It’s true. I have to have the ugliest hands of any non-blue-collar-type in the country this Monday.
About 16 hours after the Washington Huskies used a last-ditch drive at USC in an effort to beat the nation’s No. 7 team, the Pittsburgh Steelers tried to fend off the Baltimore Ravens on a game-ending drive.
And after it was all said and done, my left index finger actually hurts I bit the nail down so far! Though the results were mixed, the entertainment was spot on. Here are some thoughts:
Thanks to some Jake Locker leadership, some Chris Polk toughness, and the steady foot of Erik Folk, the Huskies were successful in a 32-31 upset win.
I will admit, after the ugly Nebraska loss two weeks ago, I wasn’t sure if the Huskies would be able to beat anyone else on their schedule outside of the state. Locker had the worst outing of his career and looked like he was ready to fold under the pressure of a premature Heisman Trophy campaign and a whole lot of hype. The Huskies defense had been steamrolled, and the competitive first was snuffed out early in that one.
Despite that, there are two things I know: 1.) Locker wasn’t going to stay down. It simply is not in the man’s nature. He might not be a Heisman Trophy candidate any more, but I would never, ever count this guy out of anything when it comes to his team. 2.) I think Steve Sarkisian, the Huskies’ second-year coach is a little brash, a little full of himself, and a little immature. So far, we have seen Sarkisian laugh at himself, and also take himself too seriously. We have seen him press too much, and be too lax. But, maybe we forget that the guy is only in his second year as a head coach. Maybe we overlook the notion that he is finding himself as the top guy. And maybe he is not too brash, too full of himself, or too immature to be learning from his mistakes. This is impressive.
This game was far from perfect. Locker missed several open receivers and had a critical fumble. A lot of his receivers dropped sure-thing completions and nearly ended the game. Remember, a backup quarterback (Keith Price) threw for one of the touchdowns in this game, too. But the offense rode on the back of Polk — who really seems to be good for two or three yards after contact every time, doesn’t he? Locker led the final drive and his leadership is not to be underestimated, but don’t discount the overall contributions of Polk, either.
Defensively, the Huskies scare me to death. Outside of Mason Foster, this defense is not very good. He is a beast and deserved the game ball. There were a few spells when I thought USC was going to run away with the game — literally. And, while the defense held on critical, late third downs, I could not help but think (several times), “Oregon will beat them by three touchdowns (again.)”
Finally, it’s a shame Kevin Smith broke his thumb in the game because he started to look like the first returning threat the Huskies have had in a while. But the special teams will be defined by the icy Folk, who has been accurate and clutch from all over the field. I wrote earlier this fall about Folk, specifically that he would end up being an All-Pac-10 performer. I stand by that. When in doubt, KICK, because Folk seems to be pretty damn automatic. (Also, congratulations to Folk for earning the conference’s player of the week for special teams.)
Speaking of kickers…
The Pittsburgh Steelers went into Sunday’s home game against rival Baltimore with a 3-0 record. (Have I mentioned how much I loathe the Baltimore Ravens? Well, I do.)
Steelers kicker Jeff Reed didn’t have as good a day as Folk. He missed two field-goal attempts, albeit on the difficult open end of Heinz Field, and his team lost 17-14 as Joe Flacco hit T.J. Houshmanzadeh for a game-winning touchdown strike.
Let’s face it: No one thought the Steelers would go 3-1 while franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger served his four-game suspension for being a slimeball (at best). I certainly didn’t think that would happen — especially after Bryon Leftwich went down in the preseason.
I’m disappointed in the loss, sure. But the Steelers are a damn good team with the best defense in the game.
Despite the loss, my expectations for the Steelers have grown . . . here’s hoping those fingernails do quickly, too.