So daunting was the weather Saturday at Husky Stadium that the offenses of Washington and Arizona dropped down to very low gears to find trustworthy traction. The Huskies went lower and came out much higher — a 31-13 win that felt more like a tropical triathlon, but made for a 4-0 start that hasn’t been seen in Montlake since 2001.
“I don’t know that I’ve been in a game like that,” said Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian. “There’s been rain, there’s been wind, but that combo was tough.”
Said Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker: “With the rain being as strong as it was, with the wind being as strong as it was, and it being cold at the same time . . . no, that’s the first experience.”
Putting it best was Bishop Sankey, who had little time for meteorological ruminations: “Hadda dig deep.”
Sankey carved himself a well-worn trench through the Wildcats defense in a fashion that few have witnessed: a school-record 40 carries for 161 yards in a masterful exhibition of perseverance.
“I really didn’t know how many carries I had,” said the former Gonzaga prep star. “However many we needed to win.”
Both coaches dialed down to game plans so conservative that Rush Limbaugh would have blushed. Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez had Sankey’s equal in Ka’Deem Carey, the nation’s leading rusher last season who Saturday had 132 yards in 30 carries, plus 49 more in receptions.
What Rodriguez didn’t have — as he made plain on national TV with his sideline excoriations of Denker — was a quarterback like Washington’s Keith Price. The day was hardly a statistical sparkler for him (14 of 25 for 165 yards), but Price made enough critical contributions, particularly on the first two drives of second half that went 95 and 90 yards for touchdowns, to be the difference maker.
“I was playing more conservative than I usually do,” he said. “I didn’t want to force anything where there would be tipped balls and interceptions. I just tried to be efficient and manage the game. That’s all I wanted to do today.
“It was tough in first half. It was like, ‘Goodness, I haven’t played in this type of weather.'”
Price made one of the few good plays in a slog of first half that featured heavy winds escorting sheets of rain across a paid crowd of 65,815 that looked a lot closer to 50,000 with the missing weather wimps.
Taking advantage of a 35-yard field provided by CB Sean Parker’s interception of one of Denker’s many ill-conceived throws, Price was at the Arizona 7-yard line, rolled right and eluded a couple of would-be sackers to flick a touchdown pass to Kevin Smith. But as was the case most of day, special teams had a hard time with wet, wind-whipped footballs and the Huskies blew the PAT to lead 6-0.
Arizona returned the kicking-game screw-up when the snap to punter Drew Riggleman went through his hands and out of the end zone for a safety and an 8-0 Washington lead. But the Huskies couldn’t do much in the conditions and led only 11-6 at the half.
For the second half, Sarkisian went to a two-tight-end formation that worked well. Backed up to their own 5-yard line by a penalty on the kickoff, Price helped guide an explosion of big-chunk plays that blew down the field as the conditions became less onerous. The most impressive was a swerving 17-yard run by Sankey that included a bulldozer hit over free safety Jourdon Grandon that had partisans standing in their puddles, howling.
The 95-yard drive finished with a one-yard touchdown pass to wide-open TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The rout wasn’t exactly on, because Arizona came back with a 72-yard TD drive of its own, but the Huskies held control, as they have all season. They have yet to be behind in 240 game minutes.
“I don’t know that we will have another game this year where we rush the ball 61 times,” Sarkisian said. “That’s a lot of rush attempts.”
But it is handy for the Huskies to know they are capable. Next game Saturday is against No. 5 Stanford, which pistol-whipped Washington State at the Clink Saturday and knows a little about the smash-mouth style. And should a monsoon wash over Palo Alto, the Huskies know the location of low gear.