Nov. 19, 2010
by Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Beyond the national-television exposure in prime time, the excitement of the first weekday home game since World War II, the new, all-black uniforms and the seniors' triumphant home finale, Thursday night's win over UCLA brought a not-so-fringe benefit.
A mini bye.
Jake Locker and the Huskies (4-6, 3-4 Pac-10) are taking Friday and Saturday off before they reconvene on Sunday for the final two games of the regular season, beginning Nov. 27 at California.
"We'll have fun for two days, then come back and get right back to work," said fullback Austin Sylvester, one of 17 seniors who loved their goodbye to Husky Stadium. "Everybody's fired up. The seniors are fired up."
But not too much. Not over the next two days, anyway.
The time off is giving Locker, Washington's indispensible quarterback, more chance to rest his broken rib. Coach Steve Sarkisian explained after Thursday night's win how hard a decision it was for him to play Locker for the first time since he broke the rib on Oct. 30, even after doctors cleared him Tuesday.
"We've talked quite a bit about pain or injury around here, and the ability to play with pain and injury is another thing - you are injured, you can't play," Sarkisian said. "He played with an injury. It was a hard decision for me. ... This one was one me."
That, and the best defensive performance of the season for the Huskies, sent Washington past the Bruins. It's the first time the Huskies have beaten both Los Angeles schools in the same season since Locker was 8 years old and Sarkisian was a star quarterback at Brigham Young. That was 1996.
"It's pretty neat for him to come out of here with a win and feel great about it and knowing he can go play again next week at Cal," Sarkisian said of Locker.
The quarterback wore a specially designed pad over his rib against the Bruins but downplayed the risk of playing. He explained doctors saw the risk as minimal enough to allow him to start - and to play the way he always does.
So he lowered his head, as usual, while bouncing off defenders in search of a first down on a 9-yard run early. And he again disregarded the rib while leaping across the goal line on a 3-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that tied the game at 7. Washington didn't trail after that.
"It meant the world to him to play this game," Polk said of his captain.
"I told myself if I could not play the way I always do, wouldn't play," Locker said. "And the doctors were comfortable with me doing that."
The time off should also expand Sarkisian's play calls at Cal. The coach said he eliminated many quarterback runs to protect Locker against UCLA.
The two off days, another last week's bye, provide all Huskies with a chance to recharge for the push for Washington's first bowl game since 2002. The Huskies must win their final two games to qualify for the postseason.
"Like coach told us last week, we're in the playoffs now," Locker said. "Lose and you are out."
Against the Bruins, Washington found a formula that could get them to that long-awaited bowl: a running game and a stingy defense.
Polk got his most sustained work all season en route to his career-high 26 carries. His next-to-last one was a 2-yard touchdown that clinched UW's first win since Oct. 16 against Oregon State and revived the season yet again.
"It was refreshing," Polk said of all the work. "If it's not broken, don't fix it."
That running game could get a test next week. Cal entered the weekend first in the Pac-10 in overall defense, third in run defense and first in pass defense.
Maintaining the revival on Washington's defense will be just as important for the Huskies in Berkeley. Coordinator Nick Holt simplified the schemes Thursday night, and his players held UCLA to just 163 total yards. Washington had been allowing an average of 440 yards per game.
Holt started 297-pound sophomore defensive tackle Semisi Tokolahi to provide added bulk next to 330-pound junior Alameda Ta'amu. That helped stymie UCLA's "pistol" offense of running inside, as the Bruins gained just 108 yards on 36 rushes.
Of course, UCLA going through their second-, third- and fourth-string quarterback by night's end because of injuries and ineffectiveness helped, too.
Whatever. The Huskies are enjoying a late-season spark during these two days off. The goal of a bowl game is still within reach, and now they've found a proven path to lead them there.
"That is the epitome of winning in November," Sarkisian said. "When you get late in the season like this, your ability to play good defense and run the ball comes in handy."