Bishop Sankey sets the UW single-game record with 40 carries, gaining 161 yards with a touchdown. The defense swarms through the rain. And the 16th-ranked Huskies are 4-0 for the first time in a dozen years.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Neither rain, nor wind -- not even a near monsoon during the first half – could slow down Bishop Sankey and these rolling Huskies.
Not with reminders of their embarrassing loss at Arizona last October taped all over their new locker room. It was all the Dawgs could see before this rematch with the Wildcats.
“They had a big ol’ sign in the locker room with ‘52-17,’” quarterback Keith Price said. “We knew that we needed payback.
“We did kind of owe them one.”
Payment rendered. Sankey forged through the waterlogged Wildcats and the deluge as if in an ark, setting the UW single-game record with 40 carries for 161 yards and a touchdown. He and a swarming defensive front that spent most of Saturday night in Arizona’s backfield led 16th-ranked Washington to a thudding, 31-13 win in the Pac-12 opener before 65,815 at Husky Stadium.
“I felt like SpongeBob,” Kevin Smith said with a huge grin.
The senior wide receiver got his first career touchdown reception, 7 yards in the first quarter’s heavy rains, on a improvisational scramble to the sidelines and flip throw by Price.
Sankey’s 40 rushes were two more than Corey Dillon’s previous school record from the 1996 Apple Cup.
“He’s a stud,” said right tackle Ben Riva, who plowed many of the huge rushing lanes through which Sankey romped.
Sankey, true to his understated nature, just shrugged over his latest domination. It was seventh 100-yard rushing day in nine games for the nation’s No. 2 rusher entering Saturday. And that’s counting the four-carry, 77-yard, one-touchdown cameo he had last week in the 56-0 rout of Idaho State when he played just two series.
“That’s why he only had four last week,” Sarkisian said with a smile of Sankey’s workload Saturday.
Not only are the Huskies are 4-0 for the first time since 2001 entering next Saturday night’s showdown at fifth-ranked Stanford, they have yet to a trail at any point in a game this season.
The Huskies, who wore all purple at home for the first time since 1989 against Colorado and sported new, extra-shiny gold helmets made by Nike, were already studying the Cardinal in their locker room immediately after the game. Players watched on their new flat-screens while Stanford was dominating Washington State.
Presumably, those “52-17” signs had been ripped down by then.
“This team’s really cool. … It’s not about what might occur down the road, the what-ifs. It’s about what occurring right now. That locker room scene we had after this game, you would have thought we just won the Rose Bowl,” said coach Steve Sarkisian, who has done with as the offensive coordinator at USC.
“These guys are so excited to go out and play well against a good team and win.”
Especially the Arizona team.
The ‘Cats absolutely bushwhacked the Dawgs in Tucson last season. Their high-speed attack was so lethal it prompted Sarkisian to change his offense to an equally supersonic, no-huddle scheme – both to score more and to prepare the Huskies’ defense to keep pace in games like this.
That is working wonders now. Washington is averaging 39.8 points and 574 yards per game on offense. The defense is surrendering just 10.8 points and 289 yards per game. It allowed its first touchdown of the first half Saturday, only because it went for a fake run inside on a fourth-down read-option keeper by the quarterback.
The defense is now picking up the offense. It has yet to allow a point after any of the Huskies’ five turnovers this season.
Outside linebackers Shaq Thompson and Princeton Fuimaono each had 13 tackles. Defensive tackle Danny Shelton had six stops while bulling through double teams inside. Hau’oli Kikaha spent so much of the second half in Arizona’s backfield the defensive end should have been paying rent. The defense worked to make B.J. Denker beat it with his throwing. He could not. Denker was 14 for 35 for a mere 119 yards and two interceptions.
He looked like … well, a quarterback from a desert trying to throw in a downpour.
“It feels awesome, man,” said Smith, who is emerging as Price’s trusty receiver in a pinch in his return from the reconstructive knee surgery that cost him the 2011 Alamo Bowl and slowed him for much of 2012.
“It feels great to come back and get revenge.”
Price gave a huge belly laugh over comparing the night to playing inside a car wash. The rain came in sheets accelerated by 16-20-mph winds blowing in off Lake Washington. The referee’s on-field microphone sounded like it was getting hit repeatedly with a hammer as he spoke. Smith said he was blinded by rain by merely trying to run into motion across the formation before snaps.
Each team had a point-after-touchdown kick try ruined by bad snaps with the wet ball and wind. The Huskies took an 8-0 lead in the final minute of the first quarter on a safety, when Arizona’s Chase Gorham sent a punt snap through the punter’s hands and out of the back of the end zone.
