BY Steve Rudman & Art Thiel 08:30PM 09/24/2011

Huskies thwart Cal at the end, win 31-23

The University of Washington defense, pushed around all game, used a tremendous goal-line stand in the final minute to hang on and beat Cal for the third consecutive season.

UW linebacker Cort Dennison, who had a team-high 11 tackles, including two for loss, celebrates after thwarting a fourth-down pass in the fourth quarter against California Saturday. Sean Parker (1) snags Dennison's jersey minutes before UW recorded a 31-23 win over the California Bears. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

STEVE: I’d probably have to do a deep archive dig to figure it out, but the final two minutes was probably the great goal-line stand in the history of college football — by a defense ranked 108th in the nation. Obviously, I exaggerate, but the UW defense came through at the end in what was one of the most entertaining games in recent program history. Fun, angst-filled game. Looks like we’re engaged in a season of shootouts.

ART: The remarkable thing was the Huskies defense gave up huge yardage to Cal — 457, or about their terrible season average — yet stopped Cal from first-and-goal at the 2-yard line with the game in the balance. It also helped that Cal coach Jeff Tedford called on fourth down about the toughest end zone play to complete — a fade route into the corner. I remember when he was a genius. Now he’s just another dumb coach.

UW freshman tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins scores one of his two touchdowns against the California Bears Saturday at Husky Stadium. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

STEVE: When that last pass went airborne, I swear I saw the Husky Stadium ambulance making a beeline for UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt.

ART: As the man in the crosshairs of Huskies’ critics, Holt bought himself a little peace with the last-minute shutdown.  But the Bears still went the length of the field to put themselves in a position to tie with a TD and two-point conversion. A part of that was due to injuries (LB John Timu, the freshman LB starter who left the field in an ambulance, was said to be without serious injury) that put a lot of younger guys on the field late. But they delivered.

STEVE: Holt has to have one of the toughest sports-related jobs in town. If the UW defense played to the level of the UW offense, the Huskies could win the Pac-12, or seriously contend. Worse, it’s the way the UW surrenders yards (and points). I mean, a 90-yard touchdown pass on third-and-20 (third-longest ever against the Huskies)? This is one of those defenses that does just enough to sort of, kind of, make you think positively, then does something magnum stupid. Holt is the coach of the football equivalent of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. It’s got tons of cracks, is always a threat to collapse, and one day it will. It just didn’t tumble/crumble Saturday.

ART: Head coach Steve Sarkisian was nearly gushing afterward about his players as gamers: “I continue to be impressed with this team’s resiliency. Maybe there’s something in the water here I didn’t know about when I took the job. But they have huge hearts, are tough-minded . . . and their ability to deal with adversity and focus on the task at hand is really amazing to me. Were we perfect? No. But what a great win.” Even though it sounds like coach-speak, there is a tenacity here that is making up for lightness of talent in some spots.

STEVE: Sarkisian is right. It was a great win — and it easily could have been a very sour loss. Sarkisian mentioned that he continues to be “impressed with this team’s resiliency . . . they have huge hearts, are tough minded.” I’d submit that if, as Sarkisian says, it’s “something in the water,” then Sarkisian himself spiked the drink. He’s an amazing coach and I forgive him for his “coach-speak.” Obviously, it works.

UW quarterback Keith Price (17) threw three more touchdown passes Saturday and now has 14 for the season after just four games. He's halfway to Cody Pickett's single-season school record (set in 2002) of 28. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

ART: Sarkisian’s killer call was the fourth-quarter bomb to RB Chris Polk that went for a 70-yard touchdown and the 31-23 lead that stood up. Sark said the play was practiced all week — “but not from the 30-yard line at third-and-12,” he said — and was patient enough to wait until Cal was in the right coverage (two-deep zone) that left open the middle for Polk out of the backfield. Sarkisian recalled that Polk played a fair amount of receiver in high school, but now defenses were looking at him as “just a pounder.” But he had four catches — tied for the team lead — and 85 yards, and suddenly UW has a new offensive weapon.

STEVE: Cal did a great job of containing Polk on the ground (60 yards; he failed to rush for 100 for the first time this season), but then Sarkisian pulled that big-play mismatch out of his hat with Polk getting absurdly behind the Cal secondary. BTW: If you’re scoring at home, that was the fourth-longest TD catch by a running back in UW history. Longest: an 83-yarder from Brock Huard to Corey Dillon against San Jose State in 1996.

ART: The guy who delivered the pass, QB Keith Price, is working his way up the charts too. He was 19 for 25 for 292 passing yards, and the three TD passes Saturday gives him 14 so far. His next one moves him into UW’s top 10 all-time in single-season scoring passes.

STEVE: Price is halfway to the school single-season record of 28 by Cody Pickett in 2002 — in 13 games — when UW, under Rick Neuheisel, had no offensive balance at all. Even more interesting (at least to me) is in 1970, Sonny Sixkiller became an all-time Seattle legend when he threw 15 touchdown passes for the season.

ART: The most impressive physical feat by Price is his ability to keep his eyes downfield while running from trouble. For Washington’s first touchdown, a 20-yarder to TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Price dodged would-be sackers twice before clearing himself enough to throw. Sarkisian called him “a freakin’ stud” who is playing “at as high a level as you can play at quarterback.” Nobody said that about Jake Locker, which is no dis to a legendary UW player, but a salute to perhaps the next great Huskies QB.

