Friday, November 26, 2010
Washington Huskies take on California Golden Bears; flashback to 2009 win
When the Washington Huskies(4-6,3-4) travel down to Berkley to take on the California Golden Bears(5-6,3-5) this Saturday, a bowl berth will be at stake. If the Huskies win they will, of course, have to win the following week in Pullman, where they are already getting snow. If the California Golden Bears win they'll be bowl eligible at 6-6. Regardless of the outcome, this will be Jeff Tedford's worst regular season since he has arrived at Cal back in 2002. These two teams don't have much history against each other so I'll instead focus on last season's game.
The Huskies have had some memorable wins against California in years past that I'll briefly touch on. Back in 1991, the Huskies traveled down to California in a battle of two undefeated teams which saw the Huskies win 24-17. Beno Bryant would score a long rushing touchdown on a draw play of over 70 yards for the game winning score. That would be the only game all season where the Huskies would win by single digits. Another memorable win was also in Berkley just two years later as the Huskies rallied from a 23-10 deficit behind Damon Huard, who had thrown four interceptions earlier in the game, but connected on two touchdown passes including a five yarder to Mark Bruener to give the Huskies a 24-23 win. In fact, the Huskies went from 1977-2001 without losing to California. Things would change once Tedford would arrive. Tedford, who is 6-2 all-time against the Huskies, including some blowout wins in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2008 when California beat the Huskies by over 30 points. That all changed last season when the Huskies upset the Cal Bears on Senior Night. I'll talk about my first experience in the student section at a Huskies game.
December 5th, 2009: #19 California(8-3,5-3) at Washington(4-7,3-5)
This would mark the second consecutive year where the Huskies would end their season against the California Golden Bears instead of the traditional Apple Cup against the Washington State Cougars. The Huskies would honor their seniors on this particularly cold night, but what was on the fans' minds, this game, was would this be Jake Locker's final game in a Husky uniform?
Heading into the game there was speculation that Jake Locker would turn pro after the season and become the first player selected in the NFL draft despite having a career record of 7-20 at the time. There was a nervous tension in the crowd because of the Locker subplot which had controlled the game.
As I was driving to the game with a friend I was talking about how we could be witnessing Locker's last game as a Husky. I also told my friend, California is the most unpredictable team in the nation and if Cal destroyed Washington by 30 or lost by 30 I wouldn't be surprised either way. I was also talking to my friend about the previous game which we had both attended against Washington State. I was talking about how I wish Steve Sarkisian would let Jake run more like he finally did the previous week.
When we finally arrived at the stadium my friend and I met up with his sister and her friend to sneak into the student section. (Since Cal isn't a big time opponent it was quite easy to sneak into the student section.) Those were the best seats I had ever sat in and was a great atmosphere with a ton of "Stay Jake" signs in the student section. I was quite alarmed at the fact of how little the fans in the student section actually knew about the Huskies. They way overrated Jake Locker, but thought I was talking French to them when I was talking about some of the early 1990s teams.
Then the game began and the Huskies were honoring their seniors - like Donald Butler and Daniel Teo-Nesheim. That is when I was thinking 2010 should be special if Locker comes back since the Huskies were returning a ton of guys. The game had finally started and unlike the previous week against Washington State, California appeared to have a real offense. California drove down the field but missed a field goal. The Huskies, with Locker, possibly making his last start, took over.
On the very first play of the game, little-known receiver Cody Bruns was in motion, took the hand off, then threw a 38-yard pass to an open Jermaine Kearse. The crowd had erupted on that completion as Sarkisian showed some trickery for the first time all year. I pointed out that Bruns was out there so I figured something was up. Good thing I wasn't coaching for California. On the next play, Locker, on a play action, pass fired a beautiful pass to Jermaine Kearse for a 40-yard touchdown pass to give the Huskies a 7-0 lead.
The Golden Bears, led by quarterback Kevin Riley, drove down the field again, but this time made the field goal, cutting the lead to 7-3 heading into the second quarter. In the second quarter, Sarkisian finally unleashed Locker's legs. The Huskies didn't have much of a running game in the first half as Chris Polk was getting shut down. Locker was continuing to hit Kearse in the first half, as Kearse finished the game, and the first half, with seven receptions for 147 yards and a touchdown. The Huskies would score a touchdown in the second quarter when Locker ran one up the middle for a 19-yard score. That is when the "One more year!" chants began. Then on the next possession, down at the goal line, Sarkisian finally called a shotgun run with Locker and scored a 2-yard touchdown to give the Huskies a commanding 21-3 lead at halftime. The crowd was pumped, but I was still scared since the Huskies didn't exactly have the best defense.
