The Huskies are now looking forward to their next challenges: conference play and California’s Jared Goff.
In the moments after the Huskies’ 31-17 victory over Utah State, after another salty performance from Washington’s rebuilt defense, Kevin King already was formulating an important message he promised to send soon.
King, a junior cornerback, has reason to feel good going into the Huskies’ Pac-12 Conference opener this Saturday against resurgent California. King made a diving interception against Utah State, his third in three games, and he had added incentive entering conference play.
Cal, which beat Texas 45-44 Saturday to improve to 3-0, is led by junior Jared Goff, one of the nation’s most productive quarterbacks and one of King’s old buddies from Northern California. They have a long-standing bet: If King ever intercepts Goff, the quarterback will treat the cornerback to lunch.
UW defense by the numbers
86 Total yards of offense by Utah State in the second half. The Aggies had 254 for the game.
109:31 Time between scores allowed by the Huskies. UW allowed a field goal right before halftime against Boise State, shut out Sacramento State, then allowed a field goal to Utah State 4:29 into the second quarter.
96 Yards on Brandon Beavers’ interception return, the longest in UW history.
“Every year,” King said, “I remind him of that. I’ll send him another text this week to make sure that bet’s still on.”
The surprising UW defense offered a reminder of just how solid it is by holding the Aggies offense to just 10 points and 254 yards, and Jake Browning set a freshman passing record in another tantalizing performance Saturday before a crowd of 59,464 at Husky Stadium.
“Thought our defense played hard — very, very hard with their backs to the wall,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “They answered for us.”
A week after shutting out Sacramento State, the Huskies’ motto against Utah State was “Keep Chuckie in check,” as defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski put it. They did just that, limiting Utah State’s talented senior quarterback, Chuckie Keeton, to just 17 of 33 passing for 171 yards with no touchdowns.
They intercepted Keeton twice — once by King and once by Brandon Beaver, who just missed out on a signature play for the defense when he was tripped up just short of the end zone on his 96-yard interception return in the fourth quarter. (Two plays later, in a bizarre sequence, Utah State’s defense took advantage of a UW fumble and returned it 97 yards for the game’s final touchdown.)
Washington has not allowed a passing touchdown through three games.
Having lost so much star power after last season, the UW defense entered this season with much uncertainty. Few knew what to expect from the likes of young first-year starters Azeem Victor, Keishawn Bierria and Elijah Qualls, among others.
The players themselves, of course, say they are not surprised at what the defense has been able to do in nonconference play, holding opposing offenses to three offensive touchdowns, 26 points and 3.9 yards per play. Pac-12 play will, of course, pose new sets of problems, but the Huskies have momentum and confidence.
“We’re with each other more than we see our families. You see what’s happening, you know what’s going on,” said Victor, a sophomore linebacker who had 12 tackles. “You’re looking at these guys and it’s like, man, they’re so talented. We didn’t really focus on what everyone was saying about how much (talent) we lost.
“We knew the next man would (step) up, and that’s what’s going on right now.”
As well as the defense played, Browning did enough, and then some, to offer more evidence that the UW offense should continue to build momentum around its young core. He threw for a UW freshman record 368 yards with three touchdowns.
Running back Dwayne Washington took a short pass from Browning and turned that into a rather easy 81-yard touchdown to give UW a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter. Early in the third quarter, Browning made it rather easy for Washington on a 33-yard touchdown connection over the top of the defense for a 24-10 lead.
Washington debuted a young offensive line — featuring true freshman Trey Adams at left tackle and redshirt freshman Kaleb McGary at right tackle, both first-time starters — and while the line struggled to create holes for the run game (74 yards on 35 attempts), Browning did have a clean pocket most of the day.
Along the way, UW got a trick-play touchdown from backup kicker Tristan Vizcaino and a magic-play touchdown from Browning, who pirouetted away from two rushers and floated a pass to redshirt freshman tight end Drew Sample for a 3-yard score.
That was more than enough for the UW defense.
“At the end of the day, we felt good about their performance,” Kwiatkowski said. “But we always gotta be looking for the next deal and looking to get better. But the effort has been awesome.”
The message from UW’s defense was, once again, delivered in fairly emphatic fashion Saturday. With the stakes raised, the Huskies hope to send another one next week.