Huskies get 1st win they needed, now focus on Cal
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian made his message last week clear: yes, three wins were needed to reach bowl eligibility, but it meant nothing if the Huskies didn't take care of UCLA.
The message was received as the Huskies came through with a 24-7 win over the Bruins last Thursday night.
Now comes trying to solve the riddle that is up-and-down California this Saturday in the Bears' final game at Memorial Stadium before it undergoes renovations.
That caution from Sarkisian to his players is no different this week. Only if the Huskies can take care of the Bears on the road will the Apple Cup at rival Washington State on Dec. 4 have the ultimate relevance where a win would send Washington to its first bowl game since 2002.
''The only thing that changes this week, we want to win the final two games to get to the bowl game, but we can't do that until we play Cal and hopefully beat Cal,'' Sarkisian said Monday. ''And then we get to play Washington State. And then when we get done with that we can remind them and talk about what a bowl game is. Until then, try to minimize all the periphery stuff and focus on the Cal Bears.''
Saturday's matchup in Berkeley is an elimination game. California needs a victory in its finale to reach six wins, while the Huskies will only be playing for bragging rights against the rival Cougars if they can't get a win.
One benefit for the Huskies is the likelihood of a healthier, and perhaps more effective, Jake Locker against Cal. Playing just 2 1/2 weeks after cracking a rib, Locker completed just 10 of 21 passes for 68 yards, but ran for a touchdown in the Huskies' win over UCLA.
Sarkisian limited the Huskies game plan versus the Bruins, not wanting Locker to take any additional and unnecessary hits to his rib cage. He ran just four times and only a couple of those were designed runs.
While Locker wouldn't admit that his rib caused some accuracy problems against the Bruins, Sarkisian said it's almost certainly having at least some impact.
''Whether it's a direct effect, the feeling that you have when you throw, there can be an effect on (in that) we are all human,'' Sarkisian said. ''When you have pain ... you can move your body in a certain way to try to avoid hits, or feeling a sense of hits. So I think that feeling is there. The more healthy he gets, the more comfortable he feels with the rib and the injury, the more comfortable he will be in the pocket. And ultimately, his feet will be better, his decision making will be better and his accuracy will be better.''
Last year, Washington closed out its first season under Sarkisian with two of its strongest performances: a 30-0 shutout of Washington State and a 42-10 romp over California. Coincidentally, those are the two the Huskies close this season with - in reverse order - and with the hope that the win over UCLA was only the start of a strong closing stretch.
It had better be, or the Huskies' preseason goal of a bowl trip will be unmet.
''We still have plenty of work to do. We can't even focus on a bowl game now,'' Washington linebacker Cort Dennison said. ''We just have to go at one game at a time and put all our focus on Cal. If we put too much attention on a bowl game we'll let this one get away from us and we can't let that happen.''