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Gregg Bell Unleashed: What's Next In Wild Season?
Release: 10/20/2010
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Oct. 20, 2010

Locker Resting Up For Wildcats
Stanford Game To Kick Off At 4:00 p.m. (Versus TV)
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By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing


Let's see, what else can happen in the second half of the Huskies' season that hasn't already happened in the first?

A defensive tackle knocks down Jake Locker's fourth-down pass with his facemask in the final 2 minutes of the opener at Brigham Young, leaving Washington with a six-point loss that still stings.

The Huskies fall behind lightly regarded Syracuse 10-0 early in their home opener, suggesting Doomsday. They win the rest of the game 41-10. That leaves UW confident heading into a supposed showdown with Nebr ...

Never mind about that.

Supposedly finished, the Huskies use a perfectly timed bye week to reinvent themselves emotionally before heading to undefeated USC. They fall behind there, too. Locker's knees buckle and he crumples to the ground following a hit to the head in the fourth quarter. He undergoes concussion tests on the sideline, then - Shazam! - his internal fog lifts. He leads Washington on the winning drive by completing a fourth-and-11 pass and running for another first down. And Dawggone it if the Huskies didn't beat the Trojans with a game-ending field goal by Erik Folk for the second consecutive year.

The trip home from the first road win in three years is a rollicking party. The special-teams bus with Folk on it rocks from side to side from players standing and stomping on the way to Los Angeles Airport. There's chanting upon the plane taking off. Those who have been with the program for decades say they've never been on a trip so fun, even in Rose Bowl seasons.

Then the indispensible Locker gets a bad head cold and a bad thigh bruise. He can't run. The Dawgs crash back down in a downpour while losing at home to Arizona State, whose previous wins had been against lower-division teams.

All of Seattle doubts them, and criticizes Jermaine Kearse for dropping passes. The Huskies blow all of a 21-0 lead at home against 24th-ranked Oregon State. But Locker throws five touchdown passes, four to Kearse, then the Huskies storm the field thinking they'd won the game in double overtime. It's premature because of a penalty - of course it is, given this wacky season. The Huskies clear the field and give up a touchdown on the next play.

Alas, a Beavers tight end drops the game-winning two-point pass in the end zone. That ends a zany, 35-34 Washington win in double overtime that will ring through Montlake beyond Husky Stadium's reconstruction and reopening in 2013.

C'mon now. How many teams rush the field in wild celebrations three times in two wins?

Coach Steve Sarkisian hasn't been on any team in any sport that ran onto the field twice in one game thinking it had won.

"But it's kind of fun, though," he says with a wry smile. "You get to plan your celebration for the second one, because if you didn't like the first one, you can change it up for the second one."

So here are your unpredictable, at-times unfathomable Huskies, with as eventful a 3-3 record as any team in the country.

Don't look now, but the seventh place team in the conference last season is tied for second entering Saturday night's game at No. 15 Arizona.

"We're a resilient group, that's for sure," Sarkisian says. "I think this team could have easily cashed it in at any point after one of those three losses, and they haven't.

"So, if I could put one word on the first half: resilient. Hopefully we have a couple better words for the second half."

Like "bowl game." Washington hasn't been to one of those since 2002.

With USC ineligible for the postseason, Washington is one of only eight teams in the running to get to six wins and eligibility for the league's six bowl slots. Or, what, you think Washington State is going to finish its season with five consecutive wins to get to 6-6?

Three more wins in the final six games will likely have Washington fulfilling its mantra of playing 13 games this season. That would stamp the program's revival as officially complete.

I know you have big expectations. Some are unrealistic, but understandable given the promise we're seeing after years of having none. But whatever happens over these next six games, let's not forget what Sarkisian and his staff have accomplished in a season and a half. Let's not forget how far they've already brought the Huskies in so short a time.

"3-3?" senior linebacker and Pac-10 tackling leader Mason Foster said incredulously when I asked him to assess the season's first half. "My whole time being here I've never been as good as 3-3 at this point."

Sarkisian and his staff inherited a winless team seemingly without direction and have showed them the way. Even the fact it is the USC way of doing things is OK right now -- that's how revolutionary the Huskies' changes have been.

Instead of just saying they believe, they now have legitimate reason to. They have won at SC, should have won at Notre Dame.

Their still-developing defense is showing resolve when games get tight. The offense is showing more than just Locker's wondrous skills. It's comforting that when Locker leaves for the NFL following this season, rugged sophomore Chris Polk - with eight 100-yard games in his first 1½ seasons - will be back. So will Kearse, who has spent most of the season as the top receiver in the Pac-10.

The Huskies are starting to believe they belong at the top of the ultra-competitive, wide-open Pac-10.

For a long time.

Linebacker Cort Dennison, the heart of the improving defense, called the Oregon State thriller "another stepping stone for our program."

"We're heading on the right path," he said. "We expect to play with anybody."

About Gregg Bell

Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.

Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on each Wednesday.

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