The Huskies forced four turnovers and the only points they gave up were on an interception return. It’s just a preview of what UW opponents will see this season.
Yeah, it was just Montana — an FCS team ranked outside its division’s top 25 — but still.
What Washington’s defense did Saturday was noteworthy no matter who was on the other side of the ball.
Think of it like a baseball player taking batting practice. It’s not like he’s facing good pitching — but you still tip your hat if he knocks it out of the stadium.
The Grizzlies were borderline paralytic against the Huskies Saturday. They couldn’t move against the first-, second- or third-string D.
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Fourth-down stuffs, strip sacks, pick sixes — UW did it all in its 63-7 win, where Montana’s only score came on an interception return. The Griz are a long way from an unstoppable force, but for 60 minutes, they did face an immovable object.
“We just wanted to go out and play our type of football and work the way we work,” linebacker Keishawn Bierria said. “We definitely showed up today.”
Montana (1-1) managed just 163 yards on 64 plays. It posted 31 rushing yards on 33 carries, and 123 yards passing on 28 throws.
More conspicuously, Washington (2-0) forced four turnovers — two interceptions and two fumbles — to ensure the Grizzlies never even sniffed the end zone. Seemed Montana’s longest runs were the ones back to the sideline after giving up possession.
Bierria caused the first turnover, and that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. The senior led the nation in fumble recoveries last year and nabbed his first one of the season.
With eight minutes left in the first half, Bierria strip-sacked Montana quarterback Reese Phillips at the Huskies’ 24, which led to a Huskies touchdown six plays later. It was the seventh fumble recovery of his career, leaving him one shy of the Pac-12 record.
Next on the turnover docket was fellow linebacker Sean Constantine. The Bellevue grad has been hamstrung by injuries for most of his five years at the UW but shined for a moment Saturday.
Midway through the third quarter, Phillips threw a pass over the middle that Constantine picked off with one hand, ripping it from the intended receiver’s grip in the process. He had the chance to run, but said he didn’t know he had the ball until the play was all but over.
“I didn’t know it was an interception and I didn’t realize I had the football until I saw it,” said Constantine, who received a spirited reception on the sideline after the play. “It could have been an arm. I didn’t know.”
The takeaways kept coming.
Later in the quarter, Phillips threw his second pick — this time to running back turned cornerback Jomon Dotson, who ran a little farther than Constantine. Covering what seemed like 150 yards total, the junior took it all the way to the end zone for a 68-yard return. Washington coach Chris Petersen said he had never seen a player get so tired during an interception in his whole life.
“But at least he got across the goal line,” Petersen said. “So I’m proud of him.”
Bierria said that the defense’s goal is to force at least three turnovers a game, so he was happy at that point. He was even happier when Jusstis Warren forced Montana running back Jeremy Calhoun to fumble midway through the fourth quarter, then watched linebacker Myles Rice recover it.
That’s the kind of day it was for Montana, and may be the kind of day several of Washington’s opponents have this year. The only Husky who may have felt a tinge of discontent after the game was quarterback Jake Browning, who said he blew the shutout because his first-quarter pick-six.
Those mishaps happen every now and then but won’t likely be a regular occurrence. But the monster hits safety Taylor Rapp and linebacker Azeem Victor dished out Saturday? Those will be common. Same with the pressure UW put on the quarterback and the boulder-like resistance they show against the run.
So yeah, it was just Montana — but Saturday served as a trailer for what this defense may provide for weeks to come.