CHICAGO — For one night at least, smaller was better for Washington’s defensive line.
Particularly in the first half, the Huskies put consistent pressure on Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, registering four sacks while at times employing four defensive ends on the field together.
End Josh Shirley had three of UW’s sacks in the Huskies’ 34-24 victory, after they didn’t have any sacks in their season-opening victory over Boise State.
“It was a great feeling,” said Shirley, who had 6.5 sacks in 2012. “We just got back to the drawing board on Monday, watched the film and got better.”
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Because of Illinois’ unusual offensive schemes, the Huskies thought they’d have a better chance at pressuring the mobile Scheelhaase with faster defensive linemen on the field more often.
“We did that quite a bit tonight,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. “They were going to a bunch of four- and five-wide receiver sets, and we just felt like we needed to generate a pass rush, which we had talked about a couple weeks ago after the Boise game. And we were able to do it.”
Scheelhaase was able to extend plays with his feet at times, and he had a perfectly thrown 72-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, but UW held him in check most of the night. The Big Ten’s passing leader finished 9 of 25 passing with one touchdown and one interception by Greg Ducre.
“I thought there were some really good things,” UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. “But there were some things, watching on the field, that we have got to improve upon.”
Sarkisian said junior middle linebacker John Timu wasn’t sure when or how it happened, but Washington’s leading tackler injured his shoulder in the first half and didn’t return to the game at Soldier Field.
“Obviously, Johnny’s an important guy, and hopefully we get a speedy recovery out of him,” Wilcox said.
Timu had five tackles in the first half.
He led UW with 91 tackles in 2012.
Preseason All-American Austin Seferian-Jenkins had three catches for 8 yards in his season debut, and he matched that with three penalties Saturday.
Sarkisian said Seferian-Jenkins, suspended for the Boise State game, was “a little bit” rusty.
“The pace that we operate is a pretty frantic one and (we had) 85 plays again tonight,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve just got to get him back in the fold, and I’m sure there was a lot on his mind and it was his first game, too.”
• The victory was UW’s first as a ranked team since 2003.
• Until Saturday, the Huskies were 0-4 away from Seattle in regular-season nonconference games under Sarkisian, losing at Notre Dame (2009), at Brigham Young (2010), at Nebraska (2011) and at Louisiana State (2012). The Huskies are 1-2 in bowl games under Sarkisian, with a victory over Nebraska in the 2010 Holiday Bowl.
• Senior receiver Kevin Smith had five catches for a career-high 104 yards. Sophomore Jaydon Mickens again led UW with eight receptions for 51 yards and one touchdown. In two games, he has 17 catches, nearly matching his total of 20 from 2012.
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or email@example.com.
On Twitter: @a_jude