The Dawgs had six sacks of Arizona State QB Manny Wilkins, which was two more than they had recorded in the last four games.
Following the first loss of the season, the message from the Washington coaching staff to its much-maligned defense was simple: “Go get him.”
The “him” in reference was Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins and the directive was well received by the Huskies who registered six sacks — two more than the previous four games combined — in Saturday’s 44-18 victory in front of 66,467 at Husky Stadium.
“I didn’t have to stress about containing the quarterback,” said defensive tackle Elijah Qualls, who recorded his first sack since the third game. “They literally told us to go get him. Contain doesn’t matter. We’d rather have him running and you guys hunting him down than you guys rushing cautiously.
“They really just said go get him. And we did it.”
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The blowout victory keeps No. 7 Washington (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12) in the mix for a playoff berth and sets up a climatic Apple Cup showdown next week against Washington State that will decide the Pac-12 North champion.
“The way we played today, this can carry over to the next game,” Qualls said. “It’s a different team and there will be a different plan, but we got back to playing how we know we can play.”
After weeks of being scrutinized for a lackluster pass rush that was on full display in last week’s 26-13 loss to USC, the Huskies needed another dominant defensive effort to validate their claim as the Pac-12’s best defense.
Washington entered the game tied for first in the conference allowing just 17.9 points per game and was second in the league in yards allowed (336.8).
USC tallied 400 yards last week and exposed a few cracks in a UW defense playing without linebackers Azeem Victor and Joe Mathis.
“It was a very big deal the way we responded,” junior safety Budda Baker said. “When you get hit in the mouth, (we) talked about in meetings what are you going to do next? Are we going to get back up and fight or are you just going to lay there?
“For us it was a matter of we got hit in the mouth last week and hopefully we hit the next guy in the mouth. I’m just glad we got the W.”
The defense pitched a shutout for nearly three quarters and erased a couple of offensive mistakes, which gave quarterback Jake Browning enough time to regain his footing and Washington pulled away in the second quarter to snap a 10-game losing streak to ASU.
The Sun Devils (5-6, 2-6), who lost their fifth consecutive game, had just three first downs in the first half and finished with 245 yards — its second fewest of the season.
“They brought a lot of field pressure and caused us some problems,” ASU coach Todd Graham said. “The story of the night was their defense was very dominating.”
None more so than senior cornerback Kevin King, who turned in the defensive play of the season with a one-handed interception.
“I knew it wasn’t a regular play, but to me it was just something I did,” King said. “When I calmed down, I was just thinking to myself, ‘Damn, I really just did that.’ It was cool.”
King made his last home game one to remember when he fought off freshman receiver N’Keal Harry in the northeast corner of the end zone. The UW cornerback leapt for the pass and cradled the ball in his right hand before getting a foot down and falling out of bounds.
“I’ve seen that play (in practice), but he didn’t come down with the ball,” junior linebacker Keishawn Bierria said. “He did the same thing but just kind of knocked it down.
“I remember telling him, Kevin bro, if you can one-hand those man go ahead and do it. And he was like, I’m going to get one. That was amazing. That is first-round (of the NFL draft) material right there.”
Until King’s grab, Baker had what UW players believed was the most spectacular interception when he one-handed a pick in the 2015 Cactus Bowl.
“Mine was No. 1 from my freshman year, but I give it to him now,” Baker said. “He cupped it. It was crazy.”