Saturday, January 1, 2011

Huskies win Holiday Bowl 19-7 over Nebraska!

By Kshell

The Washington Huskies(7-6,5-4) upset win over the #17 Nebraska Cornhuskers(10-4,7-2) 19-7 is by far the biggest win of the Steve Sarkisian era. This win for the Huskies gave them their first winning season since 2002 and first bowl win since the 2000 season. What was even more shocking than the win even was how the Huskies won the game. The Huskies dominated the trenches unlike last time these two teams played. The Huskies were beating Nebraska at their own game with pounding the ball and playing good defense. This was one of the biggest wins in Husky football recently.

The Huskies feeding off the energy of the crowd which was electric had a terrific start to the game. Nebraska began the game with the ball and were driving to midfield. The game was looking like a repeat of the Nebraska 56-21 win over the Huskies on September 18th. In that game Nebraska had three 100 yard rushers, you can read about the game here . I was getting worried about the start of the game then Nebraska tried to get cute. They had running back Rex Burkhead line up in shotgun to take the direct snap which he did on a sweep. On that play Victor Aiyewa poked the ball out from Burkhead which Alameda Ta'amu recovered 14 yards to the Nebraska 21 yard line.

The Huskies began the series with four wide receivers, three in a bunch set to the right. Chris Polk wasn't lined up at tailback instead Jesse Callier was which I found odd. Then Callier received the toss sweep to the right and then fired a pass across the field to Huskies quarterback Jake Locker who made a great catch and run for 16 yards. After a Nebraska half the distance penalty on second and goal from the four yard line the Huskies finally scored. Chris Polk ran in the touchdown from four yards out to give the Huskies a quick 7-0 lead as the crowd was going crazy(including myself).

The Huskies defense kept the momentum going by three and outing the mighty Huskers offense on back to back series. The Huskies defense unlike the first time around were not giving up any big plays. The reason for that is the freshman on the defensive line have matured, Cort Dennison didn't play the first game, and Victor Aiyewa was playing in just his third game ever at linebacker. Aiyewa led the Pac-10 in tackles for lost. The Huskies offense took advantage of the great defensive play by marching down the field for an Erik Folk 39 yard field goal. Chris Polk had three carries for 22 yards while Locker added a 12 yard run. The Huskies took a 10-0 lead heading into the second quarter.

In the second quarter the Nebraska offense finally started to move the ball. Facing a third and 13 from their own 48 yard line, quarterback Tayler Martinez who torched the Huskies the game before broke a 20 yard run for the first down. Then facing a third and eight from the Huskies 15 yard line, Martinez floated a pass in the left corner of the end zone that looked like it could have been intercepted. The pass was caught by Kyler Reed for a 15 yard touchdown to cut the score to 10-7. The Huskies would end the half with a missed field goal and took a 10-7 halftime lead.

The Huskies began the second half ball at their own 47 due to a great kickoff return by Jesse Callier and a penalty by Nebraska. Locker finally completed his first pass of the game hitting D'Andre Goodwin for a gain of 26 yards on third and eight to the Nebraska 25 yard line. On the next play Locker took the handoff and ran 25 yards for the touchdown. He then spiked the ball but no flag was called. The crowd was going crazy at this point the Husky fans finally started to believe they could pull off the upset.

The Huskies holding on to a 17-7 lead in the third quarter continued to dominate the Nebraska offense. The Huskies up by 10 points then went on a 12 play 55 yard drive which took up over five minutes of time. The quarter had ended with the Huskies facing a crucial fourth and goal from the one yard line. Steve Sarkisian is an agressive coach and with the way his defense was playing there wasn't any doubt he was going for it. The Huskies lined up in shotgun handed it off to Polk who was stopped just short of the touchdown. Had Polk went to his left a yard more he walks in the end zone untouched.

Nebraska took momentum but with backup quarterback Cody Green who was filling in for the ineffective Martinez due to injury still had to face the Huskies pressure from his own one yard line. Facing a third and long Green scrambled for a first down but that was only possible because Ta'amu was held in the end zone. The refs saw that and called holding in the end zone which resulted with a safety for the Huskies. At that point the Nebraska fans started to leave early.

Nebraska had one last chance to make it a game as they were driving against the Huskies prevent defense. Facing a fourth and 19 on the Huskies 44, Green attempted a pass to the end zone who had one on one coverage with Huskies corner Adam Long. Long had the ball hit him in the back which started the celebration. The Huskies gave Sarkisian the gatorade bath.

The Huskies finally won the Holiday Bowl 19-7. The Huskies had outgained the Huskers 340-189, had 21 first downs to their 14 first downs and outrushed the Huskers 268-91. The Huskies defense had five sacks, two turnovers and forced three fumbles. The offensive line who everyone loves to bash on gave up zero sacks on the game. The Huskies in a complete 180 degree turn from the previous meeting dominated the line of scrimmage.

