Two plays change everything for Huskies
Nov 27, 2010, 4:49 PM | Updated: Apr 4, 2011, 7:52 pm
By Mike Salk
What is with the football teams in the Northwest? Why do they make me conflicted at the end of every game?
For three quarters on Saturday â€“ heck, for 55 minutes â€“ the Huskies played a lousy game at Cal. Their offense was sloppy. Their defense was sluggish. Their special teams were, well, their special teams. Yes, the Bears helped by playing even sloppier. Their quarterback showed he belonged in the Aaron Corp(se) realm and not on a Division 1 football field with a potential bowl berth on the line. But the Huskies didn’t look much better. I was fully prepared to walk away from this one ready to kill them on Monday.
They didn’t play like a team that wanted to go to a bowl game!
Those teams don’t fumble without being touched (Jesse Callier). They don’t allow strip sacks to be returned for touchdowns even after keeping in seven blockers. Their quarterbacks are more accurate than Jake Locker, their offensive linemen don’t negate the big plays with holding calls and their special teams…well, let’s just say their special teams don’t cover kicks the way the Huskies do!
And then, in two plays, all of that went out the window.
The throw to Jermaine Kearse was a game-changer. All year long, I’ve wondered how Locker would handle these situations â€“ close games that require a big drive at the end. I believe a quarterback simply HAS TO elevate his play with the game on the line. When you’re in a two-minute offense like that, the offensive line play excuses go out the window. It is the time when the good quarterbacks find a way to move their teams down the field and get points. On Saturday, Locker found a way.
The play netted 46 huge yards, but it made sure the Huskies had a chance to win. I don’t know if it was a good throw or if Kearse just made the right adjustment while it was in the air, but it really doesn’t matter. It put the Huskies in striking distance.
And if Locker had simply carried one of his ensuing rushes into the endzone, he’d have been the hero of the game. But as you know, that wasn’t the way this one was destined to finish.
Steve Sarkisian took a risk. Down by three with the clock set to expire, he eschewed the easy tying field goal to go for the win. He put faith in an offensive line that has done little this year to deserve it. And in doing so, he decided that if his program was going to get to the next level, they needed a signature moment.
That moment came in the form of sophomore Chris Polk’s touchdown behind the block of freshman lineman Erik Kohler. That moment came when Sarkisian decided to trust the guys that are going to be the future of his program and not the one who has defined it for the past five years.
I found that significant.
With the season on the line, Sark showed amazing guts. Everyone will marvel (appropriately) at his decision to go for the touchdown. But I think most everyone could have expected that the ball would be in Locker’s hands in that situation. I expected a QB draw out of the shotgun or maybe an option play that would have used Locker’s unique combination of speed and throwing ability.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but don’t you think it’s meaningful that Locker didn’t get the ball when it mattered most? I suppose Locker was a decoy, but I saw a coach that in a moment of truth decided to trust a couple of young players he will have for the next few years over the one who stuck around to play one more year.
In the end, it works out for everyone. Locker gets to play at Pullman next week for a chance to get to a bowl game. Sark solidifies his standing and finds a way to manage the clock well at the end of a game while making a memorable call for all the marbles. With a few breaks, they could both be playing in the Holiday or Alamo Bowl â€“ not bad for a team that was once 3-6 and coming off three straight blowout losses.
I’m not sure which Husky team we saw at Cal was the true one. And I’m not sure if Locker is a good quarterback. But I’m sure the Apple Cup is going to matter next week. Quite frankly, that’s all I really want as a sports fan in Washington.