There would be no repeat of last years season-opening drama. This time the Washington Huskies didnt need to wait till the games final minute before collectively exhaling a sigh of relief. They waited till about the final eight minutes instead.
In a game that was far from easy. It wasnt until the defense yes, the Huskies defense was able to come up with a fourth down stop backed up into its own redzone, that Washington fans could rest assured.
The Huskies 21-12 win over the San Diego State Aztecs could have been so much more. Maybe it shouldnt have been like the lopsided blowouts that teams such as Arizona State (63-6 over Northern Arizona) or USC (49-10 over Hawaii), but Washington was clearly the better team.
The combination of minor mistakes and penalties, however, never allowed the Huskies to turn the game from decisive to dominant even if it felt like Washington was on the path to a 40-point blowout when it jumped out to a 14-point early lead.
After giving up a 51-yard return to San Diegto States Brandon Wright on the opening kickoff, the revamped Washington defense did something it didnt do much last season: answered with a play of its own.
Tre Watson picked off a Ryan Katz five plays into the drive and returned it 34 yards. Washington needed seven plays to score its first touchdown of the season as Bishop Sankey scored on a 2-yard touchdown run.
Washingtons defense forced a three and out on the next series and gave the offense the ball back immediately.
Price didnt waste time, completing 7 of 7 passes on the nine-play drive. The final pass was an 8-yard scoring strike to Kasen Williams, who took the underneath screen pass, sidestepped a tackler, ran through an arm tackle and crossed the goal line.
But the Huskies offense that looked so efficient in the first two drives couldnt sustain success. Penalties and blown assignments led to three drives that didnt result in points.
Meanwhile, the defense had a déjà vu moment from last season. Coming out of the first quarter break, no one on the field saw wide receiver Tim Vizzi on the far sideline. The Huskies coaches did and were trying to call timeout. But Ryan Katz snapped the ball quickly and fired to Vizzi who raced 47 yards untouched for a touchdown. The two point conversion failed.
While the score was stunning, it seemed as if the Huskies offense behind Price would find a way to right itself in the second half. But it never did, and never scored again.
Instead it was Washingtons defense, which played better than the final statistics might indicate, that saved the game. With the Aztecs driving in the third quarter, defensive end Talia Crichton and linebacker Princton Fuiamaono delivered a crushing hit on Aztec receiver Collin Lockett, who was trying to shake free from a tackler, following an 8-yard pass. The hit knocked the ball from Locketts arms and safety Will Shamburger picked it up and raced 44 yards for a touchdown.
And the defense wasnt done. On the next series, linebacker Travis Feeney crushed Katz on a quarterback sack, knocking the ball loose. Safety Justin Glenn recovered and Washington took over inside the redzone. But a Sankey fumble near the goal line gave the ball back to the Aztecs, killing a sure scoring drive. The Huskies bogged down on their next drive and Travis Coons missed a 50-yard field goal attempt.
San Diego State put the pressure on Washington early in the fourth quarter, twice converting on fourth down, including a fourth and goal, 1-yard touchdown run from Adam Muema. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but SDSU had cut the lead to 21-12.
The failed conversions were big. SDSU drove down on Washington midway through the fourth quarter again and coach Rocky Long decided to go for it on fourth down and 6 from the 9-yard line. However, tight end Gavin Escobar tripped on the fade route and Katzs throw sailed long.