Forget the Cornhuskers, Da Bears Are Coming

It's time to regroup and get ready for conference play. By Sunday evening each week you pretty much have to let go of the previous game. It really doesn't matter what happened, because it's all on the next game. That's the reality of coaching, and in fact is part of what Coach Sark has been trying to teach his kids in terms their weekly preparation.

You can't celebrate or grieve too long because the next opponent will make you pay. Besides, the next team - the California Golden Bears - are a conference and division opponent, and they are 3-0, thanks in part to some creative scheduling.

Sure it was disappointing to lose 51-38 to Nebraska, but there were some positives to be taken - as well as some obvious mistakes to correct. The offensive line was much improved in both their run blocking and especially their pass blocking. The only sacks they gave up (two) were largely due to Keith Price's mobility problems. One was on a well-executed delay blitz and their run blocking was more than adequate.

Running back Chris Polk was stellar again, and it appeared that if Washington could have had a lead late in the ball game he would have even gotten stronger. As it was, he still got his 130 yards on 22 carries. Additionally, had Washington been a little closer he certainly would have gotten 30-plus carries and been even more of a factor.

Justin Glenn proved more than adequate in replacing injured Nate Fellner at free safety. He led the game and his team in tackles with 15 and showed unbelievable speed in hustling to catch their kick-off returner from behind to take a potential touchdown off the board.

Kasen Williams stepped onto the big stage as a true freshman and had two difficult catches to go with two nice punt returns. He and Kevin Smith did their part to try and even up a kicking game that was clearly won by Nebraska.

Losing the turnover battle and the kicking game proved costly to this young Husky team, and unfortunately a freshman mistake pretty much cost them the game when a rookie lost the handle on a kickoff and it was recovered by Nebraska on the one-yard line. Additionally, punter Kiel Rasp continues to struggle, although he did do better in the second half. The coverage teams gave up a 66-yard kickoff return and an 18-yard punt. Losing key personnel like Taz Stevenson during practice and Jesse Callier in the game had a noticeable impact on coverage and returns.

Twice in the fourth quarter the Huskies cut the lead to 13 points, but were unable to get enough stops to get back in it. Washington scored 21 points in the fourth quarter and battled Nebraska all the way after falling behind 44-17. Hopefully nobody got seriously hurt, because a number of UW players limped off the field before it was all finished, including of course Keith Price.

With less than two minutes to go in the first half, the game was tied and the defense had forced three punts. But the offense hadn't turned any of those punts into points. Two of those possessions were at their own 42 but in good field possession. They went three-and-out on both, so they had early chances that could have easily have changed the complexion of the game.

The Huskies are getting better regardless of giving up 51 points, and it will be interesting to see just how good Nebraska really is - because they don't appear to have much of a passing game and their vaunted "Blackshirts" defense just gave up another 420 yards after giving up 444 last week to Fresno State. Whatever, the Cornhuskers won the rubber match, and have now won all four in-season games that were scheduled by Barbara Hedges for financial purposes.

This week's opponent, the Cal Bears, are coming to Seattle with a three-game winning streak and an axe to grind with the Husky Dawgs for Washington's stealing of last year's game in Bezerkley. Washington both made their own season and wrecked the Bears' when they successfully went for a touchdown to win last year's battle, 16-13. That loss cost Da Bears a bowl game. They finished with a losing season for the first time under Jeff Tedford, whose teams are always stronger at the start of every season.

During a period from 1977 through 2001, the Huskies never lost to the Cal Bears. That's right, 19 straight games of never dropping one to the Bears. Oh, there were a couple of games that were close and could have gone either way, but Cal was one team we just never lost to. Somehow and some way, we always found a way to beat Cal. That carried right into the Neuheisel era, although the Huskies barely won in 1999, 31-27, in 2000, 36-24, and in 2001, 31-28. Then the Bears hired Tedford off the Oregon Ducks staff and almost immediately turned things around, winning five straight over Keith Gilbertson and Tyrone Willingham before the Huskies won one in 2007 by a score of 37-23.

Some of those losing performances were among the worst I had ever witnessed by a Husky team, particularly the 54-7 loss in 2003 - when Cal ran up 729 yards on the Dawgies. That staggering number was as pathetic as the effort given by that Husky team on that day in Berkeley.

Cal has always liked to run the football under Tedford, and that is no different this year with running back Isi Sofele, who is averaging 94 yards per game. Washington's defense will have to figure out how to stop the off-tackle power play and toss, or they are liable to get a big dose of it on Saturday.

After giving up 309 yards rushing to the Cornhuskers, there can be little doubt the Bears will challenge the Huskies with the run. The Bears have a junior college transfer at quarterback in Zach Maynard, and the last time they had another JC transfer his name was Aaron Rodgers. Now Maynard is not in that caliber but he is effective, even though he is only a 51 percent passer to this point in the season.

It's hard to take anything from their game against Presbyterian, because they might as well have been playing a junior college team. They did beat Fresno State 36-21 and we know Fresno gave Nebraska everything they could handle. They followed that game with an overtime 36-33 win over Colorado, a team they had beaten last year 52-7 before going to church against Presbyterian. This last win made Tedford the winningest coach in Bears history, with 75 victories.

So Washington has to regroup exactly like they did last year when, after losing to Nebraska they stunned USC with a win in LA. Only this time it's in Husky Stadium, and that should play a factor in helping them get through any lull in the game. As bad as the 51-38 score was, the Huskies have to realize they are a lot better than they were coming out of this Nebraska loss than they were a year ago.

It is obvious that they will need improved play by their corners and outside linebackers on the defense, and they will need a healthy Keith Price and some resilience to bounce back as a group. This is the most important game of the season by far simply because Cal is in their division and it is a conference game. It will be a dogfight, and expect it to be close so they need to correct the kicking game, win the turnover battle and have no drops from their receivers and no missed tackles by the defense.

That, and score at least one more point than the Bears. Top Stories