TUCSON, Ariz. — The Washington offense (bleeping) did it.
Finally, emphatically, repeatedly.
But before the Huskies erupted for five second-half touchdowns in a 51-27 win over Arizona on Saturday night, they stumbled out of the blocks for the second consecutive week. Specifically, they produced a total of six first half points and punted three times. They were turned back on fourth-and-2 from the Arizona 27-yard line. Junior quarterback Jacob Eason completed 7 of 12 passes for 65 mostly insignificant yards. Running back Salvon Ahmed averaged 2.2 yards per carry and failed to reach the end zone.
When the first half ended, Arizona defensive tackle Finton Connolly literally skipped off of the field, waving both arms to the energized audience inside Arizona Stadium as he left. The Huskies, meanwhile, trotted into the locker room with a 17-13 deficit and six consecutive quarters-worth of bubbling frustrations.
So, what exactly does that look (and sound) like?
“Not good,” UW head coach Chris Petersen said. “There wasn’t a lot being said, but everybody knew it wasn’t good. So credit to the kids. There wasn’t a lot said. There wasn’t a lot to say. They just knew it wasn’t good enough.”
Jacob Eason knew. The 6-foot-6, 227-pound junior had also struggled the week before, completing 16 of 36 passes in a deflating 23-13 loss at Stanford. He knew he was better than that. He knew his offense could move the ball. And he knew, without injured senior center Nick Harris, someone else had to say so.
“We didn’t play well in the first half, and when we went to the locker room things were said, and we were looking at each other,” Eason said. “We know how we can play football. Some guys stepped up and we played our brand of football in the second half, and it showed. We know what we can do.”
So here’s what they did. The Huskies scored five touchdowns and a field goal in seven second half drives. Eason threw for a pair of touchdowns, finding walk-on tight end Jake Westover for a three-yard touchdown off play-action before looping a 22-yard rainbow to Aaron Fuller for another score.
“Oh, it felt great,” Eason said of the touchdown to Fuller. “We had that play in all week, and we were waiting all game for them to give us that look. They gave it to us, and it feels good as a quarterback, and I’m sure it feels good as a play-caller on offense to execute on that play, when you get that one opportunity.”
For the first time in a while, Washington took advantage of its opportunities in the second half on Saturday. Eason completed 15 of 22 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Junior running back Sean McGrew ran for 106 yards and 8.2 yards per carry. Ahmed added 95 rushing yards and three second half scores.
So, what changed — besides the score?
“It was just execution. I really feel that,” said second-year offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan. “We knew we wanted to run the ball in this game. We thought we could control it up front, and I think we challenged ourselves in that second half to get back to execution.”
Added Eason: “We weren’t concerned with the score. In the second half, it was just a one-play mentality. On to the next. On to the next. Those guys (up front) did a hell of a job.”
Oh, and those guys up front looked a little different for UW. In Harris’ place, redshirt freshman and Tucson native Matteo Mele made his first career start at center. And when right guard Jaxson Kirkland went down in the first half, Henry Bainivalu took his place for the remainder of the game.
Eason also looked a whole lot different from the guy that backpedaled frantically from the Stanford Cardinal the week before.
But it wasn’t just the look. He sounded different, too.
“That’s something I took upon myself today, to try to step up in taking that role (of being more vocal),” Eason said. “You can notice it when Nick (Harris) is gone. So I tried to be more vocal today, and I’m going to try to continue that through the rest of the season. I think the guys respond well to it.
“That’s part of being a quarterback. That’s part of my game I need to work on, and I thought today I stepped out of my lane and did that and the guys responded well and played hard. I’m super proud of how they played.”
More specifically, he’s super proud of how they played in the second half.
But the UW defense was more consistent. Senior linebacker Brandon Wellington scored his second touchdown of the season in the second quarter, when he scooped up a Khalil Tate fumble and barreled into the end zone for a score. The Huskies sacked Tate four times, and Arizona’s explosive dual-threat quarterback managed to complete just 13 of 25 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown, while running for -28 yards. Outside linebacker Ryan Bowman even added a diving fourth quarter interception, as an emphatic exclamation point.
Still, everybody knows you need to score points to win. And for six consecutive quarters, the Washington offense sputtered.
But when Eason said a little, the Huskies showed a lot.
“We’ve been waiting for that for a while,” Eason said of the 38-point second half explosion. “I think there was a change in halftime in that locker room. We know what we can do. We’ve just got to go out there and (bleeping) do it.”