Preparing for the best quarterback the Huskies faced this season, coach Chris Petersen installed a couple of defensive wrinkles. One in particular wrinkled UCLA’s Josh Rosen, helping force him from the game. His absence didn’t change the outcome, but the sack the play produced certainly brightened the outlook of sophomore CB Austin Joyner.
In the second quarter of a 44-23 Washington triumph Saturday at Husky Stadium that was still in modest suspense, the rarely used corner blitz worked as designed, allowing the 5-10 Joyner an unimpeded shot on the 6-4, 218-pound Rosen, a pre-season All-America pick and Heisman Trophy candidate.
Joyner did not miss.
“We put in that blitz play earlier in the week,” Joyner said. “As soon as we (practiced) it, I was really looking forward to this. I knew it was going to come up.
“We (usually) don’t get to do that.”
On a third-and-13 from UCLA’s 44-yard line, a bad situation created by the previous play, a sack of Rosen by LB Benning Potoa’e, Joyner splattered Rosen again. The back-to-back sacks did three things: Damaged the Bruins’ will, damaged their quarterback, and thrilled the UW secondary, which was dealing with the injury absences of CB starters Byron Murphy and Jordan Miller.
“The cornerbacks,” said Petersen, grinning, “they like that.”
Joyner said in the moment before impact, he saw Rosen falter.
“It looked like he went down a little early, before I got to him,” he said. “He was laying on the ground, and I could hear him grunting in pain. On the sidelines, guys were saying they thought he was hurt. I don’t know what happened.”
Rosen returned for the final series of the first half and the opener of the second half, but missed on all five pass attempts after the sacks. Bruins coach Jim Mora pulled him from the game in favor of redshirt freshman Devon Modster.
Mora, the former Seahawks coach and a player and graduate assistant at Washington under Don James, was vague on the injuries, which reportedly included a damaged finger.
“He took some hits,” he said. “He’s beat up. There’s multiple things going on. Our doctors felt it was best to keep him out and I respect that.”
That sealed the fate of the Bruins, whose defense is so awful, it is in no position to bail out a wounded offense.
The Huskies ran the ball on 58 of 70 scrimmage plays, amassing 333 rushing yards, including 169 from RB Myles Gaskin. The 12 pass attempts (nine completions) were the fewest since 1981, when the Huskies attempted 10 in a windy rainstorm that helped them beat USC, 13-3.
It was a freakish imbalance, but reminiscent in Petersen’s mind of the days of James, whose memory was honored Friday night with the unveiling of a statue of the Dawgfather outside the stadium’s main entrance.
“That game right there was in honor of Don James,” Petersen said, referring to reliance on the defense and running game. All it lacked was 40 degrees and rain. Instead it was serene and sunny, baking many in the near sellout of 69,847 in rare October warmth.
The imposition of will was almost a complete turnaround from the last game, a 13-7 loss at Arizona State two weeks ago in which the Huskies were often outplayed physically, a rare circumstance under Petersen. Players insisted the mistake-prone ASU loss played no part in Saturday’s events, but there seemed little doubt that embarrassment was some factor.
“We played really, really well,” was how Petersen described the wounded pride. “We had a plan to run the ball and we stuck with it. I’m proud of how those guys played. It was good to get back on the field and get it done.”
DTs Vita Vea and Greg Gaines each had a sack and tackle for loss as they thoroughly disrupted the middle of UCLA’s field. Vea also batted two passes from Rosen, who finished 12 of 21 for 93 yards passing, and a minus-19 rushing, thanks to four sacks. Whatever was left of his Heisman campaign was squished under a pile of purple.
“You get Vita Vea and Greg Gaines falling on you, those are 300-some pound guys,” Joyner said of Rosen’s day. “That’s gonna hurt.”
To top all the sunshine, even fifth-year senior kicker Tristan Vizcaino returned from zombie-land, hitting all three field goal attempts and five PATs to end a grim set of misses in the season’s first half.
“He’s been kicking (well) for two weeks straight,” Petersen said. “He’s in a groove. He just needed to get out in front of 70,000 people and say, ‘See? I can do this,’ and away he goes.”
Rosen, meanwhile, is still trying to figure out how that little purple guy found a way into his grill.