It’s hard to think positively after one of the more upsetting losses in recent memory. The mind wants to dwell in the negative parts of the game, even if nobody has any ability to make any difference, especially after the fact. Maybe game awards matter more in a situation like this one. As fans, we can celebrate the small victories, even on the days when they don’t add up to a large victory. At least that’s what I’m telling myself in order to complete a game awards article this week. We’ll cross our fingers and hope that next week’s article can take a more celebratory tone.
Offensive MVP: Kamari Pleasant
The offense was not good on Saturday. There are plenty of ways to highlight their struggles, but I’ll just weigh in with a couple. For one, the squad was so bad that the unflappable Chris Petersen appeared to make an emotionally frustrated decision when he inserted Jake Haener in a crucial moment. Another example is the fact that UW’s offense scored more points for Cal than it did for UW over the final three quarters of the game (Haener’s pick-six over the single field goal).
In the midst of this deflation, the Huskies’ fourth-string running back was an, ahem…Pleasant surprise. Myles Gaskin was out—and sorely missed—and Salvon Ahmed had his worst game for UW with negative yardage on the afternoon. Pleasant held down the fort with 62 yards on 12 carries. He busted loose for one 22-yard gain, but Pleasant will never be much of a big play threat. Nonetheless, he has shown more consistency and strength as a runner than most fans would have expected coming into the season. In this one, he had to do it without much help from his offensive line, which collectively struggled all game.
I wrote in my game prediction that UW’s offensive game plan would be built around a steady run game. Early on, it looked like the coaching staff agreed and tried to rack up first downs with efficient, consistent runs. Cal’s defensive profile did not show a propensity for giving up big plays on the ground, but they did give up mid-range runs often enough that opposing offenses could stay on the field. If Gaskin had made it back for this game, he might have been able to shoulder a bigger load with equal or greater efficiency to Pleasant. As it turned out, the Huskies probably would have done well to stick with that part of the offense and lean on the defense.
Defensive MVP: Ben Burr-Kirven
Speaking of bright spots, the defense deserves credit for holding Cal to two field goals all day. While they couldn’t get the Bears off the field on some crucial third downs, those long drives didn’t yield a single touchdown. Both Burr-Kirven and Greg Gaines stood out in a performance that featured far more havoc-wreaking plays than the conservative defensive unit has put together for most of the year.
Statistically, Burr-Kirven once again piled up outrageous numbers. He totaled 14 tackles (9 of the solo variety), 2 tackles for loss, a pass defense, and his first sack of the year. Gaines deserves note here, as well, because his line of 10 tackles, 2 TFL, and 1 sack is an extremely productive output for a defensive tackle. The two middle defenders also tend to work in concert. Gaines takes up blockers to free up BBK, or ploughs through the offensive line to disrupt the play. Both are better when the other is playing to his potential.
Once again, the Husky defense held a very good running back under four yards per carry. Cal totaled 36 carries for only 2.5 yards per carry on the day. JoJo McIntosh also forced Laird to fumble, but like almost every other fumble this season, it somehow bounced back to the opposition. While it might have felt like Cal converted a disproportionate number of third downs, they only finished the game 6/16. The entirety of the game is one that most Husky fans will want to have expunged from their brains, Eternal Sunshine-style, but the defensive performance was actually very good. BBK led the way and gets credit as the defensive MVP.