The University of Washington marketers’ theme for the return to redone Husky Stadium was “Retake Montlake.” The Huskies Saturday night made the case for retaking the Northwest. Who knew the coolest thing in the $280 million extreme makeover was a good-looking college football team?
Boise State, which came in ranked 19th in the preseason polls, having lost five games in the past five seasons, wasn’t ready for this: A howling, rowdy sellout of 71,963 practically leaning on the Broncos’ shoulders, and an opponent that looked little like the guys they beat nine months earlier in a bowl game.
The Northwest’s most unexpectedly ascendant team over the past decade descended unexpectedly under the treads of a spectacular up-tempo offense and a big-play defense. At 38-6, the Huskies managed to outshine a freshly resplendent stadium, glinting in the sunset of a day that is why we put up with November through April.
“We’ve been talking about the stadium for a month, and — it’s great, we’re really happy about it,” said coach Steve Sarkisian. “But what would make tonight and future nights special is the way we play the game. Our focus was on the next play, and I thought our guys did a really good job of staying disciplined.”
The Huskies took inspiration, not distraction, from the party atmosphere, running and executing at a furious pace, absent huddles, which eventually broke the Broncos. Washington pulled off 85 plays, about 15 more than the average year ago, and put up 33 first downs and 592 yards, an Oregon-like seven yards a play.
“It kind of caught me by surprise, to be honest,” said WR Kasen Williams. “We weren’t that fast in practice. We were fast, but not that fast. If I was caught by surprise, I know they were probably caught by surprise a little bit, too.”
After a slower first half that produced a 10-3 lead, UW in the second was, in a word, dazzling. After an interception on his first pass of 2013, quarterback Keith Price whipsawed back to the positive side, completing 23 of his remaining 30 passes for 324 yards — the third 300-yard game of his career and first since 2011 — and was a masterful leader forcing his teammates repeatedly into quick action.
The result in the second half was big plays by the bushel — a 19-yard touchdown pass to Williams following a 38-yard hookup between them the play before; an 18-yard TD toss to tight end Joshua Perkins after the QB broke away from the rush and rolled left to fire a bullet to a target only he saw; and a 23-yard scoring burst by TB Bishop Sankey, who had 163 yards on 25 carries after getting 205 yards on 30 carries against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl defeat.
The onslaught made everyone forget that All-America candidate TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins was sitting out a one-game suspension for a DUI conviction. He spent his evening on the sidelines joining in the madness of an intimate scream fest with fans 30 feet closer to the action after the removal of the running track.
To top it off . . . six points for Boise State?
“I don’t know the last time Boise State scored six points in a game,” said Sarkisian (the worst was 1997, a 58-0 loss to, believe it or not, Washington State). “In the bowl game, we felt we had a pretty good defense in the second half against them. We thought we matched up pretty well. We had an ability to get third-down stops.”
Linebackers John Timu had 13 tackles and Shaq Thompson had nine, while CB Sean Parker had an interception and DT Danny Shelton blocked a field goal attempt, the latter two on Boise State’s first two possessions that allowed Washington to build emotional momentum with the crowd. Particularly effective was Washington’s man to man coverage in the secondary.
“We made it a huge emphasis to be physical with the receivers, mess the timing up with the quarterback,” Parker said. “We did a good job of that today. We kept (QB Joe Southwick) guessing.”
Boise State coach Chris Peterson said UW’s press coverage broke down his attack.
“They did a nice job of canceling our receivers out,” he said. “Our wide receivers have to get of press coverage. We didn’t get upfield fast enough.”
Even Southwick admitted to same.
“Those guys were every bit as advertised,” the Boise State leader said. “We were playing a heck of a team in Washington.”
The main numbers weren’t impressive — Boise State had 23 first downs and 346 yards — but the Broncos converted only 8 of 19 third downs and one of two fourth downs. The noise seemed to reach its apex on third down when the stadium’s improved acoustics rained down fearsome numbers of decibels.
“I’ve never seen Husky Stadium like that,” Williams said. “I was just so glad to be a part of it. It’s something that’s definitely going to go down in history. The fact that we won, and how we won, adds to it.”
Much talk pre-game centered on the importance of a win for Washington’s program. Getting off on the right foot in the new digs, and all of that. Even ex-coaching legend Don James speculated that this was a “must-win” game for Sarkisian.
“Yeah, we felt a lot of pressure,” said Thompson. “We lost the bowl game. We knew we had to come back and get this win, and we did.”
Sarkisian was having none of that talk of pressure.
“That was a distraction, and I eliminated all that,” Sarkisian said. “I was in a good frame of mind.”
After a spectacular housewarming party, so were all in the Husky Nation.