Washington's defense perseveres, then preserves victory
When it counts the most, Huskies come through defensively once again.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Before the decisive play, before a maligned and wounded defense could grin away its torment, the Washington coaches gave cornerback Quinton Richardson a prophecy. To be certain, these just weren't instructions. They knew exactly what California would run, and they advised Richardson with a fortune teller's confidence.
"A fade to Keenan Allen is coming," the coaches said. "Man up on him and stay outside."
It's no surprise the ball was going to Allen. The receiver had already caught 10 passes for 197 yards. But predicting the fade route was a nice touch. When Richardson saw the play develop as forecasted, he knew victory was certain.
"The coaches always say, 'When you know, you go,' " Richardson said afterward. "I saw it happening, and I went."
And after Zach Maynard's overthrown pass soared out of bounds, the Huskies celebrated a game-defining defensive stand that linebacker Cort Dennison plans to bask in for the next half century.
The Huskies beat California 31-23 on Saturday afternoon because of their offensive brilliance, with quarterback Keith Price serving again as an amazingly efficient driver. But they preserved this Pac-12-opening victory because of their defense's perseverance.
Washington lost three key defensive players in this game, including linebacker John Timu, who suffered a scary neck injury. It endured the customary gashing from the opponent's offense; Cal finished with 457 total yards. But the Huskies will always have that goal-line stand.
Never mind that the Huskies allowed the Bears to go 85 yards on that last drive. What mattered most is what happened at the end. Cal had a first-and-goal situation at the 2-yard line, and that's when the Huskies decided to stop bending.
It took only four plays to change the tenor of another bad defensive performance. The Bears needed a touchdown and a two-point conversation to tie the game. After an incomplete pass on first down, Cal tried to plow through the Huskies on the next two plays. Those runs were greeted by a surprise visitor — resistance.
Then came fourth down. Washington called a timeout before the play and gave those important orders to Richardson. Head coach Steve Sarkisian also started to develop a plan in case Cal scored.
Is it possible to trust this Huskies defense? You figured you couldn't, even though cornerback Desmond Trufant clinched a victory with a late interception against Eastern Washington three weeks ago, even though the D made some nice fourth-quarter plays to hold off Hawaii two weeks ago. You might think the Huskies play defense with sweaty palms, but when needed most, victories have been safe in their hands so far this season. This was the most dramatic example of that.
The errant fade on fourth down was a poor decision by Cal coach Jeff Tedford because that play requires a confluence of exquisite timing, a precise throw and bad defense. The Bears went 0 for 3.
Last season, the Huskies nipped Cal with a touchdown plunge on "God's Play" to end the game. What do you call what Tedford did Saturday? Satan's Play?
Because of that last defensive stand, the Huskies have the most blissful 457-yard-allowing defense in the nation.
"This is one of those wins you look back on the rest of your life," Dennison said. "You look back 40 or 50 years and say, 'Wow, we did it.' "
The defense isn't fooling itself, but it wants to celebrate this accomplishment. The coaches and players deserve it.
They received heavy scrutiny after allowing 51 points in a defeat at Nebraska last week. Defensive coordinator Nick Holt took the harshest criticism, but at the end, he was on his game this time.
Before this game, Holt showed his players film of their last defensive stand against Nebraska. The Cornhuskers were trying to run out the clock, and the Huskies stopped them on fourth down. It was one of the few positives he could show, but the video matched his message: Never stop playing, keep competing, fight for four quarters.
Sometimes, they lack depth of talent. Sometimes, they lack proper execution. Sometimes, they lack experience. But the Huskies are a competitive bunch, and it showed at a convenient time. The Huskies persevered — through criticism, through self-doubt, through injury.
"We're going to be OK," Holt said. "And our kids are going to get better."
This week, you can shun skepticism and trust those words.
Holt can be prophetic, you know.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer
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