The Huskies were led by Chris Polk who won Co-MVP with outside linebacker Mason Foster. Polk carried the ball 34 times for 176 yards(5.2 YPC) for a touchdown. Polk controlled the game and the clock for the Huskies. The Huskies were playing Don James football which was run the ball, play good defense and don't turn the ball over. The Huskies dominated the rushing trio of Nebraska unlike the last meeting. Rex Burkhead had just 22 yards rushing on 12 carries(1.8 YPC) and Roy Helu had 28 yards on 11 carries(2.5 YPC). The Huskies shut down the run game and forced Nebraska to play a style they aren't used to.

Unlike the previous meeting where Martinez dominated Locker, I felt Locker outplayed Martinez this game. Locker's stats weren't great he was just 5 for 16 passing for 56 yards but most of those incompletions were throwaways. Locker also ran for 81 yards on 13 carries(6.2 YPC) with a touchdown. Martinez was seven for nine for 53 yards with a touchdown and an interception but had negative 20 yards rushing on 14 carries. Cody Green his backup quarterback was 3 for 12 for 45 yards and ran for negative five yards.

The Huskies from 0-12 to Holiday Bowl champs in just two years has been quite the turnaround. Sarkisian promised a quick turnaround and unlike Willingham he never brought up lack of talent. His supporters constantly brought up lack of talent but Sarkisian never did. Sarkisian featured the run game down the stretch and rallied his team from a 3-6 hole. This was a huge win for Sarkisian and recruiting as this proves he'll be here for a while. The Huskies are still probably a few years away from competing for Rose Bowls but at least the Huskies are now going to and winning bowl games. This was a huge win for this coaching staff and for these Seniors their legacy ranks up there as the team that turned this program around.


- I've been saying feature Chris Polk all year long and the Huskies will win games. Well better late than never I suppose. In the Huskies four game winning streak Polk has ran for 673 yards on 107 carries(6.3 YPC) with five touchdowns. In the Huskies seven wins this year Polk ran for 968 yards on 165 carries(5.9 YPC) with seven rushing touchdowns. In the Huskies wins Polk averages 138.3 yards per game and 23.6 carries per game.

In the Huskies losses Polk ran for 397 yards on 95 carries(4.2 YPC) with just two rushing touchdowns. Polk averaged in the six losses 66.2 yards per game and just 15.8 carries per game. I think the stats show feature Polk and you win games. Now the question is will Polk be back next year? He has already ran for 2,511 yards on 506 carries in his short career. When running backs hit a certain age they start to fall apart so for a player like Polk the smart move is to leave. I hope he returns as Jesse Callier is a nice change of pace running back but I'm not sure he is a guy who can feed 25+ carries a game.

- Just like last game against Nebraska I saw another legendary coach. Last game I actually stood next to and shook Tom Osborne's hand. This game I saw Don James walking on the sidelines and took a picture of him. It was great to see the dawgfather at the game. He is the reason why Washington football is so great today having coached from 1975-1992. During that time James won six Pac-10 championships, four Rose Bowls, One Orange Bowl and One National Championship.

- Mason Foster had another monster game earning Co-MVP of the Holiday Bowl win. Foster came to Washington as a two star recruit but soon made a name for himself. He was the lone bright spot during the winless 2008 season when he led the Pac-10 in tackles. Last year Foster was a playmaker with forcing five fumbles and intercepting three passes including the game winning touchdown against Arizona.

This year Foster was first team all pac-10 linebacker. Finished second in the entire nation in tackles. Foster brought it every game even in the loss to Nebraska Foster had 17 tackles. Today Foster had 12 tackles, including five that went for a loss. To clinch the Apple Cup Foster recorded two sacks to end the game. Foster will be a very hard player to replace next year. All the attention was on Locker this season but Mason Foster was a huge part of the rebuilding of the Huskies. Foster had the best linebacking season by a Husky since Dave Hoffmann in the early 90's.

- I'll finish this blog post by talking about the career of Jake Locker. Locker finished his career by passing for just 56 yards but got the win. I've seen Locker put up huge numbers in losses and rival fans love to bash his record. Well Locker is a winner. Without Locker the team went 0-12 in 2008. Since Sarkisian has arrived Locker is 12-12(he missed Oregon game) and 9-8 in Pac-10 play.

Locker came back for his Senior year when the smart move was to leave. He came back for games like today. His legacy is terrific at Washington regardless of how his NFL career turns out. He finished his career with 7,639 yards passing(2nd all-time), 53 passing touchdowns(1st all-time) to just 35 interceptions. He also ran for 1,783 yards and 29 touchdowns which are both Husky records. I'd say Locker's career turned out just fine. He drove me crazy at times but he also wow'd me many of times. Locker helped turned the program around along with Chris Polk, Mason Foster and others. I'm glad to see such a great person go out on top like Locker did.

All in all this win can't be described in words. The Huskies defeated a team who embarassed them at home back in September. The Huskies pulled off a huge upset win that will carry momentum for recruiting for years to come. The Huskies were down in San Diego for a week with open practices and with this win recruits will follow. Sarkisian promised a quick turnaround and he makes tons of guarantees but I'm glad he backed up with promise. Sarkisian will have his work cut out for him next year replacing some stars but the program appears finally headed towards the right direction.

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