The question is not whether Shaq Thompson will become a first-round draft pick next spring, but how high he will go and at what position. One of the nation’s best linebackers morphed into a Marshawn Lynch clone Saturday as the Huskies, down 17-7 late in the second quarter, rallied to beat Colorado 38-23 at Folsom Field in Boulder.
With games looming against UCLA and Arizona, Washington could ill-afford to lose to the Buffaloes (2-6, 0-6), who made a game of it for 25 minutes behind Tacoma native and former Bellarmine Prep quarterback Sefo Liufau, whose two early touchdown passes staked Colorado to the 10-point lead.
But sparked by Thompson, Washington (6-3, 2-3) erased the 10-point deficit and finally ground down Colorado, snapping a two-game losing streak.
The Huskies would not have won without Thompson, who produced a Beast Mode-style first half with 151 yards on 10 carries — 15.1 per pop. He had runs of 39, 24 (TD) and 56 yards and a catch from QB Cyler Miles for 41.
Thompson easily could have delivered a 200-yard game, perhaps a 250-yard game, if the flow had stayed the same in the second half. But due to the way the game developed, particularly the third quarter when Colorado fell apart after leading 20-17 at halftime, Thompson had only five more touches. He finished with 174 rushing yards, averaging 11.1 yards per carry.
Thompson was such a factor that he made a touchdown possible when he didn’t touch the ball. With five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Miles faked a handoff to Thompson, who practically drew the entire Colorado defense with him to the right side of the field. That left freshman Dante Pettis wide open on the left for a 28-yard touchdown.
“He’s just a great football player, I keep saying that, and we’re glad he’s a Dawg,” Husky Coach Chris Petersen said of Thompson. “Whether he’s ripping the ball out on defense or running down the sideline, he looks great to me.”
Thompson was the only reason the Huskies stayed with Colorado in the first half. A double-overtime loser to UCLA last week, Colorado assumed a 10-0 lead on Liufau’s 30-yard TD to D.D. Goodson — the first time this season that the Buffaloes scored on an opening drive — and Will Oliver’s 32-yard field goal.
Thompson ran 24 yards for a touchdown to cut Colorado’s lead to 10-7, but Liufau extended it to 17-7 with a one-yard TD pass to George Frazier. The Huskies then botched a red-zone chance when, after Miles and Pettis hooked up on a 48-yard pass play, Miles fumbled away a snap.
Following an exchange of field goals, Miles threw a nine-yard TD to Kendyl Taylor — Thompson set up the TD with his 41-yard catch — to pull the Huskies within 20-17 at intermission.
“It was an extremely poor start for us with poor tackling and ball security,” said Petersen. “But we kept fighting and got it done.”
Seeking to snap a four-game losing streak, Colorado converted nine of 12 third downs in the first two quarters, registered two takeaways and put no pressure on Liufau. All that changed in the third quarter.
After Oliver’s 49-yard field goal gave Colorado a 23-17 lead, the Huskies scored two quick touchdowns — Miles’ 28-yard TD to Pettis and Travis Feeney’s 30-yard pick-six — for a 24-23 lead. Feeney’s interception return was Washington’s seventh defensive score this season, the top mark in the NCAA.
Washington sealed it early in the fourth when Pettis returned a punt 87 yards.
“We’ll enjoy this one for a few hours and then try to figure out UCLA,” said Petersen.
Miles, a Colorado native who did not play last week against Arizona State due to a concussion, completed 13 of 19 for 206 yards to eight receivers and ran 13 times for 39. Liufau hit on 36 of 52 for 314 yards.
Colorado gained 495 yards to Washington’s 442 and the teams combined for seven turnovers.
The two touchdowns by Pettis were the first of his Husky career . . . His 87-yard punt return TD in the fourth quarter was the first such play for Washington since Charles Frederick had an 86-yard return against Oregon State Oct. 18, 2003 . . . Hau’oli Kikaha’s fourth-quarter sack increased his season total to 15.5, a UW singl-season record and tops in the NCAA. Kikaha has 32.5 career sacks, best in UW history. That sack effectively ended any chance Colorado had to win . . . Thompson’s 174 rushing yards are the most by a UW back since Bishop Sankey had 200 against Washington State in the 2013 Apple Cup.
Washington returns to Husky Stadium at 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 8 to face Jim Mora’s UCLA Bruins.
1st Qtr. (Buffaloes 7-0): D.D. Goodson 30 pass from Sefo Liufau (Will Oliver kick), 10:30. Drive: 9 plays, 70 yards in 3:00.
1st Qtr. (Buffaloes 10-0): Oliver 32 FG, 3:42. Drive: 10 plays, 72 yards in 4:16.
1st Qtr. (Huskies 10-7): Shaq Thompson 24 run (Cameron Van Winkle kick), 1:02. Drive: 7 plays, 86 yards in 2:46.
2nd Qtr. (Buffaloes 17-7): George Frazier 1 pass from Liufau (Oliver kick), 12:42; Drive: 7 plays, 59 yards in 3:13.
2nd Qtr. (Huskies 17-10): Van Winkle 35 FG, 7:55. Drive: 6 plays, 65 yards in 2:04.
2nd Qtr. (Buffaloes 20-10): Oliver 38 FG, 2:23. Drive: 10 plays, 42 yards in 4:14.
2nd Qtr. (Huskies 20-17): Kendyl Taylor 9 pass from Cyler Miles (Van Winkle kick), 0:53. Drive: 7 plays, 78 yards in 1:24.
3rd Qtr. (Buffaloes 23-17): Oliver 49 FG, 11:23. Drive: 9 plays, 44 yards in 3:37.
3rd Qtr. (Huskies 24-23): Dante Pettis 28 pass from Miles (Van Winkle kick), 5:38. Drive: 5 plays, 46 yards in 2:19.
3rd Qtr. (Huskies 31-23): Travis Feeney 30 interception return (Van Winkle kick), 4:53.
4th Qtr. (Huskies 38-23): Pettis 87 punt return (Van Winkle kick), 13:10.