Elijah Molden recognized the route. Later, head coach Chris Petersen chuckled because he noticed it, too.
Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith used the same play when he was the offensive coordinator at Washington, back when Molden was a freshman. Years later, Molden can still remember getting hit with it day after day in practice. So when Molden saw it in the Huskies’ 19-7 victory over Oregon State on Friday night, he took advantage.
The first time the Beavers ran the play, the ball was overthrown. But when it happened again late in the second quarter, Molden was ready. He jumped the route, picking off the Jake Luton pass intended for Trevon Bradford.
“We’ve seen (that play) forever,” Petersen said. “Elijah has seen it a lot. I think we all saw it coming. I saw it coming. It’s awesome for Elijah to be on it. We have that play in our game plan tonight. We just didn’t get to it. It was awesome for him to read that like that. It was a big-time play.”
The interception was just the second of the season for Luton, and that was the story of the night for Oregon State. Facing a relentless UW defense, the Beavers managed just 119 total yards. A week after scoring 56 points in a victory over Arizona, they didn’t manage an offensive touchdown as the Huskies defense completed its first shutout since 2017.
As UW’s offense struggled, the defense refused to bend let alone break.
“We had a lot of guys hungry, a lot of guys playing hard, playing physical,” said defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake. “Every single game, they’ve brought that type of energy. It was just nice that we were able to finish those last two quarters. I thought our d-line did a great job rushing the passer and I thought we tackled really, really well.”
While the Huskies have been solid defensively this season, they haven’t quite lived up to the unit’s high standards. Last year, UW led the Pac-12 in total defense and ranked in the top-five nationally. But the Huskies lost nine starters, and the growing pains started early. They’ve taken steps, most recently in uneven performances against top-10 opponents. But Friday’s game didn’t feel like just another step for a young defense. It felt like a leap.
Even at a glance, the numbers were staggering.
- Oregon State entered the game with the best third-down offense in the Pac-12 having converted 52-of-106 (49%) of their third downs. They also converted 10-of-14 (71% ) of their fourth downs. Against UW, the Beavers went 1-for-13 on third down and 0-for-2 on fourth down. In the second half, they went 0-for-5 on third down and didn’t record a single first down.
- The Beavers entered the game averaging 431 yards and 33.6 points per game. They had 8 total yards in the second half, including seven rush attempts for -10 yards. They also ran 15 total plays and averaged 0.5 yards per play.
- The complete-game numbers weren’t much better — 2.4 yards per play and 1.4 yards per carry. Oregon State never got beyond UW’s 37-yard line. Luton completed just 19-of-28 passes for 88 yards and an interception.
- UW finished with four sacks and seven tackles for loss, led by outside linebacker Joe Tryon’s two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss.
Offensively, the Huskies never found a rhythm. The penalties piled up. Jacob Eason threw two interceptions. Peyton Henry missed his first field goal of the season. And then he missed another. And yet, the victory never really seemed in doubt.
Even when Jaydon Grant picked off Eason’s pass for 7:01 left in the third quarter, returning the ball 36 yards to trim UW’s lead to 13-7, there was a feeling the defense would hold. And all night long, that’s exactly what it did.
The defense played defiant. It played angry. It played like it had something to prove. And maybe, after back-to-back losses thanks to back-to-back fourth-quarter collapses, it did.
“We’ve been simulating that in practice, that fourth quarter stuff,” Molden said. “And when it came around, we did our thing. We just need to keep on building.”
UW’s offense didn’t respond after the pick-six. Instead, the Huskies ran five plays and gained 19 yards before turning the ball back over on downs with just more than 4 minutes left in the third quarter. At that point, UW was out-gaining Oregon State 263-111. But with a touchdown drive, the Beavers still could’ve taken the lead. Instead, the Huskies forced a three-and-out. Oregon State gained just 4 yards.
“It felt great because that’s the type of defense we know we can play,” Tryon said. “Just playing to that type of standard all the time is where we want to be. It’s been a long season. To finally get an outcome like that feels really good.”
On its next series, UW’s offense finally broke through. Running back Salvon Ahmed found a hole and took off for a 60-yard touchdown that pushed UW’s lead to 19-7 after a failed two-point conversion. Ahmed finished with 174 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries.
But Eason and the receivers never got on the same page. Eason completed 16-of-32 passes for 175 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Tight end Hunter Bryant had five receptions for 90 yards. Only three other players caught a pass.
“We ran the ball well,” Petersen said. “We could have run it better if we had anything going in the passing game but for whatever reason, it was out of sync. I thought in the first half we had a couple chances to make plays on balls, but guys were jumping early, mis-timing them. Just the whole thing was out of sync most of the game. It made it tough sledding for most of the game.”
Tough sledding, maybe. But thanks to UWs defense, it didn’t matter. And after the Huskies let double-digit leads slip away again Oregon and Utah — the Utes put together two lengthy fourth-quarter touchdown drives to secure a come-from-behind victory last week — this felt a little like redemption.
“I can’t wait to go watch the film,” Lake said. “A lot of things that we’ve been talking about all year long. Really trying to hone our craft. Each position: D-Line, linebackers and DBs. I’m sure they are going to get a lot confidence seeing those things show up. … We’ve done those things, but now to do it in a winning effort and in a dominant fashion, I’m sure will give our guys more confidence moving forward.