Things fall into place for Huskies

Tyrone Willingham (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)

SEATTLE - Maybe that's all that was needed - a little 'Washington' weather. The pouring rain and miserable conditions appeared to be like manna from Husky Heaven, as Washington took it to California early in their 37-23 win at Husky Stadium. Nice thing was, when the skies parted, their fortune never wavered. The offense left little to chance.

"That was Husky football right there," Washington Offensive Coordinator Tim Lappano said after the game. "Everyone was physical."

It wasn't pretty in a lot of ways, but it was the completion of a football game the Washington fanbase knew this team was capable of playing. They won the battle at the line of scrimmage, they stopped Cal's running game when it mattered, and they took advantage of Golden Bear miscues to pull away at the end - and they stayed away.

It didn't hurt that Louis Rankin had his second 200-yard rushing day of the season (224, to be exact). It definitely didn't hurt that the Huskies rolled up 334 net yards via handoffs - against a Cal defense that would normally only give up 137 yards that way.

"Our offense did a tremendous job controlling the football," UW Defensive Coordinator Kent Baer said. "What did we play? Like 20 plays in the second half? And we had some three-and-outs too, so that helped."

The statistics tell the story; the Huskies out-possessed the Bears by over seven minutes on the clock and by 20 offensive plays (75-25). And when the Bears needed a stop in the fourth quarter down 14 and with five minutes left on the clock, they knew the Huskies weren't going to pass. But they couldn't stop them anyways.

Freshman running back Brandon Johnson - subbing in for Rankin in the third quarter when Rankin went down with a hip pointer - racked up all but seven of his 121 yards of his night in the second half. He saved his best production for last as he ran for two critical first downs. That allowed the Huskies to take a knee to finish the game.

It's just a touch ironic that the Huskies won this game without the use of their starting quarterback Jake Locker - who in many ways could be considered the toughest Husky on the team. And again, much like previous efforts this season - there was still much you could look at the Huskies' effort piece-meal and be critical. Carl Bonnell's passing was incredibly inconsistent. They still haven't figured out how to stop a kick return inside the opponents' 40-yard line. But taken in sum, the win is all that counts.

"Our young men today played as consistently a game as we've played," Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham said today. "The offensive line had control of the game for most of the day and Louis Rankin one heck of a job."

In a bottom-line business, the Washington coaches and players talked the talk and walked the walk. They won the turnover battle handily. "We talked about getting three, and that was big," Baer said afterward.

And yes, Kent Baer's defense appears so malleable at times it can be maddening to watch. But look at the results; the 383 offensive yards given up by Washington was 21 yards below Cal's normal offensive output. The Huskies also held Cal to a touchdown below their scoring average. The final analysis? Washington's defense was effective and opportunistic.

And that analysis also carries a little extra with it when you can put a notch in the 'wins' column. It always does.

The key Saturday was consistency - in every phase - and that's what turned the tide.

"The older guys have been a great group of guys, but I think the younger guys are starting to really build something," Baer said. "I'm just so proud of how hard they played, and how they flew to the football. They didn't do everything right, but no one does."

And that even applies to a player like Matt Mosley, who had to replace Byron Davenport in the starting lineup when Davenport couldn't physically go. "We are just playing better," Baer said of his defense. "We did a couple things, but really it's just guys playing better."

If the defense stepped up and played better, the offensive line ramped up their learning curve with a bullet. Even missing starting right guard Ryan Tolar for the first half because of his ejection at Oregon State, the offense never missed a beat.

It was almost like they had 2005 on the brain.

"Look what Cal did to us two years ago," Lappano said, harking back to the first time this regime had seen Cal. The Huskies took that game on the chin, losing 56-17. "We couldn't run the ball the length of my foot. Physically we couldn't even play with them. Now, we knocked their tails off the football today and we were the physical team. When you get Jake (Locker) back into the lineup, it's going to be tough to deal with."

In sorting out all the players for their superlative efforts, it might be easy to dismiss Bonnell's report card. It read 7-19 for 108 yard and one touchdown. He was also sacked three times.

Perhaps the biggest stat missing? Zero turnovers on offense. "Carl Bonnell did a masterful job of running and controlling the offense," Willingham said. In fact, Bonnell did what you always hope for when a backup quarterback is pressed into action; play mistake-free. It wasn't pretty. But he kept the Bears' potent attack away from the field.

"I was getting frustrated because their safeties were almost to the line of scrimmage and their corners were bumping up and I wanted to throw the ball, but I didn't want to do something stupid either," Lappano admitted after the game. "We were running the ball and averaging five and six yards a carry. We were knocking them off the football, and we were keeping their offense off the field. It was a real struggle for me because they were bringing so many players down to try and defend against the run, so it was tempting to throw the ball - but we didn't need to. We were keeping their offense off the field, so we did what we had to do and it really made it pretty easy."

So just like the weather it wasn't all blue skies - but if a strong running game and an opportunistic defense is forecast for the 100th Apple Cup, I doubt the coaches will mind much.

"When it was raining early, we were pleased," Lappano said.

"We would have liked it to be a little colder."

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