The second half began with the Huskies offense continuing to click on all cylinders as Locker moved the Huskies down the field then hit Devin Aguilar, to the right, on a fade route for 21-yard touchdown pass to give the Huskies a 28-3 lead. The crowd started the "one more year" chant some more. California would respond with a touchdown of their own, by Riley to Nyan Boateng for a 22-yard pass, to cut the lead to 28-10. I was still nervous about the outcome of the game as California was the more talented team. The Huskies would score again when Locker would pass for his third touchdown of the game (and fifth overall touchdown) to Aguilar down the middle from 13 yards out to give the Huskies a commanding 35-10 lead at the end of the third quarter.
The Husky that was honored as the Husky legend was former linebacker John Fiala, who played for the Huskies in the mid 1990s. I bring up Fiala because my high school wrestling coach had coached Fiala and always told me stories about him. My coach, to this day, told me Fiala was the greatest wrestler he had ever coached. In the student section, the players walk up the aisle so I got to shake Fiala's hand. Made for a good story when I ran into my old coach at one of my high school's wrestling match.
As for the fourth quarter, the Huskies were drilling the Golden Bears so whenever Locker did anything at all the crowd kept chanting one more year. The defense kept harassing the Bears all game as Cort Dennison recorded two sacks as outside linebacker that game. The young sophomore looked really impressive and gave me hope for the following season. Then Daniel Teo-Nesheim recorded a sack and became the Huskies all-time sack leader in school history. A record that had snuck up on me as I was shocked. I mean, with the great pass rushers like Steve Emtman, Jason Chorak, Donald Jones, Reggie Rogers and Ron Holmes, I was surprised, but thrilled that Teo-Nesheim was the all-time leader. The Huskies would score once more on a Chris Polk 10-yard rushing touchdown to take the lead 42-10.
The only drama left in the game was how loud of an ovation Locker would receive when he was pulled. Locker was finally replaced in the middle of a series with a standing ovation from the crowd as the whole crowd - not just the student section - started to chant "ONE MORE YEAR! ONE MORE YEAR!" Then, when the PA announcer announced Ronnie Fouch was replacing him as quarterback, this fan in front of me goes, "Oh! No! Not Ronnie Fouch - he sucks! NO MORE YEARS! NO MORE YEARS!" Which I'll admit. I started to chant as well. The students had no clue what was going on for the most part though. A bunch of drunks who think Locker is a god and not perspective. Then my friend's sister's friend left at halftime on a Saturday night to go work on homework. I was in complete shock and couldn't understand what had happened there. Yet, with the exception of this game, those fans get better seats than me at most games for about 1/10th of the price.
The Huskies won the game 42-10 and finished a 5-game turnaround, going 5-7, after going 0-12 the previous year. Locker would have his best game, statistically, as a Husky, passing 19 of 23 (82.6%) for 248 yards and three touchdown passes. He also ran for 77 yards and two touchdowns. Locker had a terrific game along with Chris Polk who ran for 94 yards and a touchdown. On Husky Honks, the post-game radio talk show, the conversation was about Locker coming back. They had passed out team posters and I was pumped about our future. I remember telling my friend, "This will be remembered as the team who turned the program around." On Husky Honks, I remember Softy, Millen and Baird saying this time next year(2010) going 5-7 won't be acceptable if Locker comes back.
Well, Locker ended up coming back and passing up millions. Locker had looked so great that day and the team had finished the year, winning 72-10 the final two games. Possibly the fans just had an unrealistic expectations for the 2010 season. Another possibility is in those two games Locker ran for close to 200 yards, while this year he has had just 262 yards rushing on the season. Locker, in the final two games, had three rushing touchdowns while this year has had just four. For whatever reason, Sarkisian didn't allow Locker to run as he did the final two games of last season. Instead of unleashing Locker he has held him back even more. Locker wasn't running against Arizona State or BYU before the rib injury had or hadn't happened, depending who you talk to.
The Huskies find themselves in a 4-6 hole and must beat California and Washington State on the road. When I left Husky Stadium that cold December night I thought that was the berth of Husky football once again. I let Willingham fool me after the UCLA win in 2006 and I hope Sarkisian didn't fool me with those two wins to close out the 2009 season. If the Huskies close out this season with two more wins Sarkisian will appear to have this program in the right direction. If the Huskies get blown out against California or worse yet ... lose their final two games, then it appears the Huskies had failed once again to hire the right coach. These last two games can determine Sarkisian's, and most important, Husky football's fate.