Ten fumbles? Eight turnovers? “Ugly” is just one of the four-letter words that could describe the Washington Huskies’ 21-13 victory at California.
The Friday Night Follies brought to mind another nationally televised game marred by gaffes – a Colts-Giants contest that found the bumbling teams combining for seven turnovers, including two lost fumbles and an interception on the first three drives. But the slop-fest wasn’t decried for its flaws. To the contrary, the 1958 NFL Championship Game still is remembered as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”
Maybe you had to be there.
As for Friday, the ninth game on Washington’s 2012 schedule resembled the annual exhibition of ineptitude that concludes spring practice. The Huskies once again looked disorganized, both on the field (12 penalties for 108 yards, a week after they were charged with 84 penalty yards against Oregon State) and on the sideline.
During the final minute of the first half, when quarterback Keith Price was playing hurry-up deep in Cal territory, UW coach Steve Sarkisian didn’t use any of the team’s allotment of three timeouts. Deprived of a chance to calm down and catch his breath, Price threw an interception that cost the Huskies at least three points.
(Note to Sark: If there’s such a thing as an eternal afterlife at the end of the world, you don’t get to take your allotment of unused timeouts with you. You don’t even get to take your allotment of unused timeouts into the second half.)
And yet, despite the fumbles and the flags and the sense most viewers of the ESPN2 telecast began surfing channels a few minutes into the first quarter, there was greatness in the house. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the 6-foot-6, 266-pound sophomore tight end out of Gig Harbor High, put on a show that was as exquisite and polished as the barnyard mess around him wasn’t.
Seferian-Jenkins caught eight passes for 154 yards and a touchdown. He did the bulk of his work on one good leg – his right leg – because he’s still coping with a left-ankle problem sustained against Oregon.
Sarkisian has made it a policy this season to hide information about the health of his players, so we can only presume Seferian-Jenkins suffered some sort of ankle sprain on Oct. 6.
What we do know is this: When Seferian-Jenkins wasn’t walking with a limp on Friday night, he was hauling in passes and running with a vengeance. The Huskies have sent many a tight end into the NFL – Robin Earl, Dave Williams, Aaron Pierce, Mark Bruener, Ernie Conwell, Cam Cleeland, Jerramy Stevens – and Seferian-Jenkins might be the best of any of them.
It’s no secret he has a passion for basketball, a sport he loves more than it loves him back. The passion isn’t complicated. Any of us would prefer jumping for rebounds on a court where minor contact is interrupted by a whistle to lunging for passes on a field where major contact is inevitable.
Seferian-Jenkins’ college basketball career is on hold – he joined Lorenzo Romar’s team midway through last season, and contributed minimally – but the hand-eye skills he’s developed through basketball make him a nightmare to defend in football.
California on Friday primarly assigned a 5-10 cornerback, Steve Williams, to shadow Seferian-Jenkins. A ball is up for grabs, best man wins. Do the math.
“It wasn’t a busted coverage,” Bears coach Jeff Tedford said of Sefearian-Jenkins 29-yard touchdown catch. “It was just a mismatch in general.”
As Seferian-Jenkins was using his height and rebounding acumen to feast on the Cal secondary, I thought I was watching a clone of Kellen Winslow – Kellen the Elder, who as a 6-5 tight end posed mismatches in general.
Mike Ditka and John Mackey pioneered the notion of tight ends as go-to targets on slant routes. Winslow took it to another level, a deep threat who always was bigger and stronger than the defensive backs hounding him.
I’ve been writing newspaper stories about college football for 40 years, and the only Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee I’ve seen on a weekly basis was Kellen Winslow, at the University of Missouri.
Seferian-Jenkins reminds me of Kellen Winslow. That was then and this is now, granted, and eight catches against a depleted Cal defense doesn’t auger Pro Football Hall of Fame potential. But the kid was a difference-maker in a pivotal road game that enhanced the Huskies’ shot at a bowl bid. The kid dominated, and he dominated on one leg.
The Friday night game was something we associate with a stench. Between the turnovers, penalties, dropped passes and squandered scoring opportunities, the victory figures to be put in the “winning is all that counts” file.
But I’ll recall it for the performance of Austin Seferian-Jenkins. I’ll recall it as the night I saw greatness.john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com