No. 19 Washington (2-0) 34, Illinois (2-1) 24 at Soldier Field, Chicago
Amid the din of explosive plays, Bishop Sankey made his quiet case that he is the greatest college running back unknown in 49 other states, although the folks in Illinois are picking sod from their grills thanks to Sankey’s career-high 208 yards in 35 carries.
He was part of another stunning offensive output for Washington’s hurry-up attack, which ran 85 plays, as the Huskies did in the opener against Boise State, and gained 23 more yards — 615.
Many were bunched in three consecutive touchdown drives to start the third quarter, none bigger than one by backup RB Jesse Callier, who broke free on third-and-seven play for a 39-yard TD run and a 24-10 lead. Callier missed nearly all of last season after knee surgery, and finished with 66 yards rushing.
Illinois did not crumple, closing to 31-24 on a 10-yard touchdown run from wildcat formation by a freshman quarterback, Aaron Bailey. The drive included a 35-yard gain from a double-reverse pass, part of a bag of Illini tricks that had the Huskies’ defense guessing.
But the Huskies turned back the momentum on the second-to-last possession, when on a third-and-eight, coach Steve Sarkisian called the perfect play against a blitz — a screen pass to Callier that went for 35 yards to set up a Travis Coons field goal with 4:42 remaining that put the game out of reach.
FISTS TO SKY
- Keith Price continued his back-to-the-future renaissance by completing 28 of 35 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns. He helped UW convert 10 of 16 third downs. But for penalties and misplays by his teammates, Price’s efficiency would have been even greater as he continues to adapt to the uptempo offense to get him back where he was in 2011.
- The defense had four first-half sacks, including three by DE/LB Josh Shirley, who lost his starting job this season and made a big case for reinstatement. He led a unit of smaller, faster linemen to amp up pressure on QB Nathan Scheelhaase, who was pressed into a handful of dubious decisions. He completed nine of 25 passes for 156 yards.
- WR Jaydon Mickens again led Washington with eight receptions (51 yards), the most dramatic a 10-yard touchdown pass in which he spun out of an arm tackle, reversed his field and leaped over the end zone pylon for the score and a 31-10 lead. His quick feet in close quarters are snapping defenders’ ankles.
- Washington opened the third quarter with a 75-yard touchdown drive that was all on the ground. The last of seven plays was a one-yard TD run by Sankey. That had to have pleased all the old-timers who have longed for the Washington return to the days of smashmouth.
PALMS TO FOREHEAD
- The Huskies were penalized 12 times for 104 yards, nine in the first half, which went a long way to explaining how they were ahead only 10-3 at intermission. A couple of calls were questionable, but enough were legit drive-killers that it puts a premium on development of some discipline before the Oregon/Stanford tandem of games.
- No. 2 RB Dwayne Washington had two carries and fumbled both, a ratio that reserved him a seat on the bench in the second half and made way for the return of Callier.
- TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ return to starting lineup after a one-game suspension was disappointing. He had three catches for eight yards and committed a holding penalty that nullified a 35-yard pass play. The time away is showing.
- DB Gregory Ducre was caught out of position on the game’s biggest play, a 72-yard pass from Scheelhaase to WR Ryan Lankford that stopped cold the Huskies’ third-quarter momentum and brought back the Illini to 31-10.
- LB John Timu did not play in the second half after injuring a shoulder. He didn’t know when the injury happened, and there was no immediate information on its severity.
WOE TO FOE
- Illinois had a smorgasbord of trick plays, but they went to the magic top hat one too many times. The final possession was a flea flicker in which RB Josh Ferguson flipped back the handoff to Scheelhaase, who threw a floater under pressure that allowed Ducre an interception at the Washington 33.
- Trickeration helped disguise the fact that the Illini running game, while not terrible, didn’t have a breakaway threat. The longest rush was 16 yards.
- Coach Steve Sarkisian on the offense: “Whether or not it was self-inflicted, we had a lot of adversity to overcome. Our offensive line played well and Bishop was an absolute stud. The whole offense performed at a high level.”
- On the defense: “Take away the one deep post route (for a 72-yard TD), and I thought our guys played well. If they wanted to run the quarterback (on draw plays), we’d hit him and him until they quit doing that.”
- On the sloppy first half: “We had two fumbles by Dwayne and some real costly penalties that cost us momentum. We regrouped at half, and played a really good third quarter.”
- On the full-speed return of Callier: “I was really, really happy for Jesse to get back on the field. It’s a long, hard road from an ACL surgery, and sometimes your confidence can be shaken. But he had the big touchdown run, and the big screen pass. It was great to see.”
- On the third-down screen pass to Callier: “We went into a formation we’d used in the first half, a double set, then dummied our cadence when we saw blitz coming. We went to the screen and our guys executed beautifully. Our offensive line got downfield and Keith and Jesse had good timing.”
- On mustering emotion for FCS Idaho State Saturday: It’s great to be 2-0 with a road win, but all of us can look in the mirror and say, ‘We can do better.’ We’ve also got some guys who are hungry, who want to earn playing time. We have only seven opportunities to play in Husky Stadium, and this is the second of seven.”
- On penalties: “Maybe I’m like a proud parent whose kids can’t do wrong, but I was trying to get explanations for what some of those calls were. But we’ve got to do better.”
The uptempo offense is the best addition to Montlake since University Village. The biggest uptick on defense was the pressure brought on the quarterback.
Illinois was 2-10 a year ago for several reasons, and even though the Illini have improved, the talent disparity with Washington was apparent. But the Huskies made enough mistakes to keep the game in doubt into the fourth quarter.
Wonder what might happen if Seferian-Jenkins pulls it together?