There would be no repeat of last year’s season-opening drama. This time the Washington Huskies didn’t need to wait till the game’s final minute before exhaling a sigh of relief. They waited till about the final eight minutes instead.
The game was far from easy. It wasn’t until the defense – yes, the defense – was able to come up with a fourth down stop backed up into its own red zone, that Washington fans could rest assured of victory.
The Huskies’ 21-12 win over the San Diego State Aztecs could have been so much more. Maybe it shouldn’t have been the lopsided blowouts that fellow conferennce teams such as Arizona State (63-6 over Northern Arizona) or USC (49-10 over Hawaii) took, but Washington was clearly the better team.
“It feels good to win,” Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said. “We won in a different style than we were accustomed to. We had to rely on our defense, that’s something that didn’t happen much last season.”
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 to an early 14-point lead.
After giving up a 51-yard return to San Diego State’s Brandon Wright on the opening kickoff, the revamped Washington defense did something it didn’t do much last season: answered with a play of its own.
Tre Watson picked off a Ryan Katz pass five plays into the drive and returned it 34 yards. Washington needed seven plays to score its first touchdown of the season. Bishop Sankey scored on a 2-yard touchdown run.
Washington’s defense forced a three and out on the next series and gave the offense the ball back immediately.
Price didn’t waste time, completing all of his seven passes on the nine-play drive. The final pass was an 8-yard scoring strike to Kasen Williams, who took the underneath screen, sidestepped a tackler, ran through an arm tackle and crossed the goal line.
But the Washington offense that looked so efficient in the first two drives couldn’t sustain success. Penalties and blown assignments led to three drives that didn’t result in points.
Meanwhile, the defense had a déj 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 UW coaches did and were trying to call a 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.
Sarkisian said he thought the play was illegal.
“There was an intent to deceive, and that’s against the rules,” he said. “I’m gonna check on that.”
While the score was stunning, it seemed as if the offense, behind Price, would find a way to right itself in the second half. But it never did, and never scored again.
Price finished with 222 yards passing on 25-for-35 accuracy, but the big play never came.
Instead it was Washington’s 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 Aztecs receiver Collin Lockett, who was trying to shake free from a tackler, following an 8-yard pass gain. The hit knocked the ball from Lockett’s arms and safety Will Shamburger picked it up and raced 44 yards for a touchdown.
And the defense wasn’t done. On the next series, linebacker Travis Feeney crushed Katz on a sack, knocking the ball loose. Safety Justin Glenn recovered and Washington took over inside the red zone. 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 downs, including a 1-yard touchdown run from Adam Muema on a fourth-and-goal play. 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 a fourth-and-6 from the 9. However, tight end Gavin Escobar tripped on the fade route and Katz’s throw sailed firstname.lastname@example.org