Getting bowl eligible key for Huskies
Chris Polk is a big reason for turnaround from 0-12 to likely back-to-back bowls
Seattle Times staff reporter
Oregon @ UW, 7:30 p.m., ROOT Sports
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After three hours and 20 minutes, a combined 913 yards, seven turnovers, and three laborious replay reviews, the Washington Huskies finally accomplished one big goal Saturday night — getting bowl eligible.
And when Washington's 42-31 victory over Arizona finally concluded at 11:01 p.m., players and coaches celebrated an accomplishment they said shouldn't be undersold.
"Huge. Huge," said coach Steve Sarkisian. "I don't want that to go by the wayside, like it's 'Ho-hum — we're bowl eligible.' It's a grind. This conference is tough. To get to six wins is great."
Getting six victories (which clinches at least a .500 record) guarantees the Huskies are eligible for a bowl for the second consecutive season, an accomplishment particularly meaningful for those who were here before Sarkisian arrived.
"To go to a bowl game for a second year in a row, it's definitely meaningful," said senior receiver Jermaine Kearse. "It definitely means a lot to me, especially coming from my freshman year, (going) 0-12. So it's definitely a great feeling."
Just where UW spends the holidays will be determined in the last four games, a stretch that begins in tough fashion when Oregon comes to town Saturday night to play the final game in Husky Stadium before it undergoes a $250 million renovation.
Oregon has won seven consecutive games against UW, all by 20 or more points, and opened as a 15-point favorite in the initial Las Vegas betting lines.
"We've got to play faster than tonight and we've got to bring our big-boy pads," UW safety Sean Parker said of the prospect of taking on the Ducks, ranked No. 6 in the latest Associated Press poll.
Washington played just fast enough to outlast Arizona, dominating the final three quarters after falling behind 10-0 early. A UW defense that had been much-maligned after a 65-21 defeat at Stanford the previous week forced four turnovers and allowed just two offensive touchdowns. And the UW offense gained 437 yards after the sluggish first quarter, finishing with 489.
Most dominant was running back Chris Polk, who became the first player in UW history to reach triple digits in yardage in both rushing and receiving in the same game — he had 144 rushing and exactly 100 receiving.
With 34 carries and four receptions, he was involved in more than half of Washington's 74 offensive snaps.
He also scored five touchdowns, tying a UW modern record held previously by Hugh McElhenny (1950 against Washington State) and Corey Dillon (1996, UCLA). And his 100-yard rushing game was the 18th of his career, breaking the school record previously held by Napoleon Kaufman.
"I didn't even know I scored that much or I did all those things today," Polk said. "The win, that means the most to me."
Polk, who has 1,016 yards this season, has 3,532 for his career, leaving him 574 yards behind Kaufman's UW career record of 4,106. At Polk's pace of 127 yards a game — which ranks fifth in the nation — he would pass Kaufman by the end of the season (assuming five games with a bowl).
Polk said the career rushing mark is "the record I want."
That would seemingly give Polk every accomplishment he could want at UW. Polk, however, hasn't completely ruled out that he might return for a senior season, though the conventional wisdom is that it's unlikely.
Polk said it's "going to be a tough decision come the end of the season" and that "I would consider coming back, because I really don't want to leave for the NFL until I really felt I was the best one that ever did it here. I want to really perfect my craft and go in with no negatives in my game. Until I've felt I've done that, I'll remain in college."
While UW fans might wish otherwise, it was hard to argue Saturday that Polk hadn't come pretty close to those goals.
Sarkisian said that for as much as Polk has done on the field, he's done just as much off of it in helping to change the culture of the team following the 2008 season.
"I don't know if any other player in our program now for the last 2 ½ years has had more of an impact, the changes that we have made and the progress that we have made as a football program," he said. "I don't know if I can pick out a single guy that has had that much of an impact as he has had."
• Sarkisian said Kearse and receiver James Johnson each suffered sprained ankles, safety Will Shamburger cramps and CB Anthony Gobern a concussion.
• Sarkisian said later he did not want to directly comment on a few of the more controversial calls in the game, specifically a ruling of no catch on an apparent reception by tight end Michael Hartvigson and a personal foul for a hit to the head by safety Nate Fellner. "I don't get it," he said of the Hartvigson play. "I'm not going to get into it because I'll say something stupid and I'll get fined for it. I don't understand it."
Of the Fellner play, he said: "I'll make the call and I'll try to find out why, because we need to coach our players. I'm not sure how to coach them if I can't hit a guy in the shoulders. We'll try to figure out what the ruling is and why the ruling is what it is, but obviously some frustration there on a couple calls tonight."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.
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