Jake Locker came back for another year where he had never had a winning season, and still didn't have one after winning the Apple Cup. But on the last night of his career, he finally is on a "winning" team. So is Mason Foster, who went out with yet another in a long, long series of double digit night of tackles.
Washington whipped Nebraska 19-7 in the Holiday Bowl, the same Husker squad that had blown the Huskies into Lake Washington by a 56-21 count back on September 18. The win capped a 4 game winning streak, Washington's first since 2001, that turned a season that was sitting at 3-6 into the first bowl team from Seattle since 2002.
Locker didn't have the big night passing that most thought would be required for Washington to even be competitive, completing only 5 of 16 passes, only one more than in his 4 of 20 effort in the first game, and for just 56 yards. A couple of the completions were crucial, though.
So was the 17 yard reception on a pass from freshman RB Jesse Callier on the Huskies' first play, after a Husker fumbles, which set up Chris Polk's 3 yard touchdown run to give Washington an early lead they would never relinquish.Unfortunately, most of the world never saw it, due to the North Carolina-Tennessee Music City Bowl going to double overtime, due to apparent outcome altering clock official mis-management that gave North Carolina enough chances to finally win 30-27, after they deserved to lose 20-17 in regulation.
Once ESPN got around to the Holiday Bowl, the Huskies kept up their best defensive effort in modern times, eventually knocking Taylor Martinez out of the game, and holding eighteenth ranked Nebraska to only 189 total yards.
Washington opened a 10 point lead on their first possession of the second half, capitalizing on Callier's 32 yard kickoff return, augmented by a face mask penalty, which represented 15 of the 102 total penalty yards assessed to Nebraska. Locker's 25 yard touchdown run capped the drive.
And while Locker wasn't terribly effective passing, he was running. In addition to the scoring jaunt, Locker had a dozen other runs, for an additional 58 yards.
It was Polk that literally carried the Huskies to victory though, with 177 yards on a career high 34 carries, and 22 more on two receptions.
Coach Steve Sarkesian twice gambled, trying for a first down near midfield, and then for the knockout score to start the fourth quarter from one yard out. Both were Polk runs, and both failed. I questioned the decision in the open field, rather than playing for field position, but not the one on the goal line. I did question the play calls though, as well as the run before the goal line gamble. Washington's ability to block when one yard is needed is still an issue, and Locker selling out on an attempt to get to the corner would have been better bets.
Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt's unit has been often maligned the last two years, and rightly so. But the defense bailed Sark out both times tonight. Nate Fellner picked off Martinez to get the ball back for Washington after the first failed fourth down play, and the second one left Nebraska on their own one yard line. Alameda Ta'amu didn't get home with the pass rush, but only because two Nebraska linemen had to literally tackle him, and since it happened in the end zone, a safety resulted, producing the 19-7 final.
A combination of clock eating offense and defense allowed Nebraska only two more possessions, neither of which produced a serious scoring threat, and Washington was actually in position to take a knee at the Husker 8, rather than run up the score, after Polk produced 41 yards, and two first downs, on the Huskies' last drive.
Though Nebraska won 10 games, and played for the Big XII Championship, the Huskers lost their last two outings, and three of their last four, far from the run Washington put together down the stretch, after having lost three straight, all to ranked teams, two of which are in BCS bowls, which produced a 7-6 record for Locker to cherish as he finally move on to the NFL.
Given that Washington has had multiple Rose Bowl wins, and a national championship, this wasn't quite one of their biggest wins ever, but considering this is a team that was 0-12 two years ago, it certainly is their biggest win in a decade, and still pretty significant over the entirety of their history. Too bad the abbreviated and truncated ESPN coverage means no intact recordings will be available for Huskies to relive the remarkable achievement.
It also gave the Pac-10 a much needed boost, after qualifying only 4 teams for bowls, and last night's lopsided loss by Arizona. And made next year's rematch in Lincoln a whole lot more interesting.