Getting to this later than usual because I had to get out of The Rose Bowl as soon as I filed three stories to get to Los Angeles International Airport for a late-night return flight to Seattle.
As most of Husky Nation should know by now - disgustedly – the UW lost 24-23 to UCLA on Saturday, virtually zapping any remaining hope of getting to the postseason in 2009.
Coach Steve Sarkisian's reaction to it surprised most in the press corps afterward. The eternal optimist in him gave way to a more reverent, apologetic tone as he basically delivered a post-game eulogy to his seniors, whom he knows now will never play in a bowl game.
"I honestly feel for our seniors – the Donald Butlers of the world, the Daniel Te'o-Nesheims, the guys that give us something back and are part of amazing transformation of a football culture," Sarkisian said. "But to get into this long game, another one like this and to come out on the losing end is disappointing for everybody involved."
"I just feel for these guys because they've been through so much in the beginning of their careers up to this point. When it's your senior year you always want to cap it the way you've always dreamt of capping your senior year doing great things and having special moments and winning tight games like this," he continued. "Unfortunately as a football team we haven't been able to do that. It stings for everybody but it really stings for them because in their opinion this is their moment. You always want guys to go out on a high so hopefully we can do that for them the last three weeks and close this thing out for them the way we know we can."
Blowing a 23-14 lead in the second half, it's easy to pin this defeat on the defense, which frankly struggled to even lay a hand on backup UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft after knocking starter Kevin Prince out late in the first half.
Craft, as UCLA discovered a season ago, is inefficient and mistake-prone. He doesn't have a big arm. And he can't make a lot of the throws that require accuracy.
Yet on Saturday, he was 10-of-14 for 159 yards and a touchdown – after Prince left with 212 yards passing.
Most of the time, UCLA used max-protection on passing downs, which really limited the Huskies' penetration from their base schemes. If UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt wanted to dial up pressure, he had to send linebackers Donald Butler and Mason Foster.
UCLA felt it could beat the UW secondary in its three-receiver sets. And it was right, especially going after cornerback Adam Long.
The UW gave up 455 yards. UCLA had the ball for 31:41. The Bruins converted eight of 13 third downs.
To counter that, like they have all season long, the Huskies relied on getting turnovers. And they forced five of them Saturday night.
And … that should have been enough to lock up a win.
Giving your offense that many more chances, especially one operated by Jake Locker, should have paid off handsomely. But 23 points? Three Erik Folk field goals?
This one is on the offense, folks.
And I say that, without hesitation, because of what the attack was getting from Chris Polk (132 yards on 15 carries, five runs of 10-plus yards), what it was getting from receiver Jermaine Kearse (two TD catches) and how many times the Huskies crossed midfield (nine).
"In a perfect world we'd be scoring touchdowns," Sarkisian said, "and it would be a different game."
This is where the UW's talent is. This is where the expertise of Sarkisian is supposed to pay dividends. This is where arguably the most gifted athlete/quarterback in college football reside in Locker.
And 23 points?
Polk seemed like a forgotten weapon again late in the game. And when I say that, I mean in terms of getting in the flow, as in getting him a string of carries, not a two-touch-per-drive count. Simply, Polk was the most dominating figure either offense was showcasing.
"I would say I was surprised (I didn't get more work), but then again it's not my place to try and tell you … what is called," Polk said. "I try and do what's best for the team."
As most UW fans saw, a "Wildcat" package was in this week, and Polk was the centerpiece of it. If Sarkisian is searching for more creative ways to get this super-dynamo involved, why not take advantage of all that innovation and preparation when it's available?
The defense is what it is – a unit clearly lacking playmakers. With linebacker Cort Dennsion, defensive ends Talia Crichton and Andru Pulu and free safety Jason Wells all being first- or second-time starters Saturday under Holt, the personnel groupings are in mass flux.
The offense is the cannon to the defense's pistol. It has the firepower. In crucial situations such as the fourth quarter Saturday, or at the end of the Arizona State game, or in overtime at Notre Dame, Locker and company should be the ones holding up the defense – not the other way around.