Dec. 27, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Robert Griffin III walked onto the stage on the Arneson River Theater on San Antonio's RiverWalk and promptly thrilled a pro-Baylor crowd by striking a Heisman pose.
The roaring Texans on the opposite riverbank chanted back Tuesday night "RGIII! RGIII!"
Why not? Baylor's quarterback has already won the Heisman Trophy for this season. And this was, after all, a bowl pep rally three hours south of Baylor's campus.
There is hype beyond San Antonio, from Maine to Maui actually, over RGIII as Mr. Heisman prepares to face the Huskies Thursday night in an Alamo Bowl pairing deemed by many the most attractive one this holiday season outside the Bowl Championship Series.
The entire nation will watch Griffin quarterback the supercharged Bears (9-3) against UW (7-5) in his first game since winning college football's glamour award at 6 p.m. Thursday on ESPN television, ESPN Radio, espn3.com, plus on the Washington IMG College radio network. GoHuskies.com will have the live game chat and pictures from the sidelines at the Alamodome.
It's the first of the 19 Alamo Bowls to feature the Heisman Trophy winner from that season. It's also the first time the Huskies have faced a Heisman winner in the weeks after he won the award since they throttled Desmond Howard and Michigan in the 1992 Rose Bowl.
"This is a real big stage," Washington running back extraordinaire Chris Polk said Tuesday following Huskies' 90-minute practice at nearby Alamo Heights High School. "Not only are we facing the Heisman Trophy winner, but we are also the only game that is on (at that time) that day. It's a big stage for us."
Polk and his Dawgs are bringing some potentially potent weapons into this Alamo Bowl. It's just hard to realize that anywhere in this city or within all the national publicity on Griffin right now -- hey, did you hear? He even needs a bodyguard on his campus in Waco!
That's fine. The Huskies are embracing their underdog role here this week.
"There's no pressure on us, and plus we're used to playing under the radar this whole year," Polk said. "It's something we've become accustomed to and we're used to."
A primer for all those gaga over RGIII:
Polk has rushed for 1,341 yards this season, fifth-most in UW history. He is 205 yards from breaking the Huskies' career rushing record set by Napoleon Kaufman from 1991-94, and his 20 career 100-yard games are the most in the 120-seasons history of Huskies football.
Washington also has Keith Price, the effervescent quarterback with almost as many smiles as touchdown passes in his first season replacing Jake Locker. Price's 29 TD throws set the UW single-season record this season, and he is set to break school marks for completion rate (his is currently .674) and passing efficiency (now 157.91). The redshirt sophomore's breakout has been largely confined to the western edge of the nation, far away from the brightest lights of attention now shining on Griffin.
Washington also has a load of talented, big receivers that could have an advantage Thursday on Baylor's defense, which is 109th out of 120 teams in the bowl subdivision in scoring defense (35.7 points per game allowed).
Jermaine Kearse enters the Alamo Bowl ranked second all-time at UW with 175 career receptions, 2,673 career yards receiving and 28 touchdown receptions. He would tie Mario Bailey's career record with two more TD catches Thursday. Fellow senior Devin Aguilar has established himself as a guy Price looks to on third downs while making 36 catches with four touchdowns this season. Physically imposing freshman Kasen Williams is coming off his career night with two touchdown catches - plus an open-field hurdle of a standing Cougar - in Washington's 38-21 win in the Apple Cup over Washington State a month ago. And tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was named a freshman All-America by CBSSports.com, College Football News and FoxSportsNet this month. His six TD catches are already tied with Cam Cleeland, Ernie Conwell and Aaron Pierce for fourth most by a UW tight end -- for a career.
Kearse and Williams are 6-feet-2. Seferian-Jenkins is 6-6.
The top 10 cornerbacks, safeties and nickel backs listed on Baylor's two-deep roster are all 6-1 or shorter.
"Their receivers are big guys. ...They'll be eating peanuts off our corners' heads," Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said Tuesday.
"Balance," that of Price's passing and Polk's running, was the buzzword for Huskies coordinator Doug Nussmeier and his offensive players Tuesday during an Alamo Bowl press conference at the Marriott RiverWalk.
How well the Huskies do in achieving that balance will largely determine whether the "other" offense on the Alamodome field trumps some of that RGIII hype.
"We feel like we have to score a lot of points. And also we have to keep RGIII off the field, just be a possession team and work the clock," said Polk, who had 34 carries for 177 yards in Washington's upset of Nebraska in last December's Holiday Bowl. "He can't beat us if he is not on the field.
"If we play 100 percent assignment sound and do what we are supposed to do, we shouldn't have to worry about the score."