Ivan Maisel checked in with Washington this week and turned in this interesting take on exactly when the Huskies transitioned into their current state: Promising program on the rise.
Most took notice of Washington only after they posted a shocking 19-7 upset victory in the Holiday Bowl against Nebraska, which just weeks before had stomped the Huskies 56-21 in front of a chagrined home crowd. Sure, there were the "Cornhuskers weren't motivated!" rationalizations -- not invalid analysis, by the way -- but the complete reversal of a physical beating is hard to ignore.
To me, that game signaled that Steve Sarkisian's team -- then and going forward -- wasn't just the Washington Jake Lockers. That team wanted to play physical football on both lines. That team wanted to run the ball and get after you on defense.
But Maisel's article points out that the transformation began before that and was based on a gutsy call and a single play:
When the history of Sarkisian's tenure at Washington is written, the victory at California in the next-to-last game of the regular season will be the corner where the Huskies' fortunes turned. Washington, trailing 13-10, had the ball on the Bears' 1-yard-line with :02 to play. A field goal shorter than the length of an extra point -- in other words, as sure a thing as there is -- would send the game into overtime.
Recall that at this moment, the Huskies are 4-6 and need to win their final two games in order to become bowl eligible. Oh, and Cal also is do-or-die in its regular-season finale. If the Bears lose at home, their season is over. So both teams were plenty motivated.
Most coaches would have booted the field goal and forced overtime and taken their chances that way. But, as many of you recall, that's not what Sarkisian did.
Sarkisian called a timeout and had the entire team -- offense and defense -- gather in a huddle. He explained to them why Washington wouldn't be kicking the field goal. He didn't tell them the part about not measuring up physically. Instead, Sarkisian explained to them who they were, whether they knew it or not.
"I expressed to them why we were going for it and what it represented," Sarkisian said. "More than just the score of the game, but who we are …. 'OK, this is our program. This is the way we play.' It was a very cool opportunity to get all that done in a short amount of time, and then it happened."
Chris Polk, over the right side, touchdown.
Sarkisian tells Maisel: "I think that set the stage for Nebraska. We just didn't waver. This is who we are. This is how we're going to approach the Holiday Bowl. This is how we're going to play. I'd like to think the way we played against Nebraska is who we want to be, is who we are. But I go back to that Cal moment as the moment."
Ivan and I talked this week, and I blathered about how I still thought the Holiday Bowl was the biggest statement game, in large part because almost no one saw it coming. I pointed out that the Huskies had whipped a better Cal team just a year before. But after reading this story, I'm won over to this thinking.
If the Huskies and Sarkisian end up in the Rose Bowl over the next couple of seasons, most fingers will point back to that day at Cal when the Huskies took a chance -- "This is who we are... This is how we play" -- and were rewarded.