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The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

March 5, 2012 at 12:33 PM

March questions and answers, Volume Four

Another batch. …

Q: Is former UW head coach and longtime assistant Keith Gilbertson still employed by the Cleveland Browns?

A: No. Gilbertson, who turns 64 in May, was reported by the Browns to have officially retired a short time ago from his job as a senior offensive assistant. He’s now back in the Seattle area.

Q: Shouldn’t Nick Holt have just been fired after the 2010 season and saved everyone the heartache of what came in 2011?

A: I’ve gotten some varying versions of this question in recent weeks. And I also heard Mike Salk on ESPN 710 Seattle make this case on air today in a discussion of how the Seattle media is too easy on its local teams/coaches/athletes. Salk said Holt should have been fired following the 2010 season and used the fact that people weren’t calling for that as an example of the softness of the Seattle media.

I’ll leave alone the broader point of the Seattle media for this answer to focus on Holt.

I’d argue that few people realistically would have thought Holt should have been fired following the 2010 season, which ended with what many were calling UW’s best defensive performance in a decade or so when the Huskies beat Nebraska 19-7 in the Holiday Bowl, holding the Cornhuskers to 91 yards rushing and 189 overall.

It was a pretty startling turnaround from the first game between the two (when Nebraska had beaten UW 56-21 gaining 533 yards in the process) and garnered Holt all kinds of praise locally and nationally. That game came on the heels of three straight pretty good defensive outings to end the 2010 season — a 24-7 win over UCLA, 16-13 win at Cal and 35-28 at WSU.

At the time, some raised questions about exactly how much should be read into those performances given the injury issues at QB for UCLA and Cal in those games, and the fact that the UW defense was pretty well riddled by the Cougars in the second half of that Apple Cup.

It’s easy to look back at that four-game stretch now as kind of a blip on the radar, and due in large part to the injury issues of the opponents (Nebraska had some significant injury issues of its own for the Holiday Bowl, if you recall) as well as some spectacular performances by seniors who proved harder to replace than anyone realized (namely, Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa).

But at the time, that four-game stretch seemed to indicate a defense that had maybe/finally turned a corner and I can’t imagine even in “tougher” media markets that anyone would have really been calling for Holt’s head (not to mention he had just gotten an extension in September and it wouldn’t have made any sense financially).

Q: What’s your view on East Coast Bias? I know the SEC is great but I feel the teams out here don’t get the recognition they deserve.

A: As a card-carrying member of the media, I’m a little more resistant to charges of bias in any aspect of it than fans may be. I think a lot of things people see as bias are simply more the realities of the profession than anything else. Pac-12 games are often played late at night, at times when media members in other time zones are either writing stories, on the road or doing whatever else. Some Pac-12 games are simply sometimes not seen by everyone in every time zone.

But I also think it’s pretty hard right now to deny the SEC its due. The Pac-12 champ the last two years — Oregon — got its chance to play the SEC champ each of the last two years and lost. If you’re a media guy in New York looking for a reason to rank one conference over the other, that seems like pretty good evidence for choosing the SEC.

I also think it’s hard to argue the Pac-12 hasn’t gotten the appropriate credit where it really matters as the conference has had two teams in BCS games each of the last two years, with Oregon reaching the title game in 2010.

If by recognition you simply mean TV time, the Pac-12 is going to take care of that issue itself here next season when its networks take to the air. When that happens, there will be 24-7 coverage of Pac-12 sports available just about everywhere.

Q: Can you give a Top Five of single-game Husky running back performances in your time on the Husky beat?

A: Sure. I’ve been covering the team since 1997, so that’s the time period this list will entail (so sorry, that means leaving out Corey Dillon and anyone who came prior).

1, Chris Polk, 2010 at Washington State. Polk’s 284-yard performance, with every yard needed to beat the Cougs and secure a bowl berth, is an easy pick for the top RB performance I’ve seen in person since covering the Huskies. It remains No. 2 on the all-time UW single-game rushing list behind Hugh McElhenny’s 296 against WSU in 1950.

2, Louis Rankin, 2007 at Stanford. This game might get kind of forgotten as there weren’t a lot of people in the stands and it came with UW having lost its previous six games. But Rankin was pretty much unstoppable that day as he rushed for 255 yards on 36 carries with a long of 42 in leading UW to a 27-9 win.

3, Rashaan Shehee, 1997 Aloha Bowl against Michigan State. Another game that might be easily forgotten. But against a Nick Saban-coached Spartan team that was coming off a rout of Penn State, the Huskies ran wild led by Shehee’s 193 yards and two touchdowns to get an easy 51-23 win. The game was Shehee’s last as a Husky and came after he had missed the final three regular-season games with an injury. Not coincidentally, UW lost all three to go from a 7-1 team ranked in the top five in the country to 7-4 and lots of grumbling about the direction of the programs. Obviously, there were other issues. But I always thought the impact of the injuries on what happened that season — and specifically that to Shehee at a time when UW had no suitable replacement (in part because Dillon had left early) — was a little bit overlooked. Shehee reinforced in the Aloha Bowl what his value to the team had been all along.

4, Willie Hurst, 2000 vs. Arizona. It’s not Hurst’s overall numbers that day that get him on the list — 116 yards on just eight carries — but the dramatics and athleticism involved. It was a game UW had to win to stay atop the Pac-10 and came the week after the paralyzing injury to Curtis Williams. With the Huskies seeming a little emotionally subdued, Arizona took an early lead and held it into the fourth quarter before UW rallied, thanks largely to two highlight-reel runs by Hurst of 65 and 23 yards — the latter the famous one where Hurst put his hand on the ground to steady himself while spinning away from a tackler (video below).

5, James Sims, 2005 at Arizona. No offense to Sims, a great guy who had a solid UW career. But looked at objectively, this has to rank as one of the more inexplicable individual performances in Husky history. Sims began his career as a safety at UW before being moved to running back in 2004 as a junior. UW had lots of backs on the roster at the time (Rankin, Kenny James, Shelton Sampson, to name a few) so Sims was mostly a situational running back and he rushed for just 707 yards in his Husky career. But in a game maybe best-remembered for Isaiah Stanback’s Hail Mary TD pass to Craig Chambers on the final play before halftime, Sims turned in the game of his life with 200 yards rushing on 30 carries as UW won 38-14. That was one of just two wins for UW that season and came against an Arizona team that was actually a pretty heavy favorite after having beaten No. 7-ranked UCLA 52-14 the previous week.

As promised, here’s video of the aforementioned Hurst run against Arizona in 2000 (and try to excuse the rampant grammar crimes of whoever posted this):

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