After a first half marred by two fumbles and a load of costly turnovers, Washington only led by a single score, 10-3. By the time only 3:32 remained in the third quarter, the game appeared to be firmly in Washington’s control with a score of 31-10. A pounding ground game that included touchdowns from both Bishop Sankey and Jesse Callier looked to be too much for the Illini, and the defense seemed to have solidified after surrendering a score on the ground on the first drive of the third quarter, the first drive without middle linebacker John Timu, who was kept off the field in the 2nd half with an undisclosed injury.
Senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was not having it. With 3:16 remaining in the third quarter, down a full 21 points, he hit a wide-open Ryan Lankford for a 72-yard score. The Illini defense responded with several solid, bend but don’t break-type stops, and Aaron Bailey scored on 4th and 1 out of the wildcat to bring the game within a single touchdown with nine minutes remaining in the 4th.
Suddenly a game that was approaching blowout status in the 3rd quarter was within a single possession in the 4th, redefining the game as a “win and get home” type situation for Coach Sarkisian and his Huskies. Bishop Sankey and the offense responded with a long drive, capped off by an Travis Coons field goal to make the score 34-24.
Illinois mounted one final effort, but the game was all but sealed when a poor pass from Scheelhaase was picked off by senior corner Greg Ducre.
No one in Seattle will be touting this win as the type of dominant performance many fans expected following the blow-out home victory over Boise State to open the season, but Washington’s leaves Chicago 2-0. In similar situations last year in the Apple Cup and the Vegas Bowl, the Huskies failed to deliver in the clutch. This time the offense responded to the Illini comeback with a calming field goal drive, and Ducre came through with the interception to make it certain. Perhaps Coach Sark wanted a 30-point win, but he’ll certainly take a hard-earned road victory.
What he likely won’t accept is 12 penalties for 104 yards, including several personal fouls. He likely won’t accept two fumbles on two carries from redshirt freshman Dwayne Washington (Jesse Callier may have seized the backup spot with his dynamic performance). Despite those mistakes, Washington dominated in almost every statistical category, especially offensive totals. Take them away and they would have dominated the score, too.
Price shredded the Illinois defense for 342 yards and two touchdowns. Bishop Sankey totaled an outrageous 271 total yards to go along with two scores. Kevin Smith eclipsed the 100-yard mark at receiver. The offense rolled on the road, something they haven’t done in quite some time. The defense looked dominant in the first half aside from two cases of busted coverage, and the loss of John Timu as the captain of the defense may help to explain the defensive struggles in the second half.
So you can look at this game one of two ways. You can take solace in the dominance of the offense, assume the defense will recover as soon as Timu is back (his injury is unclear at this time, but didn’t look too major), and hope that the massive number of penalties and the two fumbles will be worked out on the practice field.
Then again, you could point out that against a tougher opponent those penalties and turnovers would have likely buried the Huskies early, especially without such straight up dominance from the air and the ground. Cough up the ball twice and rack up 100 yards in penalties against Oregon or Stanford, home or away, and you’re finished.
Both points of view have merit, but it will be a few weeks until the implications of this performance are clear. For one, if Illinois finishes the year with eight or nine wins, the near-comeback becomes more understandable. All that can be known for sure now is that the Huskies will fly back to Seattle undefeated and with Idaho State up next.
More postgame coverage coming up all week long.