Dec. 29, 2011
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SAN ANTONIO, Texas - It was a weary grin, but still Keith Price smiled the way only he can.
Armed - make that, legged - with a month between games that got his thrice sprained knee healthy, the gritty, dynamic quarterback had just finished a performance the Huskies will still be talking about when the redshirt sophomore becomes a grandpa.
"You could have gotten a lot more of that earlier if I'd been healthy," Price said with the grin. "Unfortunately that wasn't the circumstance, so I've just been working with what I've got."
What he had Thursday night was incredible. The only thing Price didn't do was play defense.
And that was the one thing that may have kept the Huskies from winning this amazing Alamo Bowl.
Price threw for 438 yards, tied for second-most in Huskies history and 17 behind Cody Pickett's mark in 2001. He had five touchdown passes, one short of the school record. He equaled a 92-year-old UW record with seven combined scores. But the dynamic redshirt sophomore was incomplete high on fourth and 8 at the Baylor 39 with 3:20 left and Washington down 60-56.
That was the last time he touched the ball. The Bears then ran for the clinching touchdown in an astounding, 67-56 Huskies loss that people across the nation may be talking about for a long, long time.
The fireworks on the Alamodome field after the game were anticlimactic. The 123 points were the most ever in a regulation bowl game - ANY bowl game. The teams combined for 1,397 total yards, by far the most in the history of bowl games, overtime, double-overtime or whatever.
"I've only been a part of that in video games," said UW freshman tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who caught five of Price's 23 completions, in 37 attempts.
"We were part of a classic."
Albeit an excruciating one, especially for the Huskies' defense. The unit with five first-year starters allowed Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and Baylor 777 yards, the most the Huskies have ever allowed in a game.
UW rolled up 620 yards of its own, fourth-most in school history. Jermaine Kearse caught five passes for a career-high 198 yards and a touchdown in his final college game. Chris Polk rushed 30 times for 147 yards and one touchdown in what could be his final college contest. He also fumbled deep in Baylor territory in the third quarter with the Huskies poised to seize control of this zany game.
Now Polk must decide whether he will enter the NFL draft as a fourth-year junior. With 4,049 career yards, he is 57 yards from breaking Napoleon Kaufman's career rushing record at Washington. Polk has said he covets that mark, believing it will validate as "the best who ever did it" at Washington.
Polk, still in full uniform, waited outside Baylor's locker room for Griffin to come out. When he did, the two potential NFL entries as underclassmen hugged.
"I'll see you somewhere down the road," Polk said.
Asked a few minutes later about whether this was his last Huskies game, Polk said, "I'm too mad right now to even think about that."
His eyes were red with tears afterward for losing a fumble at the Baylor 11, after Kasen Williams' 46-yard punt return had UW poised to go ahead 49-31 midway through the third quarter. Baylor's Terrence Ganaway ran away for an 89-yard score on the next play.
"My helmet was loose and I couldn't see. I was trying to go down and I didn't see their guy - he beat me to it," Polk said.
"Great running backs don't fumble in situations like that. ... I really felt like right there I let my team down."
Kearse quickly supported Polk.
"No matter what happened - the fumble - Chris Polk is a beast," Kearse said. "And he's going to continue to be a beast from now until whenever he stops playing football."
Washington finishes 7-6 for the second consecutive season. The Huskies, just the eighth team to make two bowl games within three years of going winless, were denied bowl wins in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1990 and '91.
Griffin got his, as expected. But Price outplayed Mr. Heisman.
RGIII was 24 for 33 for 295 yards and a touchdown pass. He also rushed for 55 yards and another touchdown.
But it was Ganaway who killed the Huskies, shredding them for 200 yards on 21 carries. That included the 89-yard sprint up the middle that revitalized Baylor. He put the Bears, down 42-24 early in the third quarter, to within 42-39 and got the 65,256 in the dome - most from Baylor, a three-hour drive away - rockin' again.
Senior middle linebacker Cort Dennison, who had a career-best 15 tackles in his final UW game, said defenders straying from their assignments at critical times doomed the defense in the second half.
