Huskies knock UCLA's lights out
Washington kept its bowl hopes alive Thursday night at Husky Stadium with a 24-7 victory over UCLA.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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On a night when the Huskies debuted some new-age uniforms, they turned in an old-school Washington football game.
Sporting an all-black look as part of a "blackout" theme for a rare Thursday night game on ESPN, the Huskies turned the lights back on in their season, using the traditional Huskies recipe of a stalwart defense and a punishing running game to beat UCLA 24-7 in front of 62,347 at Husky Stadium.
"This is the epitome of winning in November," said UW coach Steve Sarkisian after the Huskies held UCLA to 163 yards, and only 66 in the final three quarters, and forced three turnovers that led to three touchdowns while rushing for a season-high 253 yards of their own. "When you get late in the season like this, your ability to play good defense and run the ball comes in handy."
And with the victory, the Huskies kept their postseason hopes alive, improving to 4-6 with games remaining at California and Washington State. Washington will need to win both to get to a bowl, which remains a tall order.
But as they said afterward, they couldn't win three without winning the first.
It looked tenuous for a while as UCLA scored on a 92-yard drive in the first quarter, and UW led just 10-7 until cornerback Quinton Richardson picked off a pass from UCLA backup quarterback Darius Bell and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown with 6:22 left.
That ignited the crowd and the Huskies bench.
"That was a real game-changer," Polk said of Richardson's interception. "That really sparked new life into us."
Safety Nate Fellner followed with an interception on the next drive that he corralled as he fell backward and tipped the ball into his hands. That led to another quick UW score on a 2-yard Chris Polk run with 4:24 left and put the game away.
The Richardson interception took a lot out of UCLA, which fell to 4-6 in its third season under former Huskies coach Rick Neuheisel. Now the Bruins need to beat Arizona State and USC to get to a bowl. It was Neuheisel's first defeat in four games against UW, and first in three games since taking over at UCLA.
It also marked the first time Washington has swept USC and UCLA since 1996. This most likely will be the last season the Huskies will play both for the foreseeable future with the Pac-12 schedule taking effect next season.
The victory also came after UW had been blown out the past three games by Arizona, Stanford and Oregon by a combined score of 138-30, results that at least momentarily stalled Sarkisian's rebuilding project in its second year.
"This puts back a lot of life," Polk said. "We know we had some guys slipping away, like, 'Oh man, this again.' But this just like reassured us that what we are doing (is right) and that we should believe in our coaches and believe in our philosophies and just do what we are coached to do."
Polk rushed for a season-high 138 yards on 26 carries while Jesse Callier had 107 on 10. It marked the first time since 2007 UW had two 100-yard rushers in the same game.
That took the pressure off quarterback Jake Locker, who played through a broken rib to get a victory in the last home game of his career. Locker threw for just 68 yards, and just 10 in the second half as the Huskies rushed for 146 yards on 25 carries after the break.
Sarkisian said he went to the conservative game plan in part to take the heat off Locker, who hadn't played since Oct. 30.
But Sarkisian said he also thought the offense didn't have a rhythm in the first half and that he recalled similar games when working as an offensive coordinator at USC under coach Pete Carroll. "I felt like he was in the back of my head just saying to get back to running the football," he said.
"That was just a dream for me," Polk said of the run-first philosophy.
The defense, meanwhile, came in with a scaled-down game plan against UCLA's "pistol" offense. Defensive coordinator Nick Holt explained that UCLA doesn't run a lot of plays, so the emphasis was on UW to execute more than scheme. "We had to be simple because we wanted to be sound," he said.
A couple missed tackles led to a 31-yard TD run by UCLA's Johnathan Franklin in the first quarter. But from that point, UW dominated against a UCLA offense initially under the command of backup Richard Brehaut, who has started five games in place of regular starter Kevin Prince.
Brehaut left with a concussion in the third quarter after a hard hit from Nate Williams, however, and was replaced by third-teamer Darius Bell, who threw the interception to Richardson.
"I thought our defense was spectacular," Sarkisian said.
Something clearly visible even in a blackout.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com