SEATTLE – There’s no question of the moment – and in this case, play – that’s defined football coach Steve Sarkisian’s first few seasons at Washington.
It came last November at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif. Down 13-10 with 2 seconds left, the ball on the California 1, Sarkisian called for a power run and saw Chris Polk pile in for the winning score on the final play.
The call kept Washington’s bowl hopes alive and they were realized a week later with a win over Washington State. It also ended Cal’s streak of eight straight bowl appearances.
So it’s not surprising the Golden Bears would like a little payback when the Bears and Huskies meet today to open the Pac-12 Conference season for both sides.
“That was really a hard walk. It was long. Walking right as they were walking, screaming on the field,” California defensive back Sean Cattouse said. “It was just unreal … knowing we’re not going to a bowl game. I didn’t know what to think, to be denied on the last play like that.”
The win over Cal was the springboard for the Huskies, eventually leading to a Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska and a streak of six straight wins that was snapped by a 51-38 loss to the Cornhuskers last week.
In the aftermath of the win over the Bears, Sarkisian said he knew he’d go for the victory and not play for overtime. It was a message his players understood beyond just that one play call.
“He’s an aggressive play caller,” Jermaine Kearse said. “He’s not afraid to take the shot and as an offensive player, we like that.”
While the victory propelled the Huskies, that singular play was it for California. There was no next week, just an abrupt end to a season and, for some, a career.
“When it happened it was a numb feeling. It was kind of unreal, unbelievable. … It was a pretty numb feeling,” Cattouse said. “It was tough sitting at home” watching the bowls on TV.
The Huskies and Bears are completely different teams from the ones that met last November. The change is particularly stark at quarterback.
Zach Maynard has brought stability under center at Cal with three impressive performances to start his career with the Bears. Maynard has thrown for more than 700 yards and nine touchdowns in three games. He played just the first half last week in Cal’s glorified scrimmage against Presbyterian.
Maynard has also brought an element of the big play back at Cal, helped by talented receivers Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen. The Bears already have 24 plays of 20 or more yards this season, compared with 39 all last season.
Cal coach Jeff Tedford knows the thought of payback will be there, but that shouldn’t be the Bears’ motivation.
“All the motivation should be there for the simple reason that it’s our opportunity to play this week,” he said. “Once you get between the lines the motivation is to execute.”
At Washington, QB Keith Price is on pace to rewrite the Huskies’ record books. Price has already thrown for 11 touchdowns – tied for the national lead – and done most of it with at least one injured knee. After hurting his right knee in the opener against Eastern Washington, he injured his left knee last week in the loss at Nebraska.
Still, Price has quickly moved the Huskies past any thought of missing Jake Locker with an impressive first three weeks. Now the true challenge begins with the start of conference play.
“Guys are getting open for me. The line is doing a great job,” Price said. “I don’t have to do much but throw it to the open guy and that’s what I’ve been doing.”