It will be raining today in Berkeley, Calif., so it's a good thing Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian implemented his seasonally adjustment game plan.
Sarkisian’s late-fall formula was set last season, and should continue today: He wants a bit more of a ground-pounding attack out of his squad for this must-prevail-to-keep-the-postseason-hopes-alive Pacific-10 Conference game at California.
“That’s the way that you win in November – you’re able to run the ball and you’re able to play defense,” Sarkisian said. “That’ll be a big factor in our final two ball games.”
Expect running backs Chris Polk and Jesse Callier to be heavily involved. Behind them, the UW ran for a season-best 253 yards against UCLA.
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It has meant a bigger-than-usual commitment to the run game. In four November and December games last season, the UW averaged 4.9 yards a carry against UCLA, Oregon State, Washington State and California.
This season, against November foes Oregon and UCLA, that average was up to 5.3 yards a carry – and that was without Jake Locker being used on designed run calls because of his rib injury.
The other issue, as it has been all season, is how the Huskies deal with a strong opposing ground game. Nebraska, Southern California, Arizona, Stanford and Oregon all rushed for 230 yards or more against the UW defense.
But UW’s run defense flashed signs of progress against the Ducks early on, and that carried over last week against UCLA. A big reason for the surge has been the play of the defensive line, which has done a better job getting off blocks.
“All of us started focusing more on using our hands,” defensive tackle Semisi Tokolahi said. “(Defensive coordinator Nick Holt) stressed it, and told us it would open the door to make plays ...”
Seeking a bigger body to help in a must-win situation, Holt shrewdly gave Tokolahi, a sophomore from Hilo, Hawaii, his first career start against the Bruins. And the 6-foot-2, 289-pounder was an active presence next to Alameda Ta’amu, who has seen his fair share of double teams this season.
“If there’s one guy on defense who’s really improved, it’s (Tokolahi),” Holt said. “He’s really playing up to what we thought he would be.”
Tokolahi was part of Sarkisian’s first recruiting class. But he entered the program weighing 345 pounds, and redshirted in 2009.
He and Ta’amu have formed a training bond: The two have done extra cardiovascular-related workouts before and after team sessions.
In 18 months, Tokolahi has dropped 56 pounds.
“Yeah, it was tiring, but it pays off now,” Tokolahi said. “I feel a lot better, a lot faster, a lot quicker – a lot more explosive.”
The challenge today will be greater against the Bears’ multifaceted rushing attack than it was against the “pistol” scheme of UCLA.
“There’s no doubt you’ve got to stop the run,” Sarkisian said. “But you’ve also got to stop their gimmicks. They run a lot of reverses, they run a lot of fly (sweep) plays. And then you have to stay on top because (Brock) Mansion can really throw the deep ball.”
Last season, the UW held California to 81 rushing yards – with Shane Vereen accounting for 92 yards on 16 carries, most coming on a 50-yard scamper.
“We’re just like Washington. We’re playing for an opportunity to be bowl eligible,” Bears coach Jeff Tedford said. “I don’t think motivation is going to be a problem. They put it on us pretty good last year. Motivation will definitely be at a high level.”
WASHINGTON (4-6, 3-4 PAC-10) AT CALIFORNIA (5-6, 3-5)
Kickoff: 12:37 p.m. PST, Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, Calif.
TV: Fox Sports Northwest. Radio: 950-AM.
The series: UW leads 48-38-4, including a season-ending 42-10 victory over the Bears in Seattle in 2009. California has won six of the past eight meetings, including the last game in Berkeley in 2008, 48-7. At one point, the Huskies had won 19 in a row.
What to watch: How will Jake Locker and company attack this aggressive Bears defense? With lots of misdirection stuff, including designed quarterback runs, the UW will try and stretch California out to the perimeter. ... Will the Huskies try true freshmen Erik Kohler and Colin Porter again as starters? With Ryan Tolar (knee) hobbled, it’s likely. The last attempt against Stanford was a disaster. At least against California, Kohler (left guard) and Porter (right guard) won’t be on the same side of the line, and will also be afforded protection as interior blockers. ... What will the atmosphere be like at closing-for-renovation Memorial Stadium? The students are on holiday break, but expect a sellout crowd to soak up all the pregame and postgame celebrations.
WHAT’S AT STAKE: Headline for UW’s weekly press release says it all – “Dawgs Face Bears in ‘Bowl Playoff.’ ” A loss and the Huskies are eliminated from the needed six-win bowl eligibility (although it is possible a 5-7 team could reach the postseason).
TNT pick: Bears, 24-20.
10Jake Locker (QB)6-3/230Senior
Played arguably best game (325 total yards, five TDs) in 2009 rout.
24Jesse Callier (RB) 5-10/205Freshman
Showing more in run game than just as fly-sweep weapon.
40Mason Foster (OLB)6-2/242Senior
Seaside (Calif.) High grad expected to have own 75-person tailgate at Cal.
71Cody Habben (RT) 6-6/290Senior
His two penalties erased 79 yards offense last week.
98Alameda Ta’amu (DT) 6-3/330Junior
Middle plug in run defense, Huskies need him to carry full load (ankle).
1Marvin Jones (WR)6-2/200Junior
Leading receiver has four catches of 50 or more yards in 2010.
10Brock Mansion (QB)6-5/232Junior
Injury puts in backup Beau Sweeney, a cousin of UW’s Nate Fellner.
18Mike Mohamed (ILB)6-3/245Senior
Productive (8.1-tackle average) and smart (all-Pac-10 academic team).
34Shane Vereen (RB) 5-10/204 Junior
Two TDs from tying J.J. Arrington’s single-season mark (15).
92Trevor Guyton (DE) 6-3/285Junior
Redmond High product part of 30-sack defense that’s 30th nationally.
Todd Milles, staff writer