Offense, defense and special teams all shine for UW
The Washington Huskies cleaned up their act and eased up on the dramatics. No mass of turnovers to overcome. No last-minute drive to stop.
And the result was maybe their most satisfying victory of the season, a 34-15 triumph over Utah in front of 60,050 at CenturyLink Field in which the Huskies could say the offense, defense and special teams all played a key role.
“This was a really cool win for our team,” said UW coach Steve Sarkisian. “We executed in all three phases really well.”
The offense, powered by the best game of the season for quarterback Keith Price, scored its most points this season against a BCS foe and also gained the most yards (437).
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The defense, sparked by an dominating pass defense, held Utah to 188 total yards and just one touchdown in the final 50 minutes. And the special teams held Utah returner Reggie Dunn in check and chipped in with a recovery of a Utes fumbled punt late in the third quarter to set up a touchdown that ended the suspense for good.
“We’re playing pretty good,” Sarkisian said simply enough afterward.
Indeed, it was a performance that made one wonder how the Utes were a slight favorite in the Las Vegas books. UW, though, dominated the last three quarters after falling behind 8-0 and now has won three in a row, a streak that has come on the heels of a three-game losing streak that concluded with a 52-17 defeat at Arizona that raised questions about where the season was headed.
Where the season is now headed is to the postseason as the victory also assured the Huskies (6-4) of being bowl eligible for the third consecutive year.
“We’re happy to be bowl eligible, but there’s still plenty of work to be done for this football team,” Sarkisian said.
The Huskies, though, will go bowling with a 1,000-yard rusher, as Bishop Sankey gained 162 yards on 36 carries and has 1,017 on the season.
They’ll also go there with the leading receiver among tight ends in school history as Austin Seferian-Jenkins had seven receptions and now has 96 to pass the 95 of Mark Bruener.
All of his receptions came from Price, who was 24 for 33 for 277 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for a touchdown in a game that was his closest effort this season to looking like he did in 2011.
Sarkisian later talked at length about the play of Price and how he has overcome his early struggles, saying, “He deserved to have a game like this.”
Price twice scrambled for first downs on third downs on a 16-play, 82-yard drive in the fourth quarter that led to UW’s final touchdown and put the game away.
Utah scored on its second possession to take an 8-0 lead. But from that point on, the game was pretty much all UW as the Huskies took a 14-8 halftime lead, then scored on its first drive of the third quarter.
That score came when the Huskies stopped a Utah fourth-and-one at the Utes’ 43 on the first possession of the second half. John Timu and Danny Shelton got the credit for stopping John White for no gain.
Washington then needed just four plays to score on a 9-yard pass from Price to DiAndre Campbell that came after a 24-yard pass from Price to Seferian-Jenkins.
“That was big to get a stop and get a score,” Sarkisian said.
But the Utes immediately responded to briefly get back in the game, White, this time, converting a fourth down from the Husky 41 and then scoring on a 20-yard run two plays later to make it 21-15 with 6:06 left in the third.
Utah then appeared ready to get the ball back with a chance to take the lead after stopping the Huskies on Washington’s next drive.
But Utah’s Charles Henderson fumbled a short, line-drive punt and Washington’s Jamaal Kearse recovered at the Utah 46.
UW needed just five plays to cash it in, Sankey scoring from 2 yards out. UW went for two points and didn’t get it, but took a 27-15 lead with 1:56 left.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham called that sequence “the biggest turning point in the game. … Instead of having all the momentum and the ball, we turn it over, they capitalize on it. We couldn’t recover.”
The fourth-quarter, 16-play drive, capped by a Sankey 4-yard run, then put the game away, a victory that came in the last home game of the season and also the last home game for 11 seniors.
“Great win for us,” said senior receiver Cody Bruns. “It’s a nice way for us to go out, our last game here.”
The first two quarters marked one of the Huskies’ best offensive halves of the season.
Price completed 13 of 19 passes for 152 yards, throwing three away under pressure and having another dropped against a Utah team that came into the game ranked third in the Pac-12 in total defense.
The Huskies, though, had to climb out of a little hole as the Utes scored the second time they had the ball on a 46-yard run by White, who burst over a big hole and went virtually untouched into the end zone.
Washington used some interesting combinations on its defensive line early to account for some injury issues, including using Seferian-Jenkins on two third-down plays early on, as well as giving walk-on Drew Schultz a start at tackle.
But after the White run — which was followed by a two-point conversion — the Washington defense settled down and the Husky offense began to get going.
“It’s unfortunate that we gave up that one long run there, but outside of that our defense was phenomenal,” Sarkisian said, noting that Utah was just 1 for 13 on third downs.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @bcondotta