Sept. 24, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Is there anything Chris Polk cannot do?
He runs for 1,400-plus yards in a season. He bulls through defenders. Creates his own holes. Dances to music at practices. Represents the Huskies with grace and humor at Pac-12 media day. Clocks in with another 100-yard day two weeks after knee surgery.
And now, he sees what's going to happen before it actually does.
Polk sprinted past a California linebacker, caught a pass from September wonder Keith Price and fought through leg cramps over the final 40 yards for a 70-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter. That plus a goal-line stand on four plays from the Huskies 2-yard line in the final 42 seconds sent Washington to a wild, 31-23 win over the Golden Bears at rockin' Husky Stadium Saturday.
Asked following UW's seventh win in eight games what he was thinking when Price called his decisive play, one that isolated him on an unsuspecting, flat-footed Bear, Polk just smiled. The mischievous junior had instantly envisioned six points, before he even left the huddle.
"I just thought about which way I was going to throw my `Dubs' up," Polk said, with a grin almost as huge as his play.
For the record, he flashed his favorite W's with both hands, to the north stands that were going loco over the longest reception of Polk's brilliant UW career.
Polk blew past D.J. Holt at midfield as if the Cal linebacker was a light pole. He caught the ball at the 40 then looked as if he was strutting. Turns out, the backs of his legs were cramping.
"I need more sodium in my diet," he said.
It was his second touchdown of the day. He earlier scored from 2 yards on his usual mode of winning games - a bullish run.
"What a great win. What a cool game for our guys," coach Steve Sarkisian said. "We preach all the time, `FINISH!' And we finished today.
"These guys have heart."
Price, who entered the game as the nation's co-leader with 11 touchdown passes, threw for three more scores. Two were to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins as Washington (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) jumped out to a 21-10 lead in the first half - then hung on in another last-second finish against Cal.
This one came by stopping the Bears at the goal line. The Huskies beat Cal there on offense last November, on a 1-yard TD run by Polk with no time left.
Down by eight, Cal drove from its own 13 with 4:19 left by converting a fourth down and getting a pass-interference penalty on UW's Desmond Trufant for another first down. The Bears had first and goal at the Huskies 2 with 42 seconds and two times out remaining.
That's when the maligned Huskies' defense, which allowed 349 more yards but just three points after halftime Saturday, stood up.
Reserve outside linebacker Jamaal Kearse, playing because John Timu was taken from the field on a board in an ambulance for neck X-rays at Harborview Medical Center following a helmet-to-helmet tackle in the third quarter, stayed with Cal tight end Anthony Miller on a tricky route. That forced an incompletion in the end zone.
Kearse and end Andrew Hudson then made a great combination tackle on Isi Sofele at left end to stop Cal's running back 1 yard short of the goal line. The Golden Bears called time out before third down, and defensive coordinator Nick Holt went to work on the Huskies' sideline.
"Coach Holt actually told me before the play, `Look, if they come out in this pair (of blockers at end and wing) Justin, just stay in the crease, between the pair,'" Glenn said. "I stayed in the crease - and the ball came right to me."
The safety that lost the last half of 2009 to a broken leg and his job in 2010 is being somewhat modest. On third and goal, Glenn shed a block and rammed into Sofele, stopping him cold for a loss of a yard, back to the 2. There were 25 seconds left.
"He just wanted to make that a point of emphasis. And what do you know? The next play they call it, they run it," Glenn said of Holt, who has heard howls of criticism for his defense allowing 36.6 points per game entering Saturday. "He coached me up on it, and it was there."
On fourth and goal, Cal came out to throw in a one-back formation. Zach Maynard, who completed 23 of 43 passes for a career-high 349 yards and a 90-yard touchdown pass to Keenan Allen earlier, threw for him again on a fade route to the far sideline in the end zone. UW's Quinton Richardson was close in coverage, but the throw sailed so far wide of both of them that Allen - and the Bears - never had a chance. The pass fell, skidded off the purple end-zone turf, and the Huskies plus their crowd of 60,437 went bonkers again.
"When the chips were all down, we rose up and made a big play," said senior middle linebacker Cort Dennison.
The co-captain endured a knee so swollen and sore he almost didn't play to make 11 more tackles.
