Notes from the Press Box

It was a near perfect day for a game on the shores of Lake Washington… but it wasn't so today. This was a downright frustrating game for Husky fans and, for the most part, it wasn't pretty folks. Here were some observations from the press box this afternoon.

Husky fans, you rocked: It was a good move by the Huskies to have their defense out of the field first. The crowd loves to get behind the defense. Every time California had the ball, the crowd was yelling, especially when they had the ball backed up near their own end zone. The press box was shaking several times, especially after some of the calls or missed calls were replayed on the HuskyTron.

Memo to Husky fans: Don't give up on the yelling next week. Whoever wins the Pac-10 will have at least one loss in the conference, possibly two.

Washington lost their conference opener to Oregon in 2000 and wound up in Pasadena, so all is not lost.

Seeing red: Coming into the game, the Huskies were worried about missing so many scoring opportunities by turning the ball over in the red zone. Mission accomplished, but at what price? Instead of doing that, they turned it over inside their OWN red zone. It is a little early to be in the Christmas spirit with the Huskies giving Cal the ball twice inside the 10-yard line. Cal converted two quick touchdowns after both of those turnovers. On the first, Alexis made his first (and only) appearance of the game with 11:00 left in the second quarter. He never even got the handoff as the ball bounced from his chest and fell to the turf on the Huskies own eight-yard line. He somehow was credited with a three-yard carry, but it was more a three-yard parry. In the previous games this year, the Husky defense had allowed its opponents to score only twice after ten Husky turnovers.

Why get so defensive? Speaking of the defense, I'm sure everybody is screaming for their heads by now. Yes, I know they only had one sack and forced only one turnover, but was the defense really that bad? They held an Oregonesque offense to 391 yards, the shifty Joe Igber had 92 yards rushing, and Kyle Boller finished with just 266 yards of passing. But the big play killed all afternoon. Three Cal receivers had long catches of 55, 53, and 40 yards – over half of the Cal passing yards came on three plays. And again, Cal was given the ball on the Husky eight-yard line twice. There is no room for ‘bend but don't break' when the offense is bending like Gumby in a microwave.

Overall, the defense played good enough in this game for the Huskies to win. Particularly strong safety Greg Carothers, who is lining up all over the field. He had eight tackles (two for loss), and often was in linebacker depth.

Youth is served – burnt to a crisp: It's great to see freshmen on the field, but sometimes a little experience is key. On the first trick play of the game, a flee flicker, there were no safeties at home, as everyone bit harder than Mike Tyson did on Evander Holyfield's ear. Instead, a wide open Cal receiver flew down the field with the closest defender, Derrick Johnson, about 20 yards out when the whole stadium realized it was going to be a pass. Johnson is fast, but not that fast.

Nate Robinson had a very inauspicious entrance to Pac-10 defensive football. Entering for an injured Roc Alexander, Robinson was immediately singled out by Joe Igber. The tailback ran at Nate and then quickly cut inside the excited freshman, who was left grasping at air. Only James Sims saved the touchdown by catching Igber from behind for a 28-yard gain. One play later with the Huskies in quarters coverage in the secondary, Cal flooded Robinson and Sims' zone. Robinson let the tight end run right by him as both he and Sims converged on the up man, allowing an easy-as-you-please 23-yard TD catch from Tom Swoboda.

Out of balance: If you are a Husky fan, you should've been worried at seeing only 17 rushing yards in the first half versus 236 yards passing. It is safe to say the Cal defense sold out to stop the passing game. They were the most physical corners the Huskies had faced, and on almost every play, one could make an argument that there was some sort of pass interference going on. Pickett was sacked fives times and took a pounding on several other plays after he let the ball fly.

The physical Cal defensive backs got into the head of the Husky receivers and threw them off balance most of the game. As Ringo Starr sang, "It don't come easy," and it didn't for the Husky offense this afternoon. Forty-two yards total rushing is not Husky football of yore.

Driving while blind: The ugliest drive you will probably see this season has to be when the Huskies were trying to score just before halftime. The Huskies took the ball over with 1:41 left in the half on the Bears 32-yard line, down 13-21. The drive consisted of ten plays and three penalties negated three of those plays. Washington took a sack, had a holding penalty, and an illegal shift called back a Pat Reddick touchdown. The Dawgs could only manage a 26-yard field goal.

