Sept. 11, 2010
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Stunned but not debilitated at being down 10-0 to Syracuse in the first quarter of their home opener, the Washington Huskies gathered around Steve Sarkisian on the sidelines.
"Hey, we're going to be fine," the coach told his Dawgs. "We really don't have to make everything up all at once.
"But we do have to get our energy up."
Sarkisian repeated the message at halftime. Hours later he said, "I didn't want our energy to drop. Last week, it did."
It's amazing what speed does for a team's energy.
Jermaine Kearse ran through arm tackles while setting career highs with nine receptions, 179 yards and three touchdowns, Jake Locker was 22 for 33 for 289 yards while equaling a career-best with four scoring throws and the dashing Dawgs sprinted past flat-footed Orange 41-20 in a joyous home opener on Saturday.
"He made a lot of things happen once I got the ball in his hands," Locker said. "It was easy for me. I just made a couple of 10-yard passes."
Locker raised his completion percentage to 60 percent through two games, with 555 yards passing, five touchdowns passing, another running - and best of all, no turnovers. Sarkisian called the senior's Saturday "tremendous."
Chris Polk joined in the impromptu Husky Track Invitational by sprinting past the Orange for 117 yards on 20 carries, including a 52-yard touchdown run that made it 34-13 early in the fourth quarter. And Mason Foster had 10 tackles, forced a fumble and added two sacks for a defense that was far more aggressive than it was the previous week.
That's not to say the day was perfect for Washington (1-1). Locker bruised his left wrist when a Syracuse defensive lineman lowered his helmet into it and his chest late in the third quarter. The wrist was taped as Locker threw his fourth touchdown pass, 14 yards to Devin Aguilar in the final period, and it was encased in ice following the game. But it being his non-throwing wrist - and Nebraska - means the indispensible Husky should be fine to start next Saturday's showdown with sixth-ranked Cornhuskers (2-0) inside a sure-to-be-roaring Husky Stadium.
"It's great. It's just bruised," Locker said.
One week after a 23-17 defeat at Brigham Young which they felt they gave away with many mistakes, the Huskies made more on special teams to fall behind 10-0 to Syracuse (1-1) after 10½ minutes.
But this wasn't Provo, Utah. The home-again Huskies scored the next 27 points by simply running through the Orange to improve to 36-14 at Montalke following a road loss since 1975.
It was Washington's first win in a home opener since 2007 when it beat Boise State. That was a week after Locker's scintillating collegiate debut as a redshirt freshman, a blowout win at Syracuse 30 starts ago.
The moment that turned around Washington's early 2010 season came on the first play after halftime. Kearse took a short pass on a three-step drop by Locker. The powerful, 6-foot-2 junior bulled through a weak attempt at an arm tackle, sped behind a great, extended block outside by Aguilar, then broke through another arm tackle and into the clear down the sideline.
His 57-yard touchdown shook Husky Stadium - not to mention the Orange. Washington led 20-10 and didn't look back.
"The place was rockin', man," Locker said of that scene.
Presto! Sarkisian's halftime message had brought the desired result.
"What we had to learn from last week was to bring our energy over into the third quarter," the second-year coach said. "That play was indicative of how we were going to play in the second half, of the energy."
It - and most of Kearse's other catches - were also indicative of Sarkisian's promise to get back to calling the plays Locker and the offense are most comfortable running, to get the offense into a rhythm. In the frustrating opener at BYU, Washington rolled up 394 yards but scored just 17 points.
"Without a doubt. We had to get Jake feeling good about throwing the football again," Sarkisian said. "The short-passing game is a big part of our offense, and I didn't want to lose it."
Two drives later, Washington used the same combination: a short pass to Kearse, great blocking outside and a lopsided foot race. Kearse ran behind a great block from D'Andre Goodwin, broke another Syracuse arm tackle and scored from 28 yards out to make it 27-10 for the Huskies with 6:20 left in the third quarter.
The lead became 34-13 with 2 minutes gone in the fourth quarter when Polk ran past everyone for his 52-yard score.
Washington rallied from being down 10-0 after 10 and a half minutes to take a 13-10 lead on two field goals by Erik Folk and Locker's 5-yard touchdown pass to a leaping, reaching Kearse just inside the goal line late in the second quarter.
Kearse exquisite grab came on his fingertips with his arms fully extended and a Syracuse defender on his back.
Kearse caught six of Locker's 13 completions in the first half. It was one more than Kearse had while leading the team in receptions last week, when he was angry with himself for dropped balls.
"I worked hard this week," said Kearse, who didn't even start the first three games of last season for Sarkisian. "I felt I had to elevate my game. That (BYU) game motivated me."
More mistakes by Washington's special teams put the offense and defense in bad spots to begin the game.
The game's first score came after an unnamed Husky was flagged for an unusual face-mask penalty during a Syracuse punt - after the Huskies' defense had started with a three and out. The 15-yard foul extended the Orange's drive to the Huskies' 34. Quarterback Ryan Nassib then broke outside containment on third and 4, broke a tackle try by lunging Cort Dennison - who was everywhere and had 12 tackles otherwise in his second career start at middle linebacker -- and scored on a 28-yard run.
Washington's first drive started at its on 6 because of an illegal block on the kickoff return.
Then a low, line-drive punt by walk-on Kiel Rasp - the replacement with Will Mahan out for the year facing reconstructive knee surgery - had the Huskies' punt-coverage team out of position. Syracuse returner Mike Holmes returned that 16 yards to the Washington 49.
Syracuse converted that into a 29-yard field goal by Ross Krautman. The Huskies were down 10-0 before many in purple had reached their seats.
"We were (ticked) off, but we were fine," Dennison said. "We knew we were a better team than we showed at that point in the game.
"I really think it's a sign of growth. Maybe last year, we would have gotten our heads down and dwelled on it. This year, we turned everything into a positive."
And how. Washington's track meet began soon after.
And now momentum is wearing purple heading into Saturday's mega meeting with Nebraska.