"I know we definitely could have played better this year. But for us to rise up to the challenge that presented itself, it definitely shows a lot about its defense," Dennison said. "That's why you play college football. That's why you were up at 6 a.m. all the time, it's for those kinds of plays. If you are a competitor, it's what you live for."
Price took a knee to run out the clock, and Washington moved to 3-1 for the first time in five seasons entering next week's test at Utah. The Huskies have started conference play with a victory for the third time in the three seasons Sarkisian has been their coach.
The ending personified those black "FINISH!" T-shirts Sarkisian had made for the Huskies last November - yet again.
"I sleep in mine," Dennison said with a wry smile.
It's the fifth time in the last 11 months Washington has won a game inside the final 45 seconds. If that doesn't say anything about these Huskies' resilience and character, maybe this does:
"Without a doubt, it's a total mentality. We know we are going to win when we get in these type tight games," Sarkisian said seconds after he left his postgame press conference.
Asked what his message was in the locker room after this one, the maestro of the Huskies' turnaround said, "I thanked them. You know, as coaches, those are very gratifying wins, for them to persevere like that.
"But we also touched on the value of life. We touched on John Timu. We touched on the fact that Michael Hartvigson lost his father on Wednesday and wanted to be on his team, practiced every day, because this is his family. (Hartvigson started in a two-tight end set). The importance of that and what we mean to one another and the experiences that we get to have playing college football.
"Wins and losses are wins and losses. But there are things bigger than that.
"And they are great kids."
Price finished 19 for 25 passing for 292 yards and the three touchdowns. His 14 scoring passes are halfway to Cody Pickett's school record for a season, from 2002 - and UW has eight games still remaining in the regular season.
"I thought he was a freakin' stud again for us," gushed Sarkisian, who has coached multiple quarterbacks into top-10 NFL draft picks. "He's playing at about as high a level as you can play."
Imagine what Price might do when he gets fully healthy. Saturday he again played with a wrap over the right knee he sprained in the opener. And he added a brace on his left knee, the one he sprained while throwing for four touchdowns in last week's loss at Nebraska.
The new phenomenon - the redshirt sophomore had at least two twitter hashtags in his honor before his latest heroics - just shrugged over it all.
"It's my O-line doing a great job giving me time. And my guys are getting open," Price said, smiling. "You shouldn't miss open guys."
One of Price's only mistakes in his first month replacing Jake Locker came in the third quarter when he lost a fumble in UW territory. Cal (3-1, 0-1) converted that into its third field goal for a 23-21 lead.
Holt made some adjustments in third-down pass coverage and pressure at halftime, and they mostly worked. Cal was 4 for 8 on third downs in the first half, but just 3 for 9 in the second half. That was against a Huskies defense that lost prime pass rusher Hau'oli Jamora to a sprained knee early in the game, then lost Timu, and then starting cornerback Greg Ducre to a concussion.
The final, goal-line stand by the Dawgs and their pup fill-ins left the coordinator leaping and almost bursting through his headset on the Huskies sideline. Friday night in the team hotel, he had used film of a fourth-down stop of Nebraska late in the 51-38 loss to remind his defense what it can do.
"The resiliency of the defense is really pretty special," Holt said. "We had some young guys in there... there were a lot of mistakes, which are correctable. But the effort was phenomenal.
"The defense has a lot of character."
QUICK HITS: Timu got hurt while dropping his head on a tackle of Sofele for no gain late in the third quarter. The game was delayed for several scary minutes while Timu was strapped to a board and loaded into an ambulance that drove him off the field. Cal coach Jeff Tedford joined Sarkisian, eight medical personnel and the Huskies defense on the field near the linebacker. Timu was moving his extremities before he was taken to Harborview Medical Center. Sarkisian said Timu was likely to stay at the hospital overnight. "All signs are good so far," Sarkisian said of tests. ... Price needs one TD pass to enter the Huskies' all-time top 10 for touchdown throws in an entire season. ... Will Mahan punted for the first time since he sustained a season-ending injury in practice following the 2010 opener at Brigham Young. ... Redshirt freshman Josh Shirley got his first career sack. ... Freshman RB Bishop Sankey got his first two carries of his career, for 16 yards. ... Washington is 6-0 all-time versus Utah.