The longest drive, in terms of numbers of plays, you will likely see this season was the Huskies' final scoring drive. It consisted of 19 plays, which tied a school record for the most plays in a drive. Normally, you like to see a touchdown take 6:10 off of the clock, but not in the fourth quarter while being down two scores. The Huskies ran eight plays from inside the 10-yard line before finally scoring on a Pickett one-yard run on fourth and goal.

By then the tank was nearly on "E".

Get your kicks: It's hard to believe, but John Anderson's 51-yard field goal was the first field goal he has made over 50 yards since his freshman year, when he hit that 56-yard boot against UCLA on the road. He attempted a 52-yarder earlier in the game; he could have made it from 65 yards out, but it just missed to the right. Anderson is now 4 for 7 on kicks beyond 50 yards. The return of snapper Elliott Zajac was a blessing, as every single kick attempt went off without a hitch.

Bringing the heat: Did anyone else see John Elway out there? Wait, they tell me it was Kyle Boller. That kid can throw a football through a brick wall. You could hear the ball sizzle when it travels through the air, leaving one to wonder what type of gloves his receivers wear and whether or not they provide ample padding. On passes where it looked like the defenders were in great position and the safety might have a break on the ball, a laser fired right between the receivers' numbers. Sometimes the ball was shot so hard that it would just bounce off the receiver's pads because I'm sure they didn't see the lightening bolt just strike. Boller sure felt at home in Husky stadium today. His five touchdown passes were a career high for him, and they were also the third most touchdown passes in a single game in Cal history.

Eeee-Teee! Eeee-Teee! Remember the days of the "Beeeennnnnoooooooo" cheer when Beno Bryant was back to return kicks? I think Charles "ET" Frederick has shown enough shifty moves and electricity for the crowd to deserve his own cheer. Frederick now leads the team in all-purpose yards with 570 in the first five games. Speaking of cheers, I can't remember the last game where the "Go… Huskies!" cheer was not being yelled between the North and South decks. And the fans had to wait until the fourth quarter for Captain Husky to do his ripping up of the mascot and his famous Husky spell-out.

Losing gets tougher with age: Losses like this one are hard to take for the fans. When the Huskies failed to recover their onside kick with 1:54 left in the game, the place cleared out after the realization that there would be no magical comeback against the Bears this year. I even saw the Husky mascot, "White Fang," headed for the exit before the final whistle. But the loss was perhaps the toughest on the seniors. Braxton Cleman and Wilbur Hooks still sat on the Husky bench as the two teams were leaving the field. Cleman sat dejected with his head hung, but Hooks went over, offered him a hand, and they both walked out to congratulate the remaining Cal players. Keep your heads up, there is always next week.

More strong-arming: Kyle Boller has a gun and Cody Pickett can sling the pigskin with the best of ‘em, but the back judge for today's game also had quite an arm. While calling pass interference as Reggie Williams was being mugged for what seemed like the 12th time, the back judge threw the flag from the goal line all the way out to nearly the 25-yard line. What do they put in these hankies, anyway?

Welcome back, Brax: Cleman looked good and ran hard, keeping his head up and his legs plowing over tacklers. The last guy he ran over on his way to the end zone was safety Bert Watts. It was Cleman's first rushing touchdown since last year's Idaho game.

Frequent flier miles: Cody Pickett passed the 4000 yard mark for career passing at 5:57 left in the first quarter on a seven-yard out to Paul Arnold. He is on his way to obliterating the record books at Washington should he chose to stay for 2003. According to his mother Beckie, whom we prefunctioned with, Cody has no choice but to stick around. Sometimes a mother knows best.

On second thought… On a Boller scramble on third and eight, the Cal QB was tripped up short and before he crashed to the turf he was met by a hard-rushing Ben Mahdavi. A flag was thrown, but after the officials saw the replay on the HuskyTron, they picked up the flag. It was obvious that Mahdavi had not speared Boller, but it was the first time I can recall that officials have changed a call after looking at a replay. Sure, they said they were "conferring," but it was obvious that they were watching what everyone else in Husky Stadium saw. Bully for the guys in the stripes, at least on this play. Fans and players alike were left wondering when the last time some of these guys had their eyes checked. One Husky player that shall remain nameless, at least in this story, thought the referees either had cataracts or were cross-eyed.

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