In a free-flowing game that flew by, the final minute of what turned out to be Washington’s defining game under second-year coach Steve Sarkisian appeared frozen in time.
Players prayed from the sideline.
They laughed and joked once Sarkisian brought them together near the sideline right before the fourth-down call that got the Huskies a 16-13 victory over California – Chris Polk’s 1-yard touchdown plunge as time expired.
But once Sarkisian started talking, he made sense. He relayed the season-long notion about finishing off drives, then divulged his no-brainer thought – the UW was going for the win, not the tie.
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“There is no better way to finish then on the last play of the game, so here we go,” Sarkisian said.
These were intense moments – from the time Jake Locker was stuffed on a third-down quarterback sneak, to even the time the senior walked over to the sideline as Sarkisian corralled the side judge, watching the seconds tick off the game clock.
As soon as the clock showed “:02,” Sarkisian called for timeout, gave one loud clap to the team and met in a big circle.
“Everybody understood, and I wanted to reiterate, ‘This is it, man, this is our chance right now. We can either think back to what could-have-been or what is,’” Locker said of his own on-field meeting with the starting offensive group. “The guys stepped up and responded really, really well.”
For all the grief Sarkisian gets as a play-caller – the foolish fourth-down gambles, the lower-percentage pass plays on third-and-shorts, and even the folly at the end of the half of Locker throwing an incompletion on third down, leading to a Cal field goal – he was right on point on the final three plays.
He outcoached Cal’s Jeff Tedford and the Bears’ defensive staff.
In essence, Sarkisian called a third-down sneak to scout how Cal’s defense would react. He got all the information he needed, too.
“They were really piled into the ‘A’ gaps and four-point stances,” Sarkisian said. “We knew exactly what we were going to do: We wanted to run the power play to the strong side out of the same (unbalanced) formation with them all tucked inside.”
The play – “26 Power Quad” – is something the Huskies practice all the time – not just for the actual design, which is a Polk run off the right guard. Mostly, it’s to practice its synchronicity.
UW followers know the team’s maddening red-zone struggles since Sarkisian arrived. The Huskies have tried Locker runs, Polk runs, even instituting Demitrius Bronson as a short-yardage back for those situations at the end of last season – nothing. No push. Lots of headaches.
What has seemed to work in 2010 – albeit in brief spots – is the quick-count stuff, and that is what Sarkisian opted for on the final play Saturday.
“It’s a first-down play for us, and there is a real timing mechanism to that, being able to sprint to the line of scrimmage and snap it for the quarterback,” Sarkisian said. “Everybody has got to do their part and getting lined up. If one guy isn’t lined up, it’s a (false start) penalty.”
Added Locker: “We wanted to get lined up as quickly as possible, and not allow them to kind of dig their heels in and get ready to go.”
In fairness, the Bears were aligned to stop any up-the-middle run. They were fooled on anything going to either side – something Tedford admitted later was a gamble on the UW’s part, but one that was obviously successful.
“They didn’t know where we were going,” Polk said.
The end result was the proof: Polk had enough of a hole he could have slowly jogged in for the game-winning score.
“I knew we were going to do it – it was just a little nerve-racking. If you weren’t nervous, something was wrong with you,” UW linebacker Cort Dennison said.
“I was just saying a prayer, anything that could help us win that game. I guess my prayer worked.”