New coordinator Justin Wilcox praised his squad's effort, but says 'there's plenty to clean up.'
Take away a trick play and Washington pitched a shutout for three quarters against San Diego State, which is a major statement for a team that surrendered 777 yards and 67 points in its last outing.
But Saturday night was different.
A new season, new philosophy and a rebuilt defense produced better results for the Huskies.
“Last year is way behind us now,” said redshirt freshman Travis Feeney, one of seven new starters on defense. “We came out and did our thing right now in the first game.”
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On their heels for most of last season, Washington blitzed, swarmed and stymied San Diego State during a season-opening 21-12 victory at CenturyLink Field.
The Huskies began the game with a Tre Watson interception on the first defensive series that stopped an early threat and ushered in the Justin Wilcox Era.
The new defensive coordinator from Tennessee has the tall task of revamping a defensive unit that allowed an average of 453 yards last season.
“I really liked the guys’ effort, but there’s plenty to clean up,” he said. “And we’ll do that. We’ll fix those things. We have to.”
Washington allowed 327 to San Diego State, but for most of the game they dominated the Aztecs, who scored their first touchdown on a gimmick play on the first play in the second quarter.
The Huskies didn’t spot receiver Tim Vizzi lined up near the sideline until it was too late. Washington coaches tried to call a timeout before the snap, but officials didn’t notice and quarterback Ryan Katz connected with Vizzi on a 47-yard touchdown.
UW coach Steve Sarkisian argued with officials to no avail about the validity of the play.
“There’s a lot of things to look at on the film, but the rule in the end is with the intent to deceive, and it sure felt like there was an intent to deceive,” he said.
With the exception of Vizzi’s touchdown and Katz’s occasional long gains, the Huskies held the Aztecs in check.
They finished with four sacks and three turnovers, including junior safety Will Shamburger’s 44-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown early in the third quarter.
That play may have symbolized UW’s defensive effort as several Huskies played a role.
After Katz completed a pass to Colin Lockett, sophomore linebacker John Timu tried to strip the ball, then defensive end Talia Crichton and linebacker Princeton Fuimaono barreled into him, jarring the ball free.
“Obviously that was a big play because we had a lot of guys involved with that play,” Wilcox said. “That’s what we want.”
A good defensive outing might have been a great outing if the Huskies didn’t allow an 11-play, 71-yard touchdown march that consumed 4:27 minutes in the fourth quarter.
The drive cut UW’s lead to 21-12 with 12:06 left in the game.
Nursing a 10-point lead, Sarkisian pulled back offensively and relied on the defense to keep the Aztecs at bay.
“That’s a nice thing to know that you can lean on your defense that way,” Sarkisian said. “That hadn’t been a luxury of ours here in the past.”