I know for a lot of people this UW game seems like sort of an add on to the season. To many, the Big Game is the putative end of the football season and they find it odd, for the second year in a row, to face a UW team afterwards. Last year, Cal decimated a soul-less UW team just playing out the string. This year, Cal faces off against another UW team that has no bowl possibilities, but is much more dangerous. They defeated USC and were extraordinarily feisty against LSU. While many Cal fans seem to be looking past UW to what bowl we might end up in, hopefully the team is much more focused. With a week off to rest after an incredibly competitive Big Game, hopefully Cal can come in and quickly put an end to any upset talk.
Let's take a look at some stories about UW football to get better acquainted with them. First off, a bit of interesting news, especially given some of the big stories in the news:
In a very noble gesture, the University of Washington is offering free tickets to Saturday's football game against the University of California to active police, fire and military personnel in the Seattle area.
The school announced the move today in response to the senseless shooting deaths of four Lakewood, Wash. police officers on Sunday.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the officers that were killed in Lakewood over the weekend," head coach Steve Sarkisian said during Monday's press conference. "For what you do, we are thankful."
Fire, police and military personnel with identification will be able to get four tickets to Saturday's game, which is the last of the season for the UW Huskies. Tickets can be claimed at the Huskies ticket office Monday through Friday during normal business hours or picked up on game day at the ticket window at the Northeast Plaza of Husky Stadium.
So, USAFGoldenBear, now is your chance to get free tickets!
Washington, though, is coming off its first shutout victory since Nov. 1, 1997, when it beat USC 27-0.
The Huskies allowed 163 total yards last week - including 47 on the ground - to the 1-11 Cougars. The effort could provide some momentum for a team that's giving up 398.0 yards and 28.2 points per game.
Offensively, talented junior quarterback Jake Locker threw for 196 yards and a touchdown and ran for another 94 yards and a score, while Chris Polk rushed for 130 yards to become the first Washington freshman to crack 1,000 yards in a season.
Polk is fifth in the conference with 1,019 rushing yards, while Locker leads the Pac-10 with 260.3 total yards per game.
Polk is definitely somebody to watch out for. He was recruited by many teams, including USC, and chose Washington, hoping to get some instant playing time. He has found what he wanted, gaining over 1,000 yards this season. We'll have more on the rushing attack tomorrow, but it is something that brings me pause. Then again, Cal has been remarkably good at shutting down the run this season, for the most part, so hopefully Cal can do it again. Hopefully.
The Seattle PI takes a look at the change in atmosphere surrounding the Huskies:
But once one looks past the numbers and takes a deeper look at the program as a whole, one thing is becoming clear.
The Huskies are finally on the rise again.
Much of how the Huskies do next season will hinge on whether or not Jake Locker chooses to return for his senior season or leave for the allure of the NFL. But that pending decision aside, Washington has to be intrigued by the core that return next season.
One of the only positives that comes from going 0-12 is that there is the opportunity to turn the team over to young players. And Steve Sarkisian and his staff have done that in spades.
On the defensive side, the Huskies have run out freshman on the defensive line (Talia Crichton and Andru Pulu), a sophomore at the linebacker position (Cort Dennison), and three freshman in the secondary (Desmond Trufant, Adam Long, and Nate Fellner).
On offense the Huskies have a star running back in just his first official year (Chris Polk), promising underclassmen on the offensive line (Drew Schaefer), and a receiving corp comprised entirely of underclassmen at the starting positions (James Johnson, Jermaine Kearse, Devin Aguilar, and Kavario Middleton).
The seniors (and maybe Locker) the Huskies will be losing are major contributors (Donald Butler, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Paul Homer, and Ben Ossai). But even that group of seniors sees nothing but green pastures for the Huskies. Butler dubbed his likely successor at linebacker, Dennison, a star on the rise, and Homer talked about the change in attitude that has occurred this season.
"Everything about the energy is different," Homer said. "Every aspect has changed."
