During the first quarter, Washington’s game against Illinois at Soldier Field in Chicago did not go as planned. The first offensive drive was killed by a third down sack, while the second drive ended via a Dwayne Washington fumble during a run that would have otherwise served to renew the downs on third and short. Illinois recovered the ball at their own 48 yard line and moved the ball with authority into field goal range until the quarter ended with the score tied 0-0. They appeared close to capping the drive with a touchdown when Josh Shirley came in for a big 2nd down sack that forced Nathan Scheelhaase into a tough third and long. He faced pressure and threw the ball away, leaving his kicker to miss a mid-range field goal. That miss may turn out to be the tipping point in this game, as Washington’s next drive built up Husky momentum before culminating in a long Bishop Sankey score off of a short pass from Keith Price.
Illinois managed to partially answer that Husky score on their next drive. After a long Scheelhaase pass that resulted from broken coverage and an extra 15 yards tacked on by a roughing the passer call, kicker Taylor Zalewski made up for his earlier miss by knocking through a 40-yarder to bring the score to 7-3. Following that drive, Washington continued to struggle with penalties and ball control. Jaydon Mickens brought back a solid John Ross kick return with a personal foul, Kevin Smith earned those yards back with a long gain, then Dwayne Washington fumbled the ball for the second time in two carries. The young running back may owe Shaq Thompson some thanks, as it was Thompson’s sack on third down that brought the drive to a fruitless close for the Illini.
To close the half, the Huskies sustained a long drive that finished with a field goal, bringing the score to 10-3 Washington.
Overall, Washington is still in good shape to win on the road. But compared to the season-opening dominance over Boise State, this effort has been sloppy and much too close for Coach Sarkisian’s liking. The two turnovers are both on Dwayne Washington, but the outrageous number of penalties are on the team as a whole. To see such a lack of discipline in Washington’s first road effort is not encouraging, and if improvements aren’t made in the second half, this game could slip away to Illinois.
On the bright side, Keith Price has played wonderfully, finishing the half 17/21 for 211 yards and a touchdown. Kevin Smith has been his best target, as the senior reeled in 4 catches for 92 yards in only two quarters of play. Sankey has also been solid on the ground, gaining 62 yards on 12 carries while chipping in 2 catches for 44 yards and a score.
Aside from a few instances of broken coverage, the defense has been stout. Josh Shirley led the pass rush with three sacks, and the pressure has clearly hurt Scheelhaase, who only completed 4/13 passes for 61 yards, a far cry from the big-time statistics he piled up to start the year.
Clean up the penalties and hold on to the football, and Washington will likely overwhelm Illinois in the second half, but if Sark’s team continues to shoot itself in the foot, this could be a wild, ugly finish. Victory or loss, check back in here at the Husky Haul for more coverage.