When California’s Zach Maynard hit a wide-open Keenan Allen for a 90-yard pass-touchdown three plays into the opening California Golden Bear’s drive in the UW Pac-12 opener, a collective gasp from the purple-clad 60,437 about blew down the decrepit and soon-to-be razed south stands at Husky Stadium.
It was an unlikely strike too, because Allen was so wide open on blown coverage that the stunned multitudes apparently had little to say. Other than creative angry chants about defensive coordinator Nick Holt, which embarrassed the crack Root announcing duo.
Craig Boilerjack and Joel Klatt, still marveling at the hundreds of small boats lazily swaying several hundred yards away on the glistening waters of Lake Washington, wondered aloud how long fans were gong to tolerate coverage that bad; somewhat a Husky tradition of late.
The Dawgs had managed to reach midfield after receiving the opening kick, but were forced to punt six plays later, and Will Hahan’s high kick pinned California back on their own 9-yard line. But after Isi Sofele ripped out an 11 yard gain to the 20, Cal briefly had breathing room until Zach Maynard coughed up the ball on his own 11.
UW came right back three plays later with a Keith Price to senior Devin Aguilar for a quick 44 yards to the California 20, followed by Price to all-world freshman Austin Seferian-Jenkins for a game-tying touchdown with just over five minutes burned.
Suddenly, the game felt eerily like the week prior vs. Nebraska, with very little defense giving way to two squads with potent offenses.
But when Cal went three-and-out and drilled UW’s Kasen Williams milliseconds after catching the ball on the ensuing punt, it became evident that college football had returned to the traditional receiving rules so prominently known until a week prior.
No call, Huskies with the ball.
Eight plays and 65 yards later, it was 14-7 UW.
California came roaring back down the field but settled for a Giorgil Tavecchio 29-yard field goal to make it 14-10, and UW quickly answered with their own sustained drive of 78 yards, finished by another Seferian-Jenkins TD to make it 21-10 with 8:51 left in the half. Cal again drove the length of the field but again settled for a 36-yard field goal trailing 21-13 with just over five minutes left in the half.
Again, the game was feeling disturbingly similar to the prior week in Nebraska, especially when Husky QB Price got chopped from behind by Cecil Whiteside while carelessly carrying the ball single-handedly on a scamper to his own 33.
Price had been doing that all game long and had narrowly managed to avoid the same on several earlier plays. This time luck ran out. California’s Mychal Kendricks promptly fell on it, transforming what could have been a game-dominating UW drive into a hair-puller.
California tried to take advantage of the momentum swing with a quick line-drive pass down the right side, but Desmond Trufant made a brilliant defensive play at the goal line to knock the ball away.
Two plays later a wide-open Keenan Allen dropped a ball that most grandmothers could have caught, but made up for it on a duplicate follow-up play on a risky 4th-and-4. This time Allen took it to the UW 20.
Three plays later, CJ Anderson punched in a one-yard dive to make it 21-20, and when UW’s Erik Folk kicked a half-ending 52-yard field goal only 51 yards, the Huskies left the field up only a single point up.
Coaches grumbled to sideline reporters about missed opportunities and squandered defensive coverages.
Sark was still cranky about his defensive play following the half, and about ripped off sideline reporter Petro Pedackus' head when he asked about it, in spite of his snazzy black suit that looked like it belonged in a wedding party.
California nearly gave the game back to the Huskies with nine minutes left in the third, when the ball squirted out of Cal Maynard’s hand at UW’s 12-yard line and straight up the air for no apparent reason. Once the dog pile had been cleared, the Golden Bears miraculously retained possession.
Cal had to again settle for a field goal, but with a 23-21 lead in game where they easily could have been suffering a blow out, they had to be feeling giddy knowing they had put up 13 straight points at exactly the time they needed it.
The Huskies followed with their own 13-play drive and a 25-yard field goal. The drive included a lovely 4th-and-1 pitch to Jermaine Kearse to the left side, but when Porter was flagged for a 15-yard chop-block penalty, the Huskies had to settle for a three-pointer too,
24-23 with five minutes left in the quarter. Again, what could have been a game-changer was handed away by knuckleheadedness.
When California finished the third quarter with a punt, the ultimate outcome of the game would be determined with the next Husky drive.
It started with a nifty pass to Austin Seferian-Jenkins down the right sidelines to the 40-yard line, but was called back by a painful holding call. UW was forced to deal with a 1st and 20 from their own 5-yard line instead of a 1st and 10 from the 35.
Chris Polk ran a nothing play up the middle to make it 2nd and 18, but Washington was suddenly bailed out when Cal’s Aron Tipoti was flagged for roughing the passer. It gave UW an unexpected 1st-and-10 at their own 32.
Two plays later California broke through for an ugly sack of Keith Price. But Price followed up with a high-lofter to Chris Polk over the middle for a touchdown, and the game suddenly swung back in the Huskies' favor.
Polk had managed to sneak out of the backfield undetected while both defensive backs collapsed to cover Sefarian-Jenkins cutting across ten yards deep of the line. Polk easily caught the ball and lazily jogged into the end zone, thereby potentially sealing the deal.
UW enjoyed a 31-23 lead with just over 12 minutes left. And when California went three-and-out on their next drive, things were looking bleak for Bay Area's Golden Bears.
But UW, not prone to making things easy on themselves, promptly coughed up the ball again on the Cal 37, when Austin Seferian-Jenkins was stripped of the ball after being stood up, following a nice catch and scamper to the Cal 44.
California had the ball again in great field position, trailing by only eight points. But again matching the Huskies in sloppy play, Zach Maynard barely managed to fall on his fumble (his third of the game that was recovered by his own guys), leaving them with a 3rd-and-17.
Two plays later on a 4th-and-3, UW’s Cort Dennison knocked the ball loose from Cal’s Savai’i Eselu. Just over six minutes were left in the game and the Huskies could end it right here with a long sustained drive.
But the Huskies quickly went three-and-out, and California had yet another chance to get back in the game.
Keeping the ball for 15 plays as the Huskies used two safeties to keep from getting burned long, the “bend not break” defense barely managed to keep California out of the end zone. Finally, when Cort Dennison and Evan Zeger stopped the Golden Bears' Isi Sofele for a one-yard loss with just over 37 seconds left in the game, it allowed for one final desperation play amidst a sea of worried Husky fans. Another win that could turn to a heartbreaking loss.
Cal QB Zach Maynard tried to loft a sneaker high to WR Keenan Allen, but the ball sailed hopelessly out of bounds to the left side and fell harmlessly to the turf. One play later, the game was over, and Husky fans felt very fortunate to escape after blowing countless opportunities to put this game to rest.
Final score 31-23. California’s perfect start was ruined, while the beloved Huskies are off to their best start in six years after winning seven of their last eight games.
Nevertheless defensive coach Nick Holt and head coach Steve Sarkisian were clearly both cranky following the game.
A win yes, but a win that should have been nailed down a quarter earlier when the Huskies had the ball and an eight point lead with six minutes left. It should have been easier.
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