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November 27, 2011For the first time this season, the Washington Huskies clicked on both offense and defense en route to their 38-21 victory against the Washington State Cougars Saturday.
From both the Cougars and the Huskies, both teams showed off a prolific passing attack. Washington quarterback Keith Price and Washington State quarterback Marshall Lobbestael combined gained 635 yards through the air on 71 attempts, completing 70 percent of their passes. That's a whopping 12.7 yards per completion.
"I was tired of not scoring and I felt like we hadn't been getting yards in chunks," Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said about his own game plan. "I wanted to make sure we were hitting some doubles and triples and getting the ball down the field. We were able to do that throwing the ball."
In the past three games, all losses, the Husky offense struggled with injuries, particularly to Price, and dependence on the running game. At the end of their disappointing streak, star tailback Chris Polk averaged close to four yards per carry and the pass offense was restricted to 183 yards per game over the last three weeks.
In the Apple Cup, results were much different.
Price, although limping at times and out for one series due to a cramped thumb, was on a roll with his right arm. He was 21 of 29 for 291 yards and three touchdowns, his highest total since a home win against California in late September. Price also eclipsed the school's single-season record for touchdown passes at 29, breaking Cody Pickett's record.
"He's an absolute stud," Sarkisian said. "It was an amazing season for a young man for whom there were so many expectations of who's going to replace Jake (Locker) and all of that pressure, to come into it, and to play the way he's played, and to deal with some of the adversity.
"I think it goes hand in hand and to come back tonight and have one of his best games of the season, I think, speaks volumes for him."
On the other hand, WSU's Lobbestael, a senior starting in his final game, led his injury-hampered team into CenturyLink Field. The Cougars have lost its preseason starting quarterback, Jeff Tuel, early in the season and recently named starter Connor Halliday to a lacerated liver injury last week against Utah. Lobbestael threw 29 of 42 for 344 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in the losing effort.
"He stayed with his program to help us, and he's done a lot of good in so many ways behind the scenes," Cougars coach Paul Wulff said. "A lot of people don't understand. They underrate character and being a rock for your team. He did a heck of a job."
For the Huskies, capitalizing on the passing game opened up lanes for Polk and the specialized wildcat, Jesse Callier.
"Coming off a game last week that we really didn't play our best football, people started to doubt us and not believe in us. This week was real gut-check time," Polk said. "No matter what, I'm not really into individual performances. I'm just happy with the win."
And Polk stayed true to his words throughout the game, as he took handoffs, caught passes and even took shot gun snaps in the wildcat package. He wasn't able to run effectively early on, but began to create momentum as the game carried on. He finished with 100 yards on 22 carries, two receptions for 36 yards and two touchdowns.
"I knew it was a matter of time because if we just kept pounding the ball, kept pounding the ball, kept pounding the ball, it would open up the pass," Polk said. "The better I do running, the better the pass game does. The better the pass game does, the better the running do. It was just a matter of time."
Callier had four carries for 44 yards, three of which was in the wildcat position. But his most important play was on defense when he returned the blocked punt for a touchdown in the first quarter. This was the first punt return for a touchdown since 2008.
"Basically, coach called 'Cougar' and I saw it was unbalanced so I rushed off the edge and Thomas Tutogi came through the middle and blocked it and I scooped and scored," Callier said.
Based on the offensive and defensive performance of the team Saturday, Callier knows the Huskies are back to prime form and ready to take on any challenge in their upcoming bowl game, whoever it may be.
"I think we're back as a team. We still need to focus on the task at hand," Callier said. "But let's see who we got for the bowl game."