SEATTLE — It started off with a handoff and a roar from a rain-soaked Husky Stadium crowd.
Like he would do so many times on Saturday afternoon, Louis Rankin took a handoff from Carl Bonnell and exploded through a hole created by Washington’s offensive line, running 46 yards on Washington’s first play from scrimmage.
Four plays later, Rankin was on his way into the end zone, and Washington was on its way to a 37-23 victory over California.
It was just one drive, but the key elements of it; Rankin’s running and the line’s domination of Cal’s front seven, were hints of what was to come the rest of the afternoon.
On a day when the Huskies were without starting quarterback Jake Locker, who suffered a neck injury in last week’s loss to Oregon State, and without the motivation of a bowl game, which suffered a fatal injury to its mathematical chances in the same game, the Huskies put together one of their most complete efforts of the season.
The once-mighty Bears, meanwhile, were left once again searching for answers after a fifth loss in six games.
“I think our young men played probably as consistent of a football game as we’ve played,” said Tyrone Willingham.
That consistent effort included another big game from Rankin, who with 224 yards on 21 carries — all in the first three quarters — became just the third Husky to record multiple 200-yard games, and the second to do so in one season. He also became the first Husky since 1997 to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. When Rankin went down with a hip pointer, freshman Brandon Johnson picked up where the senior tailback had left off, carrying 23 times for 121 yards.
When the Huskies stopped Cal on fourth down with 5:10 left in the game, Johnson carried the Huskies the rest of the way, gaining 53 yards while running on eight straight plays before Bonnell took a knee twice to end the game.
“It means a lot,” senior receiver Anthony Russo said of the win. “It really shows what we can do as a team. We wanted to stop the run, and that’s what we did. We wanted to run the ball like crazy, and that’s what we did. We did exactly what we wanted to do game-plan wise.”
Indeed the Huskies did run the ball like crazy, finishing with 334 yards on 56 carries. Also impressive was the work of the defense, especially in the second half. After allowing 20 points and 268 yards in the first half, the defense allowed just three points and 115 yards in the second. Cal finished with 147 rushing yards, its fourth-lowest total this season.
The defense also got help from the success of the run game, which by controlling the clock, allowed Cal’s offense to run just 20 second-half offensive plays.
“They did a great job controlling the football,” defensive coordinator Kent Baer said his team’s offense. “One kid gets 220, one kid get’s 125 or whatever it was, that’s awesome.”
The defense started the game well, forcing a three-and-out on Cal’s first possession. The following Washington drive again featured a steady dose of handoffs — Bonnell attempted just two passes in Washington’s first two possessions — and again resulted in a touchdown and a quick 14-0 lead.
“Today my main job was to not throw picks, and to pick up a play here and there,” said Bonnell, who did just that, completing just seven of 19 attempts for a touchdown with no interceptions. “And we had a few plays. Besides that, it was just manage the offense, get the running back the ball and sit back and watch.”
Cal fought its way back into the game with a pair of unanswered touchdowns after the Huskies jumped to the early lead, then held Washington to a three-and-out to get the ball back, but just when things seemed to be going Cal’s way, E.J. Savannah gave the momentum back to the Huskies with an interception.
After Rankin ripped off runs of 10 and 22 yards, Luke Kravitz plowed into the end zone for a one-yard score. Washington got a second touchdown off a turnover at the end of the first half, when Cal fumbled a punt return at its own 21-yard line. Bonnell completed a 12-yard pass to Russo, then, after a sack, a 12-yard touchdown pass to Marcel Reece to put the Huskies up 28-20 with 12 seconds left in the half.
“That was huge because you want to be able to get some momentum going,” said Willingham. “Especially knowing the fact that we had the ball coming back out to start the half. If you can generate something there, then come out in the third quarter and get a score, now you really give yourself some separation from them.”
The Huskies did just that to start the third quarter, as Ryan Perkins hit a career-long 45 yard field goal. It looked like Cal might answer with a touchdown after Nate Longshore connected with Robert Jordan for 42-yard pass to the Washington 3-yard line. But after a Justin Forsett run set up second-and-goal from the Washington 1, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim leveled Forsett in the backfield for a 2-yard loss. After an incomplete pass on third-and-goal at the 3-yard line, the Bears settled for a field goal, which would end up being their only score of the second half.
“We’ve gotten sick of losing, so we came to play,” said safety Darrin Harris, who had a team-high 11 tackles. “Everyone is happy and this is how it is supposed to feel after every game. I came to the University of Washington to win. It’s supposed to feel like it does right now.”
Contact Herald Writer John Boyle at email@example.com. For more on University of Washington sports, check out the Huskies blog at heraldnet.com/huskiesblog