The play was what Karl Malone would have made had the NBA Hall of Famer been a tight end. Austin Seferian-Jenkins posted up his smaller defender at the goal line, used his 275 pounds for leverage and went up high with both hands to get the ball. He could have pivoted and dunked, but he already had six points when his feet touched the turf.
The touchdown closed the first half Saturday night 31-7 in what turned into a 59-7 Husky Stadium chucklefest at the expense of the Colorado Buffaloes, who established that they richly deserved their winless state in the Pac-12 Conference.
The catch also represented the return to dominance of Washington’s most versatile football player.
The massive tight end had three catches for 62 yards, one set in a sea of big numbers that led to the most Huskies points in more than 60 years. But his stats loomed a little larger because it marked his best game in a season of modest production, and bodes well for Friday, when Washington plays at UCLA, where the Huskies have not won since 1995.
Seferian-Jenkins brushed off the analogy to basketball, which he played his freshman season at Washington.
“Nah, I’m a football player — strictly,” he said. “It was a go route among the three receivers to spread out the defense, and Keith (Price) threw a great ball. I really appreciated him trusting me when he let me go get the ball like that.”
The issue of trust is a large one when it comes to the Huskies quarterback. He has been tentative sometimes about throwing to his two best big receivers, Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams, when they appear covered. Coach Steve Sarkisian has been on Price to trust that both players are big and athletic enough to get the ball away from defenders.
But Williams was lost for the season after breaking his leg in the game against Cal, and Seferian-Jenkins hadn’t returned to the form of his sophomore year when he was among the best tight ends in the nation and led Washington in catches. Through six games, he had only 20 receptions, fourth on the team, for 244 yards and four TDs.
After serving a day in jail in July for a DUI conviction for an accident in March, Seferian-Jenkins hadn’t been the same. A finger injured in preseason coincided with a suspension for the season’s first game. Early on, he plainly wasn’t in condition or mentally prepared to handle Washington’s new up-tempo offense.
But he had three catches for 39 yards against Cal, and Saturday night he not only played the ball well — his first catch in the first quarter was a leaping 22-yarder also caught despite good coverage — he was a thumper on his main job.
“He blocked his tail off,” Sarkisian said. “So many of our runs (316 yards rushing, 143 by Bishop Sankey) were behind him.
“He’s a talented guy, especially isolated one-on-one. We had to get him more opportunities, and if the game hadn’t gone the way it did, he would have had more. We have some more tricks up our sleeve to get him the ball.”
When he’s atop his game, he’s an unmatchable talent for defenses. In the absence of Williams, the Huskies need Seferian-Jenkins and others to step against the better teams, which includes the next two opponents, the Bruins and Oregon State, both on the road.
“I don’t think we can compensate for Kasen’s absence,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “He did everything. You can supplement with guys rotating in, but you can’t compensate.”
He insisted that he didn’t sense any uptick in his play.
“I feel the same,” he said. “I guess I had a great game . . . I dunno. I was just doing what I do in practice. I’m just happy to celebrate with my guys. When you see all around you guys having success, it’s a party out there.”
The party moved the Huskies to bowl eligibility with a 6-3 record (3-3 in conference), but wins over Cal and Colorado, perhaps the conference’s two weakest teams, mean little. To move beyond the seasonal goal of seven wins, they have to do it against serious opposition away from Husky Stadium.
But the blowout win does signal that they appear to be done feeling sorry for themselves after losing to Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State consecutively.
“If I could write a script for tonight,” Sarkisian said with the exception of (Colorado’s one touchdown), it was about as good as we’d want.”
Especially if he can cast Seferian-Jenkins again as leading actor and not a supporting role.