There have obviously been some heart-wrenching losses for the Huskies this season.
But today’s 24-23 loss at UCLA may have been the most exasperating of all if for no other reason than the five turnovers UW got but could turn into only 13 points.
“That’s a game that we definitely had a chance to win and we’ve just got to get it done,” said defensive coordinator Nick Holt.
That they couldn’t means the Huskies now have to pull off a 3-for-3 the rest of the way, winning at Oregon State, then beating Washington State and Cal at home, to get to 6-6 and a bowl game. Possible, sure, but not probable now considering this is a team that is 3-19 in its last 22 games.
On to the grades:
QUARTERBACK: Jake Locker said his thigh was just fine, and it didn’t appear to be bothering him on the times he took off and ran. He again didn’t do that all that much, however, with five non-sack carries (for 36 yards gained). He had his moments passing, such as the two TDs to Jermaine Kearse. But there was, obviously, the last-minute interception killing what was shaping up as a game-winning drive — and a play that Locker admirably put squarely on his shoulders, saying he should have thrown the ball more to the outside. And that left Locker at 23-40 for 235 yards, respectable, but not great, numbers. After completing 60 percent of his passes through UW’s first three games, he has completed 118 of 215, or 54.8 percent, since — or not a lot different than the 53.8 percent of last season before he was injured. GRADE: B-minus.
RUNNING BACK: Chris Polk said he really wanted to make a splash in what was essentially a homecoming, and he did that for much of the day, finishing with 132 yards on 15 carries. He had 102 on seven in the first half and that’s led to discussion of whether he should have gotten more carries.But worth noting he was held to 30 yards on eight carries in the second half, so it looked as if UCLA began to figure some things out defending him. But that was through no fault of Polk, who again flashed star potential. Johri Fogerson had one of his better games in a while with four receptions and Demitrius Bronson got two carries, though for minus-one yards. Interestingly, Willie Griffin didn’t even make the trip. GRADE: A-minus.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Jermaine Kearse had the best day of his career with seven catches for 114 yards and two TDs and couldn’t be faulted for the interception at the end of the game. Devin Aguilar had six more catches giving him 21 in the last three games. Other than that, not a lot of production — only two other catches by WRs or TEs. D’Andre Goodwin didn’t have a catch and hasn’t made one since the Notre Dame game, having fallen to a distant No. 4 on the depth chart. And James Johnson had a drop and held to just one catch. GRADE: B.
OFFENSIVE LINE: An interesting day here as the game opened with a new look — Drew Schaefer in for Ben Ossai at LT and Morgan Rosborough for Senio Kelemete at RG. Both were disciplinary measures, apparently for being late to a meeting, But while Kelemete quickly returned and played most of the game, Ossai came in, almost immediately committed a false start, and then sat most of the rest of the game. That could become a permanent changing of the guard and allow the Huskies to spend the last three games using a line that could be the one they go with in 2010 — Ossai is the only senior starter. Given UCLA’s status as one of the better front sevens in the Pac-10, the Huskies didn’t perform that poorly, averaging 6.1 yards per rush and gaining a respectable 387 yards. GRADE: B-minus.
DEFENSIVE LINE: The Huskies shook things up to try to get more speed off the edge, giving starts to Talia Crichton and Andru Pulu on the edge and moving Daniel Te’o-Nesheim inside.But it didn’t really work, and after a quarter or so, DTN was back at end. That didn’t necessarily work a lot better, either, especially in terms of getting a pass rush. The Huskies didn’t seem to be able to get one other than bringing extra pass rushers, and that seemed to be the biggest reason for UCLA’s success passing the ball — UCLA threw for 371, its most in almost four years. The Huskies did do a nice job against the run, allowing just 84 yards on 40 carries. But UCLA is not a very good running team, and this was a little like the Arizona game, when the Huskies also held down the running game but allowed the opponent to throw like crazy. UW’s last five opponents are a combined 121-173 passing, 70 percent, and the lack of consistent pressure up front is a major reason. GRADE: D.
