The Huskies held N'Keal Harry, a projected top-10 NFL draft pick, to five catches for 20 yards as UW took care of the Sun Devils at home to improve to 3-1 overall and 2-0 in Pac-12 play.
They called him “Waldo” at first. And wherever Arizona State’s star wide receiver, N’Keal Harry, lined up before the snap, or whenever he shifted across the formation, Washington’s defensive backs were quick to find him: “There’s Waldo! There’s Waldo!”
The Washington defense again passed a major test — largely because it didn’t allow Arizona State to pass much at all — in leading the No. 10 Huskies to a 27-20 victory late Saturday before an announced crowd of 71,200 at Husky Stadium.
A 6-feet-4 and 213 pounds, Harry is a projected top-10 NFL draft pick and just might be the best receiver in college football. The Huskies just might have the best secondary in college football — at least, they made a pretty good case Saturday night while holding Harry to five catches for 20 yards.
“Very happy,” UW co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake said after the game.
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Good things also happened when Washington let Jake Browning throw the football.
Browning threw three touchdown passes in his best game of the season — behind an offensive line that had its best game of the season — and the Huskies overcame a disastrous start to hold off the Sun Devils’ late charge to improve to 2-0 in the Pac-12.
The Huskies (3-1 overall) will close out the nonconference portion of their schedule next Saturday when BYU visits Husky Stadium.
Arizona State (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) scored its first touchdown in the opening minutes of the game after benefiting from a poor pass from Washington wide receiver Andre Baccellia on a failed trick-play double pass. ASU cornerback Chase Lucas intercepted Baccellia’s pass at the UW 39-yard line.
Six plays later, Eno Benjamin’s fourth-down run from the 1 gave Arizona State an early 7-0 lead.
ASU could get little going offensively for much of the night, finishing with 268 yards total.
“Our secondary did a really good job,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “It was a different game than we thought.”
That’s because the Huskies had expected Arizona State to come out throwing the ball, as the Sun Devils had done effectively early in the season with Harry and a strong receiving corps. Instead, Arizona State tried to chew up clock behind a power running game featuring their big back, Benjamin (26 carries, 104 yards).
Senior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven seemed to be in on every play for the UW defense — his 20 tackles were the most by a Husky in 22 years. He also had two forced fumbles (one of which he also recovered).
“Ben is special,” Petersen said.
As stubborn as it was with its running, Arizona State had trouble passing in key downs. Senior QB Manny Wilkins was 17 of 27 for 104 yards, the fewest passing yards in a complete game in his career.
Harry was largely a nonfactor. UW’s defenders communicated regularly before the snap about Harry’s whereabouts. Early in the game, they called him “Waldo,” and that transformed — for no apparent reason — into “Weirdo.”
“That’s no shade on N’Keal. He’s a competitor and it was a fun game to go against him,” UW senior cornerback Jordan Miller said. “We wanted to make sure we knew where he was. They move him around a lot and we had to make sure we knew where he was, just having our antennas up. Us pointing that out kind of affected their offense, like ‘Shoot, we can’t go there. They’re ready for it.’”
The Huskies’ offense again came back with a long scoring drive, covering 75 yards on five plays. Ty Jones, the Huskies’ 6-foot-4 sophomore receiver, hauled in an 19-yard TD pass from Browning as he was falling backward with a defender in tight coverage.
UW’s Peyton Henry connected on a 26-yard field goal in the second quarter, and the Huskies led 17-10 at halftime.
Henry converted another field goal, from 29 yards, in the third quarter to extend UW’s lead to 20-13.
Early in the fourth quarter, Browning scrambled right away from pressure and found redshirt freshman tight end Cade Otton in the back corner of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown, pushing the lead to 27-13 with 10:59 left.
Wilkins dived in from 2 yards out to cut UW’s lead to 27-20 with 2:54 remaining.
Trying to run out the clock, UW’s offense appeared to go three-and-out after a Browning pass to Baccellia along the right sideline was initially ruled out of bounds. After a review, the play was overturned; Baccellia got his right foot in bounds and made the catch before getting pushed out of bounds.
That gave the Huskies a first down at their 38-yard line with 2:38 left.
On the next play, the Huskies then benefited from an unnecessary-roughness penalty against ASU, giving UW a first down at the ASU 45, and Browning was able to run out the clock after that.