BERKELEY, Calif. - Tyrone Willingham’s final hours as Washington’s football coach resembled all too many sorry Saturdays during his four years at the school.
With just one chance left to avoid the humiliation of being part of an 0-12 team, his Huskies struggled with the simplest tasks while falling behind 31-0 at halftime to a California team playing for nothing but fun. The defense barely put a hand Jahvid Best, who glided a school-record 311 yards and four touchdowns.
By the time Washington concluded the first winless season in school history with a 48-7 defeat, the taciturn Willingham seemed both sad and angry — and the veteran coach looked like he couldn’t wait to remove his purple polo shirt with the “W” crest for the last time.
“You hurt for your kids,” said Willingham, a lame duck since his dismissal in late October. “You hate to see them have to deal with anything of this nature. ... I’m just disappointed that we didn’t get done what we set out to do.”
After a downbeat coda to this dirge of a season, Washington (0-12, 0-9 Pac-10) staggered back to Seattle as the nation’s only winless school and the first 0-12 team in conference history. The Huskies have lost 14 straight since their last victory, over Cal late last season.
“(Going) 0-12 is just horrible,” Washington linebacker Mason Foster said. “It’s appalling to go 0-12 ... (but) I think it’s going to turn around real quick next season. Hopefully guys will take this season and remember it so we never have this feeling again.”
Washington have named Southern California offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to replace Willingham, the former Stanford and Notre Dame coach who won just 11 games with the Huskies. Willingham again hinted that Washington had institutional problems that impeded his effectiveness at the school, but he made no overt excuses for the mess Sarkisian is likely to inherit.
“We hope he is the greatest coach in America, and he comes in and has a whole lot of success,” Willingham said, never betraying the slightest sarcasm in his expression. “I become a normal citizen today.”
Nate Longshore threw a touchdown pass in his final home game, and Cal’s defense created four turnovers as the Golden Bears (8-4, 6-3) finished unbeaten in seven games at Memorial Stadium this season. After a fourth-place finish in the Pac-10, Cal accepted a bid to the Emerald Bowl across the Bay on Dec. 27, likely against the Miami Hurricanes.
“I was proud of the way (Cal) stayed focused and played today,” said Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who has led the Bears to six straight bowl games. “I feel for Tyrone. He has always been a great competitor. He’s always been a quality guy who cares about the game.”
Best, Cal’s fleet-footed sophomore, had 186 yards and three TDs by halftime, scoring on runs of 60, 20 and 1 yards while passing Oregon State freshman Jacquizz Rodgers for the Pac-10 rushing lead. Best then made an 86-yard scoring run in the opening minute of the second half, jogging across the goal line with the closest Huskies puffing 10 yards behind.
Best broke Jerry Drew’s 54-year-old school record of 283 yards during a 34-yard run early in the third quarter. He has 1,394 yards rushing this season, the fourth-best total in school history, with the bowl game still to play.
“I didn’t even know I was close to it,” Best said of the school record. “We just feel like no matter where we are on the field, if we block and do our assignments, we can run it on people.”
Taylor Bean passed for 80 yards and scored on a 2-yard run late in the third quarter for the Huskies, who trailed 45-0 at the time. Bean got the first significant playing time of his career in relief of Ronnie Fouch, who started the Huskies’ final eight games in place of injured Jake Locker.
Bean and Fouch are just two of the Huskies’ dozens of underclassmen who got valuable experience during an otherwise lost season — but that might not be a good thing, according to the seniors who leave Washington at its lowest point.
“Going 0-12, I bet some of these guys, especially the freshmen, are kind of down on themselves,” cornerback Mesphin Forrester said. “Since we played a lot of freshmen, I don’t think they felt the passion for the game yet. It grows in you. You can’t just walk into Husky Stadium and have it.”
“It’s just terrible, terrible,” Forrester said. “I’ve got to look at the bright side. I made a lot of friends, so that’s good, I guess.”
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