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Husky Football Blog

The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

September 19, 2009 at 9:13 PM

Grading the game

The first grade goes to me, a big, fat F for thinking that the Huskies weren’t ready to win a game like that yet.
Obviously they were, and while you can pick nits at if if you want — no question Aaron Corp’s performance won’t be among the top the Huskies will face this year and maybe Taylor Mays makes a few of those last-drive passes harder to complete — you can’t question the overall significance of this win. (And besides, isn’t USC supposed to be so deep that it can overcome a few of those things?)
This is the day the Huskies became a factor again in the college football world, the day everyone will surely point to later as the true breakthrough of the Steve Sarkisian era.
UW linebacker Donald Butler said later that the win allows the team to finally turn the page on the disaster that was last season.
“I think it started with Idaho and ending that losing streak and then to come back this week and perform the way we did, it’s huge,” he said.
And they did it with a lineup that featured just five senior starters — two on offense (Paul Homer and Ben Ossai) and three on defense (E.J. Savannah, Butler and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim).
Sarkisian has talked about building belief, and while I wrote after last week’s win that it began to give all of what the coaches had been saying some validity, a win over a team like USC does that ten-fold.
As Quinton Richardson said “we’ve got a new coaching staff. They put is in the right position. We just had to go make plays.” In fact, the Huskies now seem the embodiment of the old cliche about the coaching saying “jump” and the players saying “how high.”
“We actually believe every play,” said running back Chris Polk. “Now everything we do it’s like a puzzle — it all fits. If you give 100 percent effort and do everything the way the coaches want you do, you can’t help but be successful.”
Hearing stuff like that and seeing the way the team played — I’m not sure UW has ever pulled a bigger upset in terms of the point spread — this strikes me as the most together UW team in that regard since 2000.
Preamble over, on with the grades.
QUARTERBACK — Here’s something else I was wrong about — that UW couldn’t win without Locker gaining some substantial yards on the ground. In fact, he had a net of minus-15, the lowest rushing performance of his career. He should have had a few more yards, probably, bypassing a couple of chances to run, something Locker admitted later. I think that’s in part to what Sarkisian was referring when he said this wasn’t Locker’s best day. That, and a couple of passes he probably could have thrown better. But the last drive and getting the win makes this the best overall day of his career. And he again was really efficient — 21-35 for 237 yards and no interceptions. He remains at exactly 60 percent for the season, 63 of 105. GRADE: A.
RUNNING BACKS — Only one person to really grade here, Chris Polk, who got all 25 caries given to running backs — Johri Fogerson caught a pass for 18 yards and no one else got on the field. Polk’s numbers — 25-71 — don’t indicate how hard he ran. This was a Chris Polk that people who saw him last year could hardly have imagined as he pushed and pulled defenders yards at a time. He also caught three passes for 22 yards and on a day when the Trojans seemed to bobble every fourth carry, he never dropped the ball. GRADE: A.
OFFENSIVE LINE — Another group coming together well — other than a couple plays when Greg Christine went out with an injury, the starting five played the entire game. They looked a little overwhelmed at times — Locker was sacked four times and escaped a couple of others with his feet. And Polk’s numbers indicate the difficulty the line had opening up major holes. But when Locker absolutely had to have some time on that last drive to find receivers he got it. GRADE: B-plus.
RECEIVERS — The coaches appear to be shortening the bench, so to speak, on this group as only five of the wide receivers played and only four caught passes. But the players who are getting time are proving worthy. James Johnson had seven catches and continues to play beyond his years and Jermaine Kearse had the two biggest catches of his career on that last drive. The only slight negative was two drops. GRADE: A-minus.
DEFENSIVE LNE — This was the unit where the most interesting personnel moves were made, as I tried to detail in one of my stories, with Talia Crichton starting at one end spot and Everrette Thompson getting the majority of the time at one tackle spot. The moves were made to try to get more speed on the field and it worked as the Huskies kept the USC running game in relative check after the first two drives. USC had 111 yards rushing on eight carries on the first two drives, 139 on 22 the rest of the way — which some will point out is still an average of 6.3. But most telling was how the Huskies defended third downs — USC was 0-10 including two third-and-ones on which the Trojans ran for it and couldn’t get it, the key one being the play that ended the first half. UW may go back to its regular lineup in future weeks when it plays lines that block more straight ahead. But for today, it was a matchup that worked. GRADE: A-minus.
LINEBACKERS — The best game in years for this unit as Donald Butler had the kind of performance that could win him Pac-10 Player of the Week honors while Mason Foster had three pass breakups and forced a fumble. This group seemed to improve quite a bit defending the pass in a week. GRADE: A.
SECONDARY — This is the area of the team that benefited the most from USC’s QB situation as Corp really struggled to find any rhythm and often didn’t even seem to want to try to throw it downfield. USC had just five catches by its wide receivers and only one pass play all day longer than 17 yards. And the communication issues of last week seemed to be cleaned up quite a bit. Stiffer tests lay ahead, but for today, nothing to really complain about. GRADE: A-minus.
SPECIAL TEAMS — You’d give this an A simply for Erik Folk’s three FGs on a day when every point mattered. But Will Mahan also had a couple of big punts and the Huskies generally won the field position battle. GRADE: A.
COACHING — So far, Sarkisian seems to be hitting every right note. The weekly preparation and motivation has been obvious from the start. And today, the coaches also seemed to make some good adjustments, such as the moves with the defensive line. After three weeks, Sarkisian is the undisputed leader for Pac-10 Coach of the Year. GRADE: A.

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