Friday, September 7, 2012

Huskies take on LSU; flashback to the start of the Sark era

By Kshell

When the Washington Huskies(1-0) travel down to take on #3 LSU Tigers(1-0) this Saturday it will bring back some memories of the 2009 season. This is Steve Sarkisian's fourth season with the Huskies but back in 2009 he was taking over a program that had just gone 0-12. He was taking over a program that had gone 12-47 the previous five seasons which is a tough task in itself. To begin his career he was taking on the 11th ranked LSU Tigers who had won a national championship just two years prior and would play in the national championship game two years later. This was a big game on ESPN as Sarkisian was looking to start his Huskies career off with a bang by upsetting the Tigers. In a game which nobody gave the Huskies a chance including Husky fans they almost pulled off the upset. By the end of the game the Huskies would lose 31-23 despite out gaining the Tigers. The Huskies out played the Tigers and Sarkisian received a standing ovation despite losing this game. In this following post I'll flash back to when the Sarkisian era had began.

#11 LSU Tigers at Washington Huskies- September 5th, 2009:

The Huskies eager to begin a new era had an electric atmosphere at Husky Stadium. Several former players were on the sidelines taking in the atmosphere as the Huskies received the opening kickoff. The Steve Sarkisian era would start off on their own 15 yard line with junior quarterback Jake Locker who missed eight games the previous season a large part in going 0-12.

 Facing a second and 10 from the 15 yard line medical redshirt freshman Chris Polk had a gain of 10 yards to the 25 yard line. On second and 10 Polk would rush for nine yards to the 34 yard line. Locker on the third and one would rush for two yards to the 36 yard line. Facing a third and 12 Locker would complete his first pass in the Sarkisian era as he would hit Johri Fogerson on the screen pass and Fogerson would run for 51 yards down the Tigers 15 yard line. After a five yard penalty then a Polk run of three yards setting up a second and 12 from the 17 yard line Locker hit then true freshman James Johnson on the right sideline. Johnson made his man missed then ran to the outside as he crossed the end zone for the touchdown. The place went wild as the true freshman made quite the splash with his first career catch.

The Tigers would quickly settle down the excitement as they would march to the Huskies three yard line where they had a first and goal. I remember the Huskies crowd really got into it as the Huskies defense held the Tigers to a field goal. The Tigers had gone on a 12 play 62 yard drive cutting the score to 7-3 as the Huskies had upset on their mind. On the second drive of the Sarkisian era it was a complete disaster as on the first play from their own 25 yard line Locker was picked off by linebacker Jacob Cutrera who ran it back for the 25 yard touchdown to give the Tigers a 10-7 lead.

The Huskies proving they weren't like the 0-12 team before them didn't quit. Starting from their own 27 yard line Chris Polk would bust a run for 33 yards to the Tigers 40 yard line. On third and 14 from the 44 yard line Locker would hit sophomore Devin Aguilar for a gain of 17 yards down to the Tigers 27 yard line. After a Locker completion to Johnson to move the chains to the 16 yard line the Huskies were in business. From the 17 yard line Polk would rush for 12 yards down the Tigers five yard line setting up a first and goal. On the ensuing play Polk would fumble as Patrick Peterson would recover the fumble.

After a quick three and out and a Fogerson 18 yard punt return to the Tigers 24 yard line the Huskies were back in business. After gaining only eight yards the Huskies had to settle for an Erik Folk 34 yard field goal to tie the game up at 10-10 in the second quarter. LSU would drive to the Huskies 19 yard line before junior linebacker Mason Foster forced the fumble then recovered the fumble ending the drive. The Huskies offense would then drive to the Tigers 40 yard line before stalling out.

The Tigers offense would finally respond with a drive of their own. They would go on a 7 play drive spanning 75 yards. Starting from their own 25 yard line the Tigers would rush for two yards. Then quarterback Jordan Jefferson would rush for seven yards. Charles Scott would rush for four yards on a key third and one to their own 38 yard line. Jefferson completed an eight yard pass after a nine yard run by Kevin Williams. On second and 10 from the Huskies 45 yard line Jefferson hit Terrance Toliver for a 45 yard touchdown pass to give the Tigers a 17-10 lead with a 1:07 left in the half.