Even fifth-year senior Huskies, accustomed by now to regularly practicing and playing in rain, were taken aback by the deluge.
“Goodness,” Price said. “I never played in that type of weather.”
Sarkisian said: “I don’t know if I’ve been in a game like that. I’ve been in rain. I’ve been in wind. But I haven’t been in both like that.”
Price was 4 for 12 during the worst of the rain, in the first half, then completed 10 of 13 with the game on the line after halftime when the rain slowed to finish 14 for 25 passes for 165 yards. In addition to the touchdown pass to Smith, Price found Austin Seferian-Jenkins wide open in the end zone after a run fake to Sankey from the 1-yard line early in the third quarter.
The weather forced UW to run the ball 61 times, two-thirds of those by the indefatigable Sankey. He bulled through Wildcats to begin the second half to spark the 14-play, 95-yard drive that signaled the Huskies were going to seize control of the game. Seferian-Jenkins’s easy catch from the 1 made it 18-6 in the third quarter and extended his UW career record among tight ends to 15 touchdown receptions.
It also continued UW’s dominance coming out of halftimes. The Huskies have scored touchdowns on the first drives of the second half in three of four games and have out-scored opponents 56-34 in the third quarter this season.
UW had Arizona (3-1) at fourth and 10 at the Huskies 35 on the ensuing drive after ASJ’s touchdown catch. But the Dawgs’ defense lost running back Ka’Deem Carey running a wheel route down the sideline, one of only two plays it really flubbed all game. Denker’s throw got Carey to the 11, and Denker ran the final 7 yards to re-tighten the game at 18-13.
Then Sarkisian dialed up a huge play that had worked in the first half – all except for the catch.
After a steady diet of runs by Sankey off tackle, Price faked another one. On a deep drop, he had tons of time to find Smith breaking 5 yards behind the defense on a deep post route. Like in the second quarter, Price’s pass was perfect. Unlike in the second quarter, Smith caught this one. He stumbled down at the Arizona 20. That set up Sankey’s 1-yard touchdown run to end a 90-yard drive, and UW was up 25-13.
“I’m glad I got a second chance,” Smith said.
Gaining 185 yards to score the first two touchdowns of the second half sent a statement that the Huskies’ offense was not about to let go of its lead. Yet the Wildcats kept driving, to the UW 42 midway through the fourth quarter. Denker was then forced outside yet again by the charging Kikaha. Just before he reached the sideline Denker threw horridly late across his body to the middle. Cornerback Marcus Peters stepped up and intercepted the pass to keep the Dawgs ahead by 12.
The Huskies then stomped to the decisive touchdown. Sankey set his single-game record for carries, plowing for more first downs. Jesse Callier, back from reconstructive knee surgery that cost him the final 12 games of 2012, ran it in from 2 yards for the final points with 4 minutes remaining.
So here they are, unbeaten heading into October for the first time in a dozen years. The next two weeks: showdowns with Stanford and second-ranked Oregon, the teams Washington must beat to achieve their stated goal of the Pac-12 North championship and shot at that Rose Bowl.
“I mean, we knew we were going to try to make a championship run this year. We knew we had the talent to do it. And we’re clickin’ in all three phases,” Price said.
“It’s just a matter of being consistent. We know we have a tough one next week.”
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Unsung hero of the game: punter and field-goal kicker Travis Coons. All five of Coons’ punts were downed inside the Arizona 20, keeping UW in command of field position all night. Plus, Coons drilled a low, dart of a field goal from 42 yards out into the driving rain and wind early in the second quarter. “Awww, Travis was awesome,” Sarkisian said. Coons is now 5 for 8 on field goals of 40-plus yards. UW is nominating Coons for the Pac-12’s special-teams player of the week, even though the second-year kicker missed his first career extra point on the final touchdown. … Seferian-Jenkins is now tied with Paul Skansi (1979-82) for eighth on Washington’s career TD receptions list among all receivers. Lonzell Hill (1983-86) and Brian Slater (1985-88) are seventh with 16 each. … Senior safety Sean Parker’s third interception of the season, to end Arizona’s first drive, was the 10th of his career. … The last time Washington was 5-0? In 1992, when they began 8-0 en route to 9-3 and a Pac-10 title. … Arizona’s TD late in the first half was the first allowed by the Huskies before halftime this season. UW is outscoring foes 73-12 in the first two quarters. … The Dawgs’ defense has forced seven turnovers. The offense has turned those into six touchdowns.