LINEBACKERS: When the defense gives up the kinds of yards it does, everyone plays a role. But the LBs seemed to be a relative bright spot. Donald Butler had 13 tackles, a game-high, as well as the big hit on Kevin Prince that from this angle didn’t seem out of line. Mason Foster continued his knack for playmaking with three tackles for a loss, including a sack, a pass breakup and a forced fumble. And Cort Dennison seemed serviceable enough in place of E.J. Savannah. GRADE: B.
SECONDARY: As explained in the DL grade, opponents are lighting up the Huskies through the air, and the secondary obviously has to share some of the blame for that. But it felt like the biggest reason was the lack of pressure as the QBs seemed to often have all day to wait for someone to get open. A real bright spot in this area was the return of Jason Wells to the field for the first time in more than two years. And Wells and Desmond Trufant each had interceptions. Conversely, there were some not-great plays on the ball here, and UCLA’s WRs just seemed to find lots of open spots in the zones, even at times when the QBs might have been getting a little pressure. To be fair, both the DL and the secondary can point to youth — four freshmen, two in each spot, getting starts in those two areas today. GRADE: C-minus.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Some improved play here early on. But a real key to the game was the 59-yard KO return by Terrence Austin after UW had taken a 23-14 lead. And while Erik Folk had a decent enough day going 3-4, this was a game where the Huskies needed some supreme efforts to pull off the win, and his 38-yard miss in the fourth quarter was obviously critical. James Johnson did a pretty good job returning kickoffs (four for 115 with a long of 37), however, and he may be the guy there for now. GRADE: C-plus.
COACHING: Well, here we go. I’m sensing the first real, sustained criticism of Steve Sarkisian. And this wasn’t a perfectly coached game by any means. He probably should have challenged the Austin TD in the third quarter — given Pac-10 refs, you never know, and while you couldn’t know how it would turn out, the time outs ended up being meaningless. And you can definitely argue that UW should have had more than 25 rushing attempts when the Huskies were averaging 6.1 per attempt. On the other hand, if you really break down Chris Polk’s day, he was at his best in the first half when his carries were limited a bit when he had to go to the sidelines with a rib injury. He wasn’t as effective in the second half, and neither was UW, going 14-53 rushing — UW actually had almost the same amount of rushes (14) as passes (17) in the second half, indicating that Sarkisian tried to adjust as the game went on to a rushing game that seemed more effective in spots. Still, it’s still worth wondering why Locker doesn’t run just a little bit more — or why they obviously worked on the Wildcat all week then just it just once. And some of the play calls in the red zone can be questioned — though worth noting again that I think Polk’s rib injury played a factor in the calls in a couple in the first half (two of the drives that ended in FGs came during that time). I’ve seen lots of complaints that UW should have called more blitzes on defense — they did have some success at times doing that.On the other hand, they also got burned a time or two when blitzes didn’t get there. Nick Holt made the logical defense of his defense afterward that for as many yards as it may have given up, the game was right there to be taken in the final minutes. If UW had pulled it out, I imagine that we’d be sitting here talking about what a great turnaround by this team this season, finally getting a road breakthrough and in position to play the last game of the season with a bowl game on the line — thus showing again how just a play or two can really change the perception of things. And worth remembering that many people figured this would be a 4-5 win team this season, which is a significant jump from a year ago. That’s right where this team seems headed despite today’s disappointment. Also worth remembering that 18 of the 22 primary players at their positions today are underclassmen, including, the way it worked out, every offensive player. Other than the Cougar game, UW didn’t come within 34 points of winning a road game last season. UW hasn’t won one this season, but the last three have been lost in OT or the last minute. The progress may have slowed a bit since the USC win — though worth further noting that the USC win looks a little less impressive every day, as does the close call at Notre Dame — but progress is still being made, and that shouldn’t be forgotten. GRADE: C