"I'm not shocked. Those guys averaged 571 yards a game," Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said. "I'm not shocked that Baylor moved the ball. The disappointment came with the big plays in the second half. That's the ultimate disappointment.
"Everything we do in our program will be evaluated, myself included. We've got to figure out some issues of why things are the way they are and how we can improve as a football team in all three phases. ... It's obvious we need to improve. We need to get better on the defensive side of the ball. And it will be addressed and addressed as quickly as possible."
The Huskies trailed 21-7 after one, wild quarter - then scored 28 unanswered points to take the lead in an even more astounding second period.
Price scrambled while trying to pass, pump faked a Baylor Bear into the upper deck of the Alamodome, then leaped over two more defenders at the goal line for a Heisman-like score. The amazing, 15-yard run stunned the Alamodome crowd that was at least 80-percent pro-Baylor.
Sarkisian said he was especially excited to see that run, which showed how huge a threat Price can be when healthy . That play - and so many others Price made -- would never had happened without the 33 days off Washington had between its Apple Cup win and the Alamo Bowl.
After a stop by a surging UW defense that began getting to Griffin and battering him in the second quarter, Polk stunned the natives again with an electrifying, 56-yard touchdown run up the middle in the final minute of the half. That had the Huskies up 35-21.
Baylor raced to a 42-yard field goal on the final play of the dizzying first half.
The rampage of offenses continued after halftime.
Price scrambled, extended the play and hit Kearse on an 80-yard touchdown off an improvisational route by the senior two plays into the second half. The huge underDawgs led Griffin and the 15th-ranked Bears 42-24.
It was so quiet at that point in the Alamodome you could hear a 10-gallon hat drop.
"I thought we were going to do it," Sarkisian said.
Yet Griffin rallied the Bears to within 42-39 midway through the third. Then on successive plays after that score, Price fired a 60-yard strike to Kearse and a 13-yard touchdown pass to Devin Aguilar, who finished with five catches for 90 yards. Just like that, UW led 49-39.
And just like that, Baylor rallied against a ransacked Washington defense again. Ganaway's second consecutive, unanswered touchdown run from 1 yard put BU ahead 53-49 in the final minute of the third quarter.
Price ran 8 yards on a scramble and then stretched the ball across the pylon heroically to put UW back up 56-53 with 9:40 to go, but then came the deciding play.
On fourth and 8 from the Baylor 39 and UW trailing 60-56, Price threw high and incomplete to Williams on the sideline in front of UW's bench, well behind the first down marker. Baylor went with double coverage on the freshman - one defensive back under his route and one behind it -- for the first time all night, though Williams and Price both said it's a pass they should have completed.
Baylor had the ball back with 3:20 left, and UW's offense never saw the field again.
"I have to make that throw," Price said.
He deserves a bit of slack. He did everything but work on the demolition of Husky Stadium while throwing for a UW-record 34 touchdown passes this season. That was despite the three sprained knees, a sprained ankle and a bruised shoulder that left Price so batter, his roommate Polk was carrying him to his car and driving him to treatment at times this season.
"People were questioning me this year, which is fine. They didn't know what to expect coming in behind Jake," Price said.
"But, hey ..."
Hey, hey, indeed.
QUICK HIT: The Huskies wore white helmets with a purple W logos on them for the first time in 120 seasons of UW football. The lids matched the white jerseys and pants. The Huskies wore white helmets with a stars-and-stripes, red-white-and-blue US Flag embedded in the W in September against Hawai'i, to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of 9-11. Sarkisian got the idea for white helmets for his Dawgs from watching the Seattle Mariners wearing white caps over Memorial Day weekend this past baseball season. ... Kearse's TD catch leaves him with 29 in his completed Huskies career, one short of Mario Bailey's school record set from 1988-91. ... Price threw four touchdown passes in a game four times this season. Washington never had more than two games with four TD throws in season (from 1997) before this one ... Price finished the year with 3,063 passing yards, second-most in UW history ... he also upped his own record for TD passes with 33 and nailed down the school records for completion percentage (.669) and pass efficiency (161.9) ... Polk's 1,488 rushing yards in 2011 were also good for second-best in UW history and give him the Nos. 2, 3 and 6 season rushing-yard totals in the long history of the program.