The Huskies due to a penalty started on their own 8 yard line. Polk would begin the drive with a 12 yard run to the 20 yard line. Locker ran for six yards to their own  26 yard line as the Tigers took a timeout. Fogerson ran for three yards to the 29 yard line as the Tigers again took a timeout. With a third and one with 40 seconds left Fogerson would rush for five yards to move the chains. On the following play Locker  would connect deep to Aguilar for a gain of 46 yards to the Tigers 20 yard line. On the following play on a wheel route Locker would hit Fogerson for a touchdown only Fogerson couldn't hang on. The Huskies would have to settle for a Folk 37 yard field goal as time expired. The Tigers led at halftime 17-13 as the Huskies offense was moving the ball pretty easily against the SEC defense.

In the second half after both teams traded punts the Tigers look to finally put away the upset minded Huskies. Starting from their own 14 yard line the Tigers would go on a nine play 86 yard drive capped by a touchdown. On second and seven from the 17 yard line Jefferson would hit Brandon LaFell for a gain of 12 yards to their own 29 yard line. On third and one from the 38 yard line Scott would rush for eight yards 46. Jefferson would rush for eight yards on the following play to the Huskies 46. Facing a third and one from the 45 Jefferson would keep it on a quarterback sneak for the one yard to advance the chains. After a Huskies offsides penalty the Tigers would take advantage. Jefferson would hit Toliver once again for the score as Toliver would go in from 39 yards out to give the Tigers a commanding 24-13 lead over the Huskies with 5:43 left in the third quarter. The Huskies offense would stall on the 39 yard line. Failing to put the game away though the Huskies defense would three and out the Tigers as they took over down 24-13 to start the fourth quarter.

With the ball on their own 36 yard line Locker would complete a seven yard pass to Fogerson to the 43 yard line. Polk would rush for five yards for the first down to the 48 yard line. Polk would rush for three yards then Locker for three more setting up a third and four from the 46 yard line. Locker would rush for five yards picking up the key first down to the Tigers 41 yard line. After a penalty the Huskies offense would once again stall in the red zone having to settle for a 42 yard field goal attempt by Folk which he missed. Huskies defense would force a three an out as their offense would take over once again.

Starting from their own 42 with 9:44 left to play the Huskies if they had any chance of winning this game had to score on this drive. Facing a third and 11 Locker would complete a 10 yard pass to D'Andre Goodwin to the LSU 49 yard line. Sarkisian would go for it from 4th and one as Locker would rush for five yards to the Tigers 44 yard line. Polk would rush for four yards setting up a third and six from the 40 yard line. Once again it was Locker's legs who came through as he ran for 24 yards to the 16 yard line Facing a third and eight from the 14 Goodwin and Locker had a communication problem as the pass fell incomplete. For the the fifth time in the red zone the Huskies couldn't score a touchdown as they settled for a 42 yard field goal by Folk. More importantly with a little over five minutes left it cut the Tigers lead to 24-16 making it a one possession game.

After playing tough all game long the defense finally had a poor defensive drive. This was perhaps the easiest drive of the game for the Tigers. Starting from their own 33 yard line Williams would begin the drive with a nine yard rush to the 42 yard line. Jefferson would move the chains with a four yard completion to the 46 yard line. Williams would rush for seven yards to the Huskies 47 yard line. Once again the Jefferson to Toliver combo would burn the Huskies as they would connect for 25 yards to the Huskies 22 yard line. Williams would rush for 16 yards to the Tigers six yard line. Jefferson would cap the six play 67 yard drive with a six yard touchdown pass to LaFell which gave the Tigers a commanding 31-16 lead with 1:54 left.