STEVE: Despite a fumble, TE Seferian-Jenkins is also a “freakin’ stud.” I just hope he never finds himself in the same town as Jerramy Stevens.

Chris Polk failed to rush for 100 yards, but caught a 70-yard touchdown pass from Keith Price that sealed Washington's 31-23 win over California. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

ART: Big as he is, ASJ  moves so well that he’s a mismatch for any defense. But before we get too carried away with a win, something must be said about a terrible call that went Washington’s way — especially in light of all the ref-bashing that attended Nebraska’s 51-38 win over Washington a week earlier. Early in the fourth quarter, Washington was backed up deep in its own territory when Cal was flagged for roughing Price, which was not visible to anyone else, including Tedford. “I didn’t see it,” he said. “That was a huge call. They are going to punt out to us at that point.” Instead, UW had a first down, and two plays later, Price hit Polk with the 70-yarder. Remember that,  Huskies fans — the football lords taketh, and they giveth.

STEVE: Last week (Nebraska) they took, this week (Cal) they gave. So one cancels the other, just like the UW defense cancels the UW offense. But speaking of the UW defense, maybe a final word about Cort Dennison. Going back 30 years, I’ve seen dozens of UW linebackers. I won’t pretend to rate his skill, but his heart seems as large as any I’ve seen, and his instincts are first-rate, best displayed against Cal on two late-down stops in the fourth quarter.

ART: On top of his productivity — a team-high 11 tackles, two tackles for loss and two pass break-ups — Dennison woke up Friday morning with a swollen knee that threatened to keep him out of the game. But between willpower and therapy, he was his usual highly amped self. “No way was I sitting this one out,” he said. Nor is he likely to sit out the next one — at Utah Saturday, his home state. Should the Huskies win (they are 6-0 against the new Pac-12 member), they would go into a bye week at 4-1, then face weakling Colorado. Imagine if they could keep an opponent under 400 yards a game.


YourThoughts

  • huskydave

    Sorry, that roughing the passer call was legit.  The defensive player hit Price in the helmet with BOTH of his hands well after he had thrown the ball.  It was the right call.

  • huskydave

    Sorry, that roughing the passer call was legit.  The defensive player hit Price in the helmet with BOTH of his hands well after he had thrown the ball.  It was the right call.

  • crumudgeon

    That was a great win for the UW, but their defense did a little too much bending during Cal’s final drive.  I mean their rookie quarterback slice and diced the husky defense as if he was Tom Brady before finally coming back down to earth and tossing the football over his half brother’s head in the end zone.  
    The goal line stance was important and will give the Husky defense something to build on, but they need to develop a pass rush, and put some pressure on the opposing quarterbacks instead of making them all look like Heisman candidates.  

  • crumudgeon

    That was a great win for the UW, but their defense did a little too much bending during Cal’s final drive.  I mean their rookie quarterback slice and diced the husky defense as if he was Tom Brady before finally coming back down to earth and tossing the football over his half brother’s head in the end zone.  
    The goal line stance was important and will give the Husky defense something to build on, but they need to develop a pass rush, and put some pressure on the opposing quarterbacks instead of making them all look like Heisman candidates.  

  • Anonymous

    Sark’s offense is remarkable, with Price @ the helm. What a dramatic change from 3 years ago!
    The td pass to Polk was genious – both the play called by Sark and the touch that price put on it. Kudos to Polk for the catch and run!

    As for the defense, what a misnomer. Everyone knows defenses are easier to build than offenses, so what is our $700,000 coach Holt doing to improve things? The db’s are never, ever looking back at either the qb or the ball, so all they do is wait for the catch then tackle the receiver. Remarkable, and it happens pretty much each play.

    If I’m Sark, I cut Holt’s salary immediaely and if he quits, good riddance.
    I’m sure there is plenty of defensive coaching talent that would LOVE $350,000.
    I think that Holt was good when he had all the 5-stars @ USC but can’t make the transition with more normal kids.

    Another very good article by Steve and Art – thank you!!!

  • 1coolguy

    Sark’s offense is remarkable, with Price @ the helm. What a dramatic change from 3 years ago!
    The td pass to Polk was genious – both the play called by Sark and the touch that price put on it. Kudos to Polk for the catch and run!

    As for the defense, what a misnomer. Everyone knows defenses are easier to build than offenses, so what is our $700,000 coach Holt doing to improve things? The db’s are never, ever looking back at either the qb or the ball, so all they do is wait for the catch then tackle the receiver. Remarkable, and it happens pretty much each play.

    If I’m Sark, I cut Holt’s salary immediaely and if he quits, good riddance.
    I’m sure there is plenty of defensive coaching talent that would LOVE $350,000.
    I think that Holt was good when he had all the 5-stars @ USC but can’t make the transition with more normal kids.

    Another very good article by Steve and Art – thank you!!!

  • Anonymous

    The last play – I was shocked Tedford called such a tough play, esp for a new QB!

    Given the kids’ mobility, I thought for sure they would have run at least 1 roll-out option, with the QB taking it in. The Huskies dodged a bullet and have Tedford to thank. He will be thinking about this one for a loooong time.

  • 1coolguy

    The last play – I was shocked Tedford called such a tough play, esp for a new QB!

    Given the kids’ mobility, I thought for sure they would have run at least 1 roll-out option, with the QB taking it in. The Huskies dodged a bullet and have Tedford to thank. He will be thinking about this one for a loooong time.