For Huskies, when it rains, it pours

SEATTLE - As the rain continued to pour and pour, it reminded me of that fateful day back in 1981 when the Washington Huskies hosted USC. The Huskies would win that game 13-3. It was a famous game for a number of reasons; Marcus Allen went over the 2000-yard mark for a season that day. Allen's feat was all the more remarkable because of the conditions. It was nasty.

It was the stuff of legend for the sportswriters in attendance.

Sports Illustrated's Douglas Looney called it a '100% miserable day'. "Rain poured, wind blasted, power failed, bridges closed, ark-building began," he said. And Jim Murray from the Los Angeles Times quipped that things were so bad at Husky Stadium, "Even the toilet bowls had whitecaps."

It wasn't that bad Saturday night as the Huskies hosted the Arizona State Sun Devils, but ASU couldn't have been thrilled about what they saw. It was soggy. It was supposed to be 'Husky' weather. It wasn't pleasant. But then again, they weren't on vacation, either - and they played like their survival in the Pac-10 depended on it.

Conversely, the Washington Huskies would have liked to take a sick day, if one was available. It was revealed after the game that starting left guard Erik Kohler was diagnosed with mononucleosis, and quarterback Jake Locker was also tested. Wide receiver Devin Aguilar became unavailable after injuring his hip flexor, joining running back Johri Fogerson, who is suffering from the same ailment.

"I think it affected him some tonight," Washington Head Coach Steve Sarkisian said of Locker. "He had a hard time catching his wind, getting his breath. That's the nature of when the season's change - you have to deal with sickness.

"When he was running, I didn't see and feel his explosiveness. I don't think we got 100 percent of Jake Locker tonight, unfortunately."

It didn't start out like it would be a day at the doctor's office. Washington won the toss, deferred, and then got the ball back after forcing an ASU three-and-out. UW didn't move the ball very far on their first offensive attempt, but it had more to do with dropped passes than anything the Sun Devils were doing.

On Arizona State's second drive of the game, UW's Nate Fellner had a Steven Threet throw hit him in the facemask like he never saw it coming. And when Locker's number was called on a third-and-three with six minutes left in the second quarter, it was up to D'Andre Goodwin - all 188 pounds of him - to close off ASU defensive end Junior Onyeali. It didn't work, as Locker was dragged down by Onyeali for a 5-yard loss.

On the final drive of the second quarter, the Huskies were faced with a quandary; 4th and 5 from the ASU 35. It was too far away for a field goal, and they didn't want to squander the opportunity to maybe get some points. Sarkisian, always the riverboat gambler - was in 'go' mode. Locker couldn't connect with Jermaine Kearse, and the Huskies gave the ball up on downs. Given the opportunity, ASU drover 65 yards in 49 seconds, as Threet found Mike Willie in the corner of the end zone. Willie, at 6-foot-5, was able to out-leap 6-foot Desmond Trufant to come up with the ball.

"We planned that," ASU Head Coach Dennis Erickson said. "I mean, he's 6-5. I don't even know who the corner was, but he just threw it up and hoped he could make a play, and he did just that."

Down 10 and time running out, Washington needed an answer. Locker drove his team down to the ASU 18-yard line, and decided to throw a fade of his own. Who did UW match up against the Sun Devils' top cover corner?

Five-foot-8 Jordan Polk. And I'm probably being a little generous.

And that's how you get to 24-14 Sun Devils, which was the way it looked when the clock read zero.

So whatever personnel issues the Huskies were dealing with, those issues were compounded by getting out-schemed offensively and defensively by an Arizona State team desperate to get a win. In many ways, they resembled Washington a week ago in Los Angeles - hungry and full of hope.

"I just like how we performed offensively in the rain," Erickson added. "We threw it, caught it and did all the things we needed to do."

Yes, they did. And they did it with only two senior starters - so it definitely doesn't seem like the youth movement is hurting the program from Tempe all that much. But on Montlake, lessons are being learned, and re-learned. And learned again.

"We're learning how to win and we're learning how to lose," Sarkisian said. "We're going through so many growing pains right now. I thought our kids tried hard tonight. It wasn't for a lack of effort. They played hard and competed until the very end, so I'm very proud of them for that."

It wasn't as if Washington's defense didn't have their moments. In fact, Sarkisian admitted that the final numbers would have suited him just fine before the game. "They are a good offensive football team," he said. "What they had done to some other teams..if going in you would have told me that Arizona State was going to score 24 points, in my own mind I would have felt pretty good about how the game might go. But we weren't able to get it going offensively. It's a tough one."

The Huskies held ASU to 10 points and 82 yards under their season averages. They pushed back a Sun Devil rush attack used to gaining 4.4 yards per attempt to only 2.7 on 37 attempts. And Threet - as well as he threw the ball - was simply held to his season average. While the defense didn't dominate or have significant spells of play that will have anyone thinking back to the early 90's, holding the Sun Devils to 24 points should have been enough.

Questions will start to emerge. If Locker was under the weather to the point where he had to take oxygen the same way I do after I walk a city block, why wasn't Keith Price given at least one series to see what he could do, and also give Locker more of an opportunity to recover?

"I needed him to play four quarters," Sarkisian said. "I don't know if he could have made it."

I don't know about you, but that tells me more about their trust in Price than their dependence on Locker. And it should also tell you that - no matter how well Chris Polk and Jesse Callier are running the ball - they will always be a secondary thought in Sark's play-calling paradigm. He's going to ride Locker as far as the young man will take him, for better or worse.

With Sarkisian singing the praises of frosh guard Colin Porter, why didn't they go to Porter when the offensive line clearly could have used some more size to help handle ASU's front four? And with Aguilar out of the game, why did Jordan Polk act as his replacement? Wouldn't James Johnson have been a more suitable replacement, simply on size and blocking ability alone?

Instead, Sarkisian and his staff are left wondering how they can bounce back the same way they did against USC, because they have to. They've given themselves zero room for error in a conference that is eating its own. Outside of Oregon - who have shown themselves to be the class of the league so far - Washington could win against anyone. Or they could suffer a royal skunking.

"This conference…there's so much parity," Sarkisian said. "It's unbelievable. This Arizona State team lost by three at Oregon State last week, they have Oregon on the ropes, they had 600 yards of against Oregon at home. And then Oregon State goes down and beats Arizona, and Arizona beat Cal on a last-second touchdown, and Cal goes and beats UCLA today. There's so much parity going on in our conference. The key is, regardless of what happens the week before, you have to get back on the horse and you have to have a great week of work and you gotta compete when the ball gets kicked off, because every team is bringing it."

The next lesson Washington needs to learn is how to bring it every week, regardless of who they are playing or who is available on their roster. And that's on the coaches. And I'm here to tell you, they are preaching it, but the message obviously hasn't gotten across. We aren't talking about effort; we're talking about effort plus execution plus a little bit of good fortune, because in the Pac-10 you can't just be lucky. You've got to be lucky and good.

And on Saturday night, Washington was neither. But the way the league is going, they might be only a week away from getting their next gold star, because they've shown they can compete.


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