Husky football review: Three likes and dislikes about the 21-13 victory over California
Related column: Huskies only prove they're worse at losing than Bears
Here are my highs and lows from a bizarre, sloppy 21-13 Washington victory over California on Friday night:
1. With eight turnovers and 18 penalties, that was the sloppiest, most absurd game I've seen all season . If you haven't done so already, you can read my game column linked above to hear all about the comedy of errors. This was just an ugly game of missed opportunities through the first three quarters, which you've seen before, but after watching the teams trade four turnovers in a span of 11 plays in the fourth quarter, the game went from merely ugly to absurd. It was good to see the Huskies snap a six-game road losing streak that lasted 13 months. Bishop Sankey and Austin Seferian-Jenkins had wonderful performances, which we'll get to later. But that's about all the positives you can take from this game. The Huskies should take the victory, smile, shake their heads and move on to Utah vowing never to play like that again. And Cal? Well, losing a game in that fashion just might be the low point of their season, which is saying something because, at 3-7, they've had plenty of lows.
2. The Huskies committed 12 of the game's 18 penalties. Put those penalties with the eight the Huskies were whistled for against Oregon State, and the Huskies have 20 penalties in their past two games. They're trending in the wrong direction for this late in the season. The team already has a low margin for error. The Huskies need to play cleaner, more disciplined games.
3. An opportunistic defense was fortunate to come up with four turnovers to offset allowing 450 yards to a team missing its best offensive player. Don't fool yourself. The Huskies defense was resilient, but just because they allowed only 13 points doesn't mean this was a good defensive performance. Give Washington credit for forcing four turnovers, but just like the Huskies' four turnovers, the sloppiness of these offenses was a bigger factor than the ballhawking of these defenses. Cal converted 10 of 18 third-down opportunities. The Huskies allowed 249 rushing yards (including runs of 29, 30 and 64 yards) and if Zach Maynard were a better quarterback, there were even more opportunities for big plays in the passing game. After Maynard left the game on Cal's final drive because of injury, Bears backup Allan Bridgford was able to help drive Cal to the Washington 25-yard line, threatening to tie the game. And the Bears were without their best offensive player, wide receiver Keenan Allen and another starting receiver, Bryce Treggs. The Huskies have had some bend-don't-break defensive performances this season, but the Cal game was more bend-then-watch-them break. I do want to give defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and his squad credit for one thing, though: Wilcox has those players believing. Their never quit on a drive, even when they're getting gashed. They always believe they can make a play. After watching Nick Holt's defenses give up touchdowns with little resistance, it's encouraging to see that kind of resolve.
1. Bishop Sankey is flourishing. Sankey did more than just produce as a complementary player in this game. He was a game-changing factor. He rushed for 95 yards in the first quarter and turned in a dominant effort, rushing for a career-high 189 yards and two touchdowns. He did lose a fumble, but who didn't in this game? After that stretch of back-to-back-to-back-to-back turnovers in the fourth quarter, Sankey was the one who ended the nonsense. Washington coach Steve Sarkisian went back to the run, and Sankey ran four times for 28 yards to reach the end zone and give Washington a 21-13 cushion. "I knew we were going to run the ball after all the shenanigans," quarterback Keith Price said of that drive. "Bishop took us home."
2. Austin Seferian-Jenkins was a man-child. When ASJ is engaged and dominating, the tight end -- only a sophomore -- looks like an NFL player loitering in college. He finished with eight catches for 154 yards and a touchdown. He did lose a fumble in the fourth quarter, but again, who didn't? His leaping 43-yard catch and leaping, juggling 29-yard touchdown catch late in the third quarter were the greatest highlights of his season thus far. Seferian-Jenkins has 48 receptions now, tying Jerramy Stevens school record receptions by a tight end in a single season. And ASJ has three games remaining, four assuming the Huskies become bowl eligible. He is also Washington's all-time leader in receiving yards for a tight end with 1,170. In a school known for producing NFL tight ends, Seferian-Jenkins is rewriting the record books.
3. The road losing streak is over. If the Huskies don't beat Utah at home this week, they'll need to win at least one of their final two road games to become bowl eligible. And even if they beat Utah, they need one more road victory to ensure an above .500 record. So, as unimpressive as it was, it was important for the Huskies to break their six-game road losing streak and find a level of comfort and confidence away from home. They will finish the season with games at Colorado and Washington State, and now that they've shown they can travel and play a game that doesn't get away from them early, they'll be ready to handle manageable competition.
The Huskies didn't earn any style points against California, and they didn't win over any people who are frustrated with the way they've played this season. But they still made progress in the win-loss column, and considering all the issues this team has faced in 2012, that shouldn't be undervalued.
Washington has a legitimate opportunity to run the table, end the season with five straight victories and an 8-4 record. After watching the Huskies lose four games by double figures --- three by 30 points or more -- it was difficult to image the team being in such a good situation in November.
But they're improving. They're mediocre, but they're improving. And they need to capitalize on the chance to make more out of this season than previously anticipated. In fact, it could be the bridge to a stellar 2013.