Well, that was certainly one to remember.
Not only for the way it unfolded, but for what it might mean for the season. A few of you took expection to calling this a “must-win” game, but it was hard to see a bowl game at 2-4. And it would have been really hard to see a bowl game at 2-4 after blowing a 21-point lead at home.
As far as I can remember, the only other time UW has had and lost a 21-point lead since I’ve been covering the team is 1998 against these same Beavers. A game that ended in the same manner, and the same score, with OSU missing a two-pointer. In that game, OSU scored on the last play of regulation, but instead of going for the kick and OT, Mike Riley went for two. Nigel Burton knocked the pass away and UW won. (And yes indeed, a loyal reader has noted UW had leads of 21-0 and 28-7 before losing at Hawaii in 2007. So I stand corrected, though as the reader notes, we can still say this is the only time in that span — as far as I can remember at the moment — UW has lost that big a lead and still won the game).
Tonight, replays show that Joe Halahuni pretty much just dropped that final pass. But Cort Dennison was right there — Halahuni probably doesn’t drop it if Dennison isn’t in his face — and it’s hard to deny the Huskies credit for winning this one.
UW outgained OSU 475-353, including 189-147 on the ground.
Heart and character and all those words get thrown around a lot in sports. Maybe too much — teams are supposed to play hard. But give the Huskies credit for the effort they displayed tonight, both in rallying from the ASU defeat, and then in hanging tough after blowing that big lead and being forced into OT.
On with the grades:
QUARTERBACK: This may not go down as Jake Locker’s signature moment — the win at USC is hard to top, and maybe it’s still to come. But this is pretty darn close. Five TD passes ties a school-record and he looked like his old self running with 60 yards on 12 carries — probably about the right kind of ratio in each respect to expect the rest of the year. I guess we made too much of him missing all that practice all week as he looked just fine. The negative is obviously the three turnovers, though at least the last fumble is hard to fault him for. GRADE: B-plus.
TAILBACK: You wanted more Chris Polk, you got more Chris Polk — a season-high 25 carries, five more than any other game this year (though admittedly all stats a little skewed by OT — he had 24 in regulation). Polk turned in his usual workmanlike performance with 105 yards, a long of 18. Jesse Callier had 20 yards on five carries. Hard to find much to complain about here. GRADE: A-minus.
RECEIVERS: One of the first things Jermaine Kearse said after the game was that “I still had two drops.” That he did. But he also caught nine for 146 and set a school record for TD receptions with four. Kearse was again an almost unstoppable offensive weapon most of the night. D’Andre Goodwin continued his resurgence with another six receptions and guys like Cody Bruns, Jordan Polk and Marlion Barnett all made big grabs. The one down note was the continuing struggles of James Johnson, who played quite a bit but didn’t make a catch and had two false start penalties. GRADE: A-minus.
OFFENSIVE LINE: The Huskies went with the revamped line, and it couldn’t have looked better to start, as UW had 274 yards in the first half, 250 in the first 20 minutes. There were times it didn’t look great later. But that’s a good defensive front the Huskies played. .Given the opponent, that’s probably the best the line has played all year. The new-look five went the entire way with some help from Daniel Kanczugowski in his TE/extra tackle role. It wasn’t perfect, but good enough to get a win against a team that has pretty much physically manhandled the Huskies the last six years. GRADE: B.
DEFENSIVE LINE: What may be the biggest revelation of this game is the play of Hau’oli Jamora at defensive end. Seemed to me he provided the most rush off the edge of any DE UW has had in years other than Daniel Te’o-Nesheim. Officially, he had five tackles, two for a loss, and 1.5 sacks. He’s the leading tackler among defensive linemen with 18 for the season and just seems to make plays. Talia Crichton had a big sack shortly before leaving with a knee injury (we’ll find out more later how bad it is). Alameda Ta’amu didn’t have his best game, missing a sack and committing a penalty in the first half. But again, this was an OSU team that had pretty much just pushed the Huskies around the last few years. Give the line credit for hanging tough. GRADE: B-minus.
LINEBACKERS: Another great game for Mason Foster, who tied with Nate Williams for game-high tackle honors with 12 and had one of the key plays of the game, that stop of OSU QB Ryan Katz on a third-down run in the fourth quarter. An A performance for him. Victor Aiyewa had what was by far his best game of the season (if not of his career) with seven tackles, three for a loss, seeming to shadow Jacquizz Rodgers everywhere. And while Cort Dennison may not have touched that last two-point pass, he was right there, enough to bother Joe Halahuni. There might have been a few missed tackles, but Rodgers is really good and does that against everyone. GRADE: A.
SECONDARY: So how to figure this? OSU had just one turnover before tonight, fewest in the nation, and UW had just two interceptions, among the lowest totals in the nation. But UW had three interceptions against the Beavers, one each by Desmond Trufant, Nate Fellner and Sean Parker. Katz helped a lot as the last two were particularly bad passes, especially the one he threw right to Parker. And OSU was obviously adjusting to the loss of James Rodgers, Katz’s go-to guy and surely something of a security blanket. But all you can do is play against who is on the schedule. The Huskies came up big when they had to — OSU got no first downs (other than one via penalty) and only 32 yards in the fourth quarter — and the secondary did its part. GRADE: B.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Give it up again to Kiel Rasp, who averaged 48 yards per kick (I’d happily write a story on him but they won’t let us talk to him at the moment). Otherwise, a mixed bag. OSU had the edges in both punt return and kickoff return yards. And Erik Folk proved he’s not perfect in the clutch, missing a 45-yarder in the fourth quarter that loomed large. GRADE: B-minus.
COACHING: Ultimately, the score is what matters, and in a game they had to win against an opponent they hadn’t beaten in six seasons, the Huskies got it done. Sure, there are things to pick at — the Huskies didn’t score in the final 40-plus of regulation and if they’d lost, there were a few other calls people might have questioned (the fourth down call early in the third quarter, for instance). But my view on here has always been that coaching is more than just the calls on game day. It’s getting a team ready to play a game during the week, and being ready when the kickoff comes. UW was certainly that today. The focus of the coverage will inevitably be on the end of the game. But UW pretty much won this one in the first 20 minutes with what was a flawless gameplan early that built a big lead. And give Nick Holt credit for seeming to dial up the right defense at the right time much of the night, going with a lot of man coverage to put pressure on Katz, who on this night looked like a first-year starter. GRADE: A-minus.