While acknowledging it was a subpar performance, Washington took a generally good feeling from winning its first game on the road in 13 months.
At times Friday night, it was almost as if the Washington Huskies were impersonating an Olympic diver, intentionally choosing a higher degree of difficulty.
UW committed a season-high 12 penalties, lost four turnovers, allowed Cal to rush for 249 yards, gain 450 yards overall and convert 10 of 18 third downs.
And yet, the Huskies won, 21-13, a game that both inspired guffaws among some who watched, and smiles in the UW locker room among players and coaches who hadn’t experienced a road win in 13 months.
“For us to overcome all of that and still win is pretty cool,” said UW coach Steve Sarkisian, who improved to 5-15 in road games at Washington.
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Sarkisian, though, was the first to acknowledge that the turnovers and penalties have to be fixed.
“It’s too much,” he said. “It’s too hard to win (with those numbers).”
Even against the opponents left on UW’s schedule. The Cal game began a final third of the season for Washington against opponents whose records are far worse than the first eight.
Cal fell to 3-7, the first of four opponents against which UW ends the season with losing records. Next up is Utah, which comes to CenturyLink Field next Saturday for Washington’s final home game of the season. The time of that game will be set either Sunday or Monday.
The Utah game will not only be Senior Day for a group that includes the last players who were signed by Tyrone Willingham, but also can get the Huskies bowl eligible. The win over Cal improved UW’s record to 5-4, with six wins the minimum need to get to a bowl. The Pac-12 has seven guaranteed bowl slots, and with 35 total bowls, six wins is almost certain to get any Pac-12 team into the postseason.
Friday night, the Huskies were simply happy to finally leave a visiting stadium as a victor. They had lost their three previous road games this season to LSU, Oregon and Arizona by a combined 145-41.
A struggling Cal team, whose loss might have put the nail in the coffin for coach Jeff Tedford, obviously represented a step down in competition.
But that didn’t diminish the value of a road win in the eyes of Sarkisian, who said it would be nice to get on a plane and “feel good about winning a ballgame rather than ‘Woe is us’ or ‘Woe is me.’ That stuff takes its toll.”
And while some of the numbers were unpleasant, the Huskies made plays when they had to. Down 13-7 late in the third quarter, marched 63 yards for the go-ahead touchdown thanks largely to two passes from Keith Price to Austin Seferian-Jenkins, including a 29-yarder for the score.
The play of Seferian-Jenkins (154 yards) and running back Bishop Sankey (189 yards, two touchdowns) helped offset what was a shaky night for the downfield passing game — the Huskies had five receptions for 54 yards out of its receivers.
“There’s more there, and that’s the frustrating part for us,” said Sarkisian. Among the opportunities missed was a drop by freshman Jaydon Mickens on a deep pass that likely would have gone for a touchdown.
But when Cal seemed to continually threaten, the Huskies more-often-than-not made key stops. Cal had four drives to the UW 25 or deeper that resulted in no points, and two others that got inside the UW 10 that resulted in field goals. Cal also gave up four turnovers, including an interception by Shaq Thompson that set up the clinching touchdown.
“We just buckled down every time we got in there, saying, ‘Let’s keep them out of the end zone’ and we ended up being successful at that,” said UW senior safety Justin Glenn.
Sarkisian had said during the week he wasn’t going to sugarcoat the team’s issues winning on the road with the players, but instead wanted to meet it head-on to make sure the players understood the urgency of ending the six-game road losing streak. Among his tactics was instructing players to wear shirts and ties on the plane and to the game, a first during his four years as coach, to reinforce the business-trip mantra of the weekend.
And when it was over, whether it was a performance good enough to have beaten other teams on the schedule didn’t really matter. It was good enough to win the game Friday night.
“At the end of the day,” Sarkisian said. “It’s good to find a way to win.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.