Last year, the UW team we faced just didn't care anymore. Wills was clearly on the way out and they knew it. They folded early in the game. Even though UW had another rough season this year, we shouldn't anticipate that they will fold again. As Paul Homer notes, the energy is different and everything has changed. You know that UW will be gunning for upset after their emotional Apple Cup victory. If we can't jump out to a quick lead, it could be a long evening for Cal as UW gains more and more confidence.
The way the Washington Huskies have rotated defensive linemen in and out of the lineup this season – hurriedly and liberally – nobody other than Daniel Te’o-Nesheim has played a long string of plays in any game.
Injuries have played a big part.
So has ineffective play in Nick Holt’s new scheme.
But lately, especially last weekend in the Apple Cup against Washington State, Holt stayed with his veteran defensive ends – Te’o-Nesheim and Darrion Jones, both seniors – exclusively.
"We weren’t out there very long. There weren’t a lot of long series, except maybe for the first one," Holt said. "The guys were fresh. We want to get some kids in, but they were playing so well, and weren’t tired, so we went with them."
Given more snaps the past two games, Te’o-Nesheim (11/2 sacks, two fumble recoveries) and Jones (first two career sacks, forced fumble, pass breakup) have contributed bigger impact plays.
"Darrion is a great player," Te’o-Nesheim said. "These last couple games, his stats have shot out of the roof."
Holt started tightening the rotations in mid-November against Oregon State. True freshman Talia Crichton, listed as the starter on the depth chart for much of the latter half of the season, did not play at all. Newcomers Andru Pulu and Kalani Aldrich played sparingly behind Jones.
In that game, Beavers quarterback Sean Canfield was sacked three times. And against the Cougars – even if it was only for 60 plays, that took up 271/2 minutes – it was Te’o-Nesheim and Jones, all to themselves, at defensive end.
"I’ve always had great continuity with Daniel. I’ve been around him a long time," Jones said. "I have great chemistry with him."
The Cal OL has been an area of concern for us Golden Bears fans. I wish Cal had faced this DL earlier in the season when they were in a state of flux. It appears in recent games, including the Apple Cup, players were finally able to stick. Daniel Te’o-Nesheim is the man to keep an eye on here. You might remember him from that terrible terrible game last time Cal went to Husky Stadium:
Wow did that suck! 2 years later, he's the main man there. He currently leads UW with 7.5 sacks and is second on the team with 9 tackles for loss. Quite simply, if he can be a force against our OL, it could be a long evening. Hopefully, UW will return to the flux of their early games and our OL, resurgent from their great Big Game performance, can dominate!
The starting fullback from Nebraska - Paul Homer - will play in his 49th and final game for the Washington Huskies on Saturday, set to leave as one of the program's truly unheralded seniors.
His backup from Nevada – junior Austin Sylvester – will likely see some action, too, against 19th-ranked California. But his time should come next season.
Perhaps no two players on the UW roster have taken more divergent paths than the team’s top fullbacks – staples in coach Steve Sarkisian’s offense.
In fact last weekend against Washington State in the 102nd Apple Cup, Sarkisian went with more of a power rushing attack, utilizing two-receiver sets and giving more snaps to Homer.
Homer also caught four passes for 28 yards in the 30-0 win.
"Paul has performed well for us," Sarkisian said.
Typical of fullbacks is the fact that they seem to rely on one another throughout the season. Homer and Sylvester are no different.
"They’re very similar," Huskies running backs coach Joel Thomas said. "Usually when I see one, the other one is right there. They’re similar to linemen in the fact they have a camaraderie going through a lot of the battles they do. They do a lot of the grunt work."
Homer and Donald Butler were the only true freshmen to play in 2006. Homer played in all 12 games under former coach Tyrone Willingham. The past two seasons, he’s been named the team’s toughest contributor.
Looking at it from the other angle, their OL could have some solid success against our DL, especially in the run offense. And aiding them there would be the top notch fullbacks that UW has. Paul Homer, noted previously, will use his experience to open holes for Polk. The Stanford FB had great success against Cal. Hopefully, we can avoid a repeat of that success with the UW fullback. But he's definitely a bruiser and can actually catch passes. Keep an eye on Homer, who will be geeked for his Senior Day.