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Husky Football Blog

The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

November 18, 2010 at 11:39 PM

Grading the game

jakeucla.jpg
Well, to echo what a lot of the players and coaches said afterward, this definitely puts life back in the season.
Objectively, it’s obvious that UCLA is a struggling team, and really one-dimensional on offense, becoming even moreso once Richard Brehaut was injured. But those kinds of situations have been presented to UW before without the Huskies taking advantage.
This was a winnable game for UW, and a must-win game, as well, and the Huskies got it done. And now they have a few extra days to rest and prepare for what will be a much tougher test in nine days at Cal.
But for tonight, this was one to celebrate, just the second win against UCLA since 2000 and just the third in the last 14 games against the Bruins.
And it’s the first sweep of the LA schools since 1996, and the last until at least 2019, since UW isn’t scheduled to play both in one year again in the first eight years of the new Pac-12 schedule rotation. UCLA, in fact, might not be back here until 2014. And who knows who UCLA’s coach might be by then?
QUARTERBACK: Statistically not the best night for Jake Locker (pictured in an AP photo). And the two throws early — the one that could have been intercepted and maybe run back for a TD and the other that was intercepted — could have been disastrous. But he gutted it out through a broken rib, leading his team to a much-needed win, ultimately doing what it took to get the job done. This was one game where his mere presence spoke more loudly than his numbers. And the look on his face as he left the field indicated he wasn’t regretting at all having one last season at Husky Stadium. GRADE: B-plus.
RUNNING BACKS: Great nights for Chris Polk and Jesse Callier as the Huskies turned almost solely to the ground game in the second half and each responded with 100-yard efforts — the first time UW has done that sincce the Cal game in 2007. Steve Sarkisian’s critics will wonder why he hasn’t done this all year. But it’s worth noting that not all foes are as able to be run against as UCLA, which has the worst run defense in the Pac-10 statistically other than UW and WSU —- and this is the time of year when such stats start to really tell the tale. Polk ran as hard tonight as any UW runner has in years and Callier, while he had just 10 carries, made the most of them, providing a perfect complement to Polk with his outside runs. Such a strategy may not work as well against a Cal team that is much better against the run, but it was all aces tonight. GRADE: A.
RECEIVERS: They ultimately weren’t asked to do much, and it’s a rare game when a team wins with just one pass play beyond 10 yards. But the receivers seemed to respond when called on, such as Devin Aguilar’s 22-yard catch that sparked the first TD drive. And an underrated part of their game is always downfield blocking, which appeared effective tonight in helping break some of those runs. GRADE: B-plus.
OFFENSIVE LINE: The line struggled at times through the first three quarters, and especially through much of the first half. But the Huskies eventually just wore down UCLA, allowing one sack and leading the way to an average of 6.2 yards per carry, the best this year other than the USC game. Colin Porter seemed to give the line a boost when he stepped in for Greg Christine for most of the second half (actually playing some in the second quarter, notably on the series where UW scored). GRADE: B-minus.
DEFENSIVE LINE: The Huskies shook things up on the front with sophomore Semisi Tokolahi stepping in for Sione Potoa’e at tackle, working alongside Alameda Ta’amu. Coaches said it was solely as a reward for Tokolahi’s improvement of late and not gameplanning against UCLA. The line got pushed around a little early on, one reason Mason Foster had to make so many tackles in the first half — he had 11 by halftime. That he had just three the rest of the way spoke to the fact that the line got better and started making plays on their own — Ta’amu finished with seven tackles, four in the second half. The Huskies mostly stuck with the same four, with Hau’oli Jamora, who had a good game with five tackles and continues to impress, and Everrette Thompson at the ends. Holding any team to 163 total yards means something was going right up front. GRADE: B-plus.
LINEBACKERS: A fitting last game at Husky Stadium for Foster, who led all defenders with 14 tackles. Cort Dennison also had one of the key plays of the game, an interception when UCLA led 7-0 that led to UW’s first touchdown in the second quarter. He dropped into zone coverage and played his man perfectly to be in position to make the play. Victor Aiyewa added six tackles and one for a loss, increasing his Pac-10 lead in that category to 17. And all three also contributed on special teams as UW went back to using lots of the regulars on the coverage units. GRADE: A.
SECONDARY: Sarkisian said he thought it might have been the best game of the season for the secondary. Worth noting this was by far the worst passing offense UW will play this season — kind of hard to believe a team with Norm Chow as offensive coordinator could be this inept through the air. But again, UW has faced some bad passing teams before and made them look good. UW had a season-high interceptions with three — coming off three different QBs, which has to be some sort of a record — and turned each into touchdowns. If you believe in momentum, then the secondary has some to take into the Cal game against another backup QB. Quinton Richardson, who has taken his share of criticism this season, had one of his best games capped by the play of the game on the interception return for a touchdown. Nate Williams also had a good game tackling with 13, eight solo to tie Foster for the lead in that category. And Nate Fellner’s falling down, tipped interception is one of UW’s plays of the year. GRADE: A.
SPECIAL TEAMS: When’s the last time UW won the special teams battle? It hasn’t happened often this season, but it happened tonight as the Huskies had the upper hand in field position all game. UW held UCLA to just 14.2 yards per kickoff return and only 12 yards on four punt returns. Again, some of this speaks to UCLA, which just doesn’t seem to have a lot of playmakers anywhere. But give the Huskies credit, as well. As noted, a lot of the regulars who were taken off some of the coverage units at times at Oregon were back on them tonight and guys like Foster, Aiyewa and Williams all had special teams tackles. UCLA’s average drive start tonight was its own 26 and in the second half it had four straight drives that started at its own 16, 16, 15 and 18. That helped turn the game UW’s way as much as anything. Erik Folk missed two kicks, but both were real reaches in those conditions, attempts of 53 and 55, and he doesn’t really deserve criticism for those. GRADE: A.
COACHING: It was easy to wonder how the team would respond to the three straight 30-point or worse losses that preceded tonight’s game. In some ways, it felt like one of the first real crisis points of Sarkisian’s tenure. Chris Polk seemed to admit as much afterward when he was asked what the win meant to the team. “This puts back a lot of life,” Polk said. “We know we had some guys slipping away, like ‘oh man, this again.’ But this just like reassured us that what we are doing (is right) and that we should believe in our coaches and believe in our philosophies and just do what we are coached to do.” Indeed, give the coaches credit for getting the players back up and for a gameplan that made sense. The defense was scaled-down against a UCLA offense that is itself scaled down due to its own personnel issues, emphasizing execution over scheme. And while the offense sputtered at times, Sarkisian ultimately hit the right notes there, as well, emphasizing a conservative running attack, realizing that eventually all that really mattered was that UW didn’t beat itself. The Cal game will be much tougher, and the Apple Cup won’t be easy, either. But tonight was a step in the right direction. GRADE: A-minus.

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