephew of former major league baseball player Barry Bonnell, wanted to go to Washington out of high school after leading Kentwood High School of suburban Kent to the Washington state Class 4A championship and a 13-1 record. However, the Huskies didn't offer him a football scholarship so he signed a national letter of intent with Washington State.

Bonnell spent the fall of 2002 in Pullman as a grayshirt, attending classes part time, but had no official contact with the WSU football team and then-coach Mike Price. By doing that, he voided his letter of intent with the Cougars and decided to come to Seattle when then-Washington coach Rick Neuheisel offered him a scholarship.

"There are no hard feelings," WSU coach Bill Doba said this week. "He was up front and honest about it."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press