Last year, UW would have lost to Illinois. Despite dominating physically and statistically, UW would have found a way to lose a game they should have won. Not this year. Despite 12 penalties (about half of which were legitimate) for 104 yards and a Big 10 officiating crew hell bent on letting the Illini get their subs in and slowing down the Husky Offense, the Dawgs took care of business in a way not seen in years.
The Huskies went on the road against a non-conference opponent and won convincingly. The last time that happened was in 2007 against Syracuse when Jake Locker made his much anticipated debut. A program with Washington’s history and tradition should never have a drought like that, yet here we are. That’s how dark the past decade has been.
In the Steve Sarkisian era, winning on the road has been a dicey proposition. I’ve talked about the creative ways Sark teams have lost Pac 10/Pac 12 games in the past and I have purposely gone without mentioning some of the terrific beatings (at LSU, at Oregon, at Arizona, at Oregon, at Nebraska…ugh) UW has taken. From the opening kickoff against Illinois, there was no doubt who was the more talented team. UW showed from the start that they meant business – and exposed Nathan Scheelhaase for what he really is – a below average Division One QB. That’s a pretty remarkable feat for a team that has had a habit of making superstars out of mediocre to middling QB’s.
The best part about the whole game was that UW didn’t play that well. They had an absurd offensive performance, racking up over 600 yards on the heels of their 592 yard outburst against Boise State. Despite the tremendous yardage total, they still only scored 34 points. They left at least 21 points on the field due to penalties and some other mental mistakes that are easily correctable.
While the offense was doing its best to make things harder for themselves, the defense was disruptive and aggressive. They looked bigger, faster and stronger than the offense they were matched up against – I really can’t remember the last time a UW defense has looked like that against a Power Conference opponent. The lone big play that they gave up was a blown coverage – again, things that can be fixed. If you remove that 72 yard pass play, Scheelhaase threw for 84 yards. Sorry, that’s just nutso.
I realize that Illinois is not that good. I wrote last week that it didn’t matter if Illinois was good or not, it was the situation that was intriguing and potentially disastrous for UW. It was the type of game that Steve Sarkisian teams tend to let slip away. This team is different. There was no way they were leaving Chicago without a win. It was obvious in their body language and in the way they attacked every play of the game, even after a bad call or bad penalty (deserved or not). They didn’t panic; they handled their business on the road and acted like they expected to win as opposed to “hoping” that they would win. That’s what good teams do.
UW is a good team – finally.
Go Dawgs and bow down.