Jake Locker leads Huskies to easy victory over California.
It was a game that left Huskies fans wondering what might have been and what could be.
As Washington continued to pour it on California on Saturday, eventually winning 42-10 in front of 62,334 at Husky Stadium, the Huskies looked like the bowl team they just might have been had a few plays turned out differently at Notre Dame, UCLA or Arizona State.
“I’d just like to have a couple of fourth-and-ones on the goal line back and you never know where we might be today,” said coach Steve Sarkisian.
The win gave the Huskies a 5-7 record a year after going a school-worst 0-12, the best season improvement for the Huskies since 1970, when Sonny Sixkiller led a turnaround from a 1-9 record in 1969 to 6-4.
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The victory also meant that of the 22 first-year coaches this season, Sarkisian led his team to the biggest turnaround. Next on the list is Iowa State’s Paul Rhoades at plus-four.
And it had Sarkisian calling his first year on the Huskies sideline an unmitigated success, despite the ones that got away.
“We are as good as anybody in our conference,” Sarkisian said of the Huskies, who finished 4-5 in Pac-10 play, their most conference wins since 2003. “We can go play them next week and we will be in a ballgame with them. I don’t know if we could have said that a year ago. But we can say that today.”
Whether they’ll be able to say it next year, however, might depend largely on the question that was left lingering — had UW fans just seen the last game for quarterback Jake Locker?
The junior from Ferndale looked NFL-ready against the Bears, completing 19 of 23 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for 77 yards and two more scores.
Fans spent most of the second half chanting “One More Year!” while reporters later peppered Locker with questions about his future.
Locker, however, proved as hard to pin down on that topic as he had been for the Bears on the field.
“The next step is, I make my plan,” he said, adding that he hasn’t even looked into the deadlines for his decision — he must declare by Jan. 15. “I will sit down and come up with a plan with my family and coaches and do everything to make an educated decision.
“When I feel comfortable with a decision, we’ll make it. From here it’s just finding out how we are going to make that decision.”
Sarkisian, who joked later that he was among those in the crowd chanting, said he plans to meet with Locker on Monday to begin laying out the groundwork. But he indicated he doesn’t see a quick decision.
“There’s no rush,” Sarkisian said. “He’s got plenty of time and we’re going to do this the right way so that he feels great about what he decides to do.”
Sarkisian agreed, however, that the game showed how good the Huskies can be next year if Locker returns. Only two of the offensive starters against Cal were seniors.
“I think we can be electric,” Sarkisian said. “I think we’re coming into our own. We’re a very young offense that continued to grow throughout the season and tonight we showed some explosiveness that we can continue to grow on.”
Indeed, UW was in control from the start. A flanker pass from Cody Bruns to Jermaine Kearse for 38 yards on the second play set the tone. On the next play, Locker hit Kearse for a 40-yard TD to give UW a lead it never gave up. Kearse had 135 yards receiving in the first quarter and finished with 147.
Locker then ran for two touchdowns in the second quarter to put UW ahead 21-3 at halftime against a Cal team that is 8-4 and headed to the Poinsettia Bowl.
“We just got beat today,” said Cal coach Jeff Tedford.
Locker led a 65-yard drive on the first possession of the third quarter, ending in a 21-yard TD pass to Devin Aguilar that made it 28-3.
Washington tied its season high in points, and its 463 yards of offense were the most since gaining 478 in the opener against LSU. It was the most points UW had scored in a Pac-10 game since 2003.
The defense also did its part, tying a season high set last week against WSU with five sacks, senior Daniel Te’o-Nesheim leading the way with three, setting a new Huskies career mark with 30. Washington had 10 sacks in its final two games — equaling the number of points it allowed.
Sarkisian said he thinks the game “sent a message of where this program is headed.”
And Locker acknowledged the thought of what could be next year will be one of the factors that “is definitely going to weigh in the decision.”
Huskies fans can only hope all the other factors go on a diet real soon.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org