Another game where the scoreboard told a happy tale:
And there was nothing fluky about it. Against a team headed to a bowl and coming off two impressive wins over ranked teams in Arizona and Stanford, the Huskies were simply the better squad from the first snap to the last.
It was UW’s most dominating Pac-10 win since probably the 38-14 win at Arizona in 2005, and most points in a conference game since a 42-10 win over Oregon in 2003.
And coupled with last week’s win over WSU, it was the perfect way for the Huskies to head into the off-season. Asked later about the team’s recruiting efforts, UW coach Steve Sarkisian said “we are rolling. And part of our message is that we are supposed to get better as a football program, and the last two weeks helped us with that. This win today helps us with that. It gives us some validity that we are on the rise.”
No doubt about it. UW won its last two conference games 72-10.
A year ago, UW was outscored 463-159 for the season. This year, it’s 320-313. In a season, the Huskies got it back almost tot even.
Obviously, the pending Jake Locker decision tempers the excitement a bit.
Still, the win today shows that regardless, the Huskies are on the right track and that significant progress has been made since the beginning of the season.
Sarkisian had said on Thursday that he didn’t really think the result of this one game mattered that much in terms of sending the team into the off-season with some momentum. But hard to believe this won’t help. Any players who might have had some doubt creeping back in after the four-game losing streak had to have it extinguished with the last two weeks. The buy-in, you would think, is total now.
Preamble over, on to the grades:
QUARTERBACK: Well, you just hope Locker didn’t save the best for last, that maybe there is more to come. But no doubt this was Locker at his best with almost as many TDs (three) as incompletions (four). And he ran a season-high 14 times, putting pressure on the Bears and seeming to energize himself. He maintained again afterward, as he has other times this year, that he wasn’t really looking to run more, that it was just there due to Cal’s three-man defensive front, which he said left more holes to run. But it seems like his overall game picks up when he has some chances to run. He finished with an efficiency rating of 216.23, which is by far the best of his season and pretty much about as good as it can get. GRADE: A.
RUNNING BACK: Another solid day for Chris Polk, who finishes with the seventh-best single-season rushing total in school history — 1,113. He had 94 yards on 22 carries against the Bears, including an 18-yard TD. No one else did anything until garbage time, but what Polk did was enough. GRADE: A.
RECEIVERS: An amazing start for Jermaine Kearse, who had the best quarter for a UW receiver since probably Reggie Williams with the five catches for 135 yards in the first 15 minutes. Then Devin Aguilar picked it up later (5-72, an two TDs). Also a nice sequence for Kavario Middleton, who leaped high to make a 25-yard reception and had three catches to key one scoring drive. James Johnson also had two catches to end an overall solid freshman year — 39 catches. And then there’s Cody Bruns, who didn’t have a catch but had the flanker pass to set the tone for the rest of the game. GRADE: A.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Considering the opponent and the way the offense played, probably the best game of the year for the line. There were a couple of breakdowns early — Locker was sacked twice, including on a fourth-down play when it was just 7-3 early in the second quarter. But overall, the Huskies dominated. And maybe most impressive is that they did it with Mykenna Ikehara getting his first start. Both the old staff and this one have raved about his potential, but illness and injuries have kept him from getting a real chance until now. But the way he played today has to make you think they will consider heavily a lineup that gets him in as a starter, maybe moving Ryan Tolar to guard to replace Ben Ossai, which then solves the issue of how to replace the only senior starter the line loses. Drew Schaefer also played well at LT, another hopeful sign for the future. UW had a senior (Ossai), a junior (T Cody Habben), a sophomore (G Senio Kelemete) and two redshirt frosh starting today. GRADE: A-minus.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Huskies had five sacks, four from the line — three from DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, who set the school career record with 30, and one from DT Alameda Ta’amu, who might have had his best game of the season. DE Darrion Jones and DT Everrette Thompson were also solid as those four went most the day today. Jones’ play provides one of the day’s few regrets — everyone always figured the guy had a lot of ability and he only really began to show it the last few weeks now that he’s on his way out as one of four seniors who started on the D today. Ta’amu’s play, however, provides a lot of hope as he can be a dominating force if he can consistently play at the level he did today. GRADE: A.
LINEBACKERS: Another solid day from this crew with Cort Dennison especially impressive, finishing with a team-high seven solo tackles and a fumble recovery and showing that whatever happens with E.J. Savannah, the Huskies may be well-covered at that spot. And Donald Butler ended his career nicely with three tackles-for-a-loss, leading the effort to keep Cal’s running game in check as the Bears had just 81 yards rushing, 103 below their season average. GRADE: A.
SECONDARY: Cal had a few receivers open early. But the Husky DBs seemed to get stronger as the game wore on and finished with six pass breakups — three from Adam Long and two from Desmond Trufant (the other from Quinton Richardson). That Long and Trufant are both freshmen is yet another hopeful sign for the future. Nate Williams also continued to look comfortable at strong safety with Jason Wells playing a nice game at free safety before getting hurt in what was his last Husky game. GRADE: A-minus.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Huskies finally got the return game unleashed with the longest punt return of the year from Aguilar (26) as well as a 34-yard KO return by Polk. Cal had one long return, but otherwise the Huskies kept the Bears in check. And Will Mahan didn’t have a great average (34.6) but that was due in part to having a couple of short inside-the-20 kicks.; GRADE: B-plus.
COACHING: The kind of strange timing of this game made motivation a major factor — and there was little question from the start which coach had his team most ready to play. Sarkisian also called one of his best games of the season starting with the trick play to get the team going, and then the play-action for the TD on the next play when Cal was still struggling to catch its breath. The Huskies stayed aggressive throughout, on offense and defense, which was the perfect way to go in this game. Also worth noting how fresh physically the Huskies seemed today, indicating that the way Sarkisian handles the team on a daily basis is working, as well. Sarkisian ended the season the way he began it — by showing that the program again appears to be in good hands. GRADE: A.