For Jefferson that was his third and final touchdown pass of the game. For the Tigers this appeared to be the game clincher as they had a square from a team who had gone winless the year before. The Tigers had to earn this victory but the Huskies proved although out of the game they still had plenty of fight in them as they wouldn't go away so easily.

The Huskies would finish the game on a 10 play drive going 81 yards as Locker would hit tight end Kavario Middleton for the nine yard touchdown with no time left. After Folk made the extra point the Tigers would win the game 31-23. For Locker on that drive he was 7-10 passing for 86 yards with a touchdown. Locker hit Polk on back to back passes for 17 yards each on that drive. For the Huskies losing is always disappointing but there was something special about this one as the program finally gave the fans something to be excited about for the first time in well ever.

For the Tigers who won the game they saw a star emerge in quarterback Jordan Jefferson who two years later would lead the Tigers to the national championship game. Jefferson finished the game 11-19 passing for 172 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His main targets were Terrance Toliver who caught four passes for 117 yards with two touchdowns. Brandon LaFell caught four passes for 34 yards with a touchdown. Charles Scott carried the ball 12 times for 52 yards good for a 4.3 YPC average. His backup Kevin Williams carried the ball seven times for 51 yards good for a 7.3 YPC average. Jefferson the young quarterback also ran the ball eight times for 42 yards which was good for 5.4 YPC average. The Tigers were close to being upset but showed that the Huskies program still wasn't ready to be knocking off ranked opponents with regularity.

For the Huskies this was a tough loss because they outplayed the #11 LSU Tigers. The Huskies outgained the Tigers 478 yards to 321. The Huskies had more first downs 25-17. The Huskies also won the time of possession war 36:52-23:08. The problem for the Huskies was five times they had the ball in the red zone and scored only nine points as they fumbled and had to settle for field goals on the rest.

They were led by Jake Locker who was 25-45 passing for 321 yards with two touchdowns and a costly interception that was ran back. An emerging start came out of that game in freshman wide out James Johnson who caught six passes for 63 yards with a touchdown. Tight end Kavario Middleton who was supposed to be what Austin Seferian-Jenkins is now had five receptions for 45 yards with a touchdown. Devin Aguilar caught four passes for 76 yards. In the run game Chris Polk ran for 90 yards on 21 carries good for 4.3 YPC while adding two receptions for 34 yards. Locker ran 12 times for 51 yards good for 4.2 YPC. Fogerson had 11 yards rushing with two receptions for 58 yards. Mason Foster on defense had eight tackles with a forced fumble. While new kicker Erik Folk made three for four from field goals.

This was a weird game in that most fans felt good despite the program losing their 15th game in a row. That streak would end the next week when the Huskies would defeat the bowl bound Idaho Vandals. Then the Huskies would upset #3 USC Trojans 16-13 and find themselves ranked. The Huskies would finish the year 5-7 a huge improvement from 0-12. I was confident in that Sarkisian was the guy after the first three games and I was certain that by the time the Huskies take on LSU in 2012 the Huskies would have a team that has a shot at winning. Fast forward and the Huskies are 23.5 point underdogs but are a bowl team. For Sarkisian this was a good debut despite the loss as he showed the nation that Husky football can be turned around quicker than most had thought. In only two years after going 0-12 the Huskies went to a bowl game as they upset the #18 Nebraska Cornhuskers to win the Holiday Bowl.

No matter what happens to Sarkisian as head coach I'll never forget the enthusiastic feeling I had for this program after this loss. Only time in my life I was feeling good after a Husky football loss as this team a year removed from 0-12 had just gone toe to toe with the #11 team in the nation and two weeks later defeat the #3 team in the nation. Just like in 2009 nobody is giving the Huskies a chance to keep this game close and maybe they are right. Hopefully like 2009 Sarkisian can unleash the passing attack which most SEC teams don't face much. Either way this was a special night for the Huskies and even though they lost they gave the program something to be proud of. The Huskies had nothing to be proud of the previous five seasons but they knew that day that the long days of suffering were about over. That day is when the Sarkisian era had finally began!

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