Saturday, September 19, 2009
Locker, Sarkisian lead Washington back into light
By ESPN.com staff ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian and quarterback Jake Locker gave Huskies fans a day to remember Saturday with an upset of top-ranked USC.
SEATTLE -- Jake Locker was trapped by a suffocating rush. The Washington quarterback could see no daylight. His athletic and leadership ability were of no value.
Yes, he admitted later. He wanted his mother.
Locker told the story as he got into an elevator inside the bowels of Husky Stadium, surrounded by grinning people. Who knew a post-game celebration could be so scary?
"I couldn't breathe," he said.
Washington president Mark Emmert laughed. "That's a high-quality problem to have, Jake."
Yes, surviving and sharing in the euphoria of a 16-13 victory over No. 3 USC is a different sort of problem for a program that went winless in 2008 and only broke a 15-game losing streak last weekend against FBS bottom-feeder Idaho.
"It was a little chaotic," Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said. "I was trying to get to Pete, but I couldn't get to Pete. Then I got stuck there in the middle of the field."
"Pete" would be Trojans coach Pete Carroll, who Sarkisian worked under for seven years at USC. At the end of each of those seasons, save the first, the Trojans would play in a BCS bowl game. Sarkisian was guiding the Trojans offense last year when they beat Washington 56-0.
The distance from that humiliation and all the misery that surrounded it to the pandemonium on Saturday is hard to conceptualize.
"I will never forget this day," senior linebacker Donald Butler said. "I will tell my kids about this. I will tell my grandkids about this. Man, this is crazy."
Butler led a suprising Huskies defense, which gave up 10 points in the first quarter but just a single field goal thereafter. Butler was in on two of the Trojans' three turnovers deep in Washington territory, picking off Aaron Corp once and forcing a fumble from fullback Stanley Havili. He finished with 12 tackles.
He also stopped Stafon Johnson on a third-and-1 carry in the fourth, and twice tackled Johnson for no gain inside the Huskies' 11-yard line on the Trojans' final possession, forcing them to only tie the score 13-13 on a 25-yard field goal with 4:07 left.
Then Locker and company took over on their 33. Locker was promptly sacked for a 12-yard loss and then faced a third-and-15.
You could feel doubt suffuse the stadium
But not on the Huskies sidelines. "No! And that's the difference this year. We expect to win," Butler said. "Believe! We all believed we would win."
Locker connected with Jermaine Kearse for 21 yards. Locker rushed for four yards on third and 2. Locker then lofted a ball perfectly to Kearse for a 19-yard completion to the Trojans 16-yard line.
Locker, however, blew the ensuing chest bump from Kearse, getting knocked to his rear.
"I went down! I think I jumped too high," he said. "Coach was trying to settle me down."
Erik Folk calmly drilled a 22-yard field goal for the win.
Carroll and Sarkisian shared a moment later. "He was great," Sarkisian said. Carroll also stopped a radio interview to shake Locker's hand.
"I think the difference in the game was Jake," Carroll said.
Carroll tipped his cap to Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Nick Holt, who out-coached their mentor and his reordered staff in their rookie season outside the womb of winning that envelopes the USC program.
"When you really like people, you want good things to happen," Carroll said. "So I'm happy for them in that regard."
Sarkisian admitted after the game that, for a moment, just as the final bell sounded, he wondered, "Is it real?"
"To have the moment when the crowd rushes the field, those are things you dream about as a kid -- never mind as a coach -- when you're laying in bed at night throwing the ball in the air," he said.
And just like that, a program that has played in 14 Rose Bowls but hasn't posted a winning season since 2002, reintroduced itself to the college football world.