BY Steve Rudman 08:59PM 09/03/2011

UW barely holds on against E. Washington 30-27

The University of Washington opened its 2011 campaign with a 30-27 victory over Eastern Washington, Steve Sarkisian’s first win in an opening game in his three seasons.

Steve Sarkisian won his first season-opening game, a remarkably difficult 30-27 victory over Eastern Washington at Husky Stadium. / Drew Sellers/Sports Press Northwest

UW 30, EASTERN WASHINGTON 27

DATE: Sept. 3, 2011

VENUE: Husky Stadium

LINE: UW by 18

A game that oddsmakers figured would be a yawner instead morphed into a thriller as the Washington Huskies hung on to defeat an Eastern Washington team that, at least for the 60 minutes in question, proved every bit their equal and in many ways their superior.

Installed as 18-20 point favorites, depending upon the tout service to which you subscribe, the Huskies didn’t secure the first season-opening victory of the Steve Sarkisian era until 29 seconds remained, when a Desmond Trufant end zone interception dispatched the Football Championship Subdivision national champion Eagles back to Cheney, beaten but widely admired for nearly pulling off an upset of amazing proportions.

Washington led 7-0, fell behind 10-7, went up 17-10, 20-10, 27-13 and 30-20 before the Eagles scored with just over three minutes remaining to make it 30-27.

Starting from their five-yard line with less than three minutes remaining, the Eagles marched nearly the length of the field and had a shot at the winning touchdown. But EWU quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell’s (sounds like a character from “Thunderball”) end zone pass to receiver Brandon Kaufman was wrestled away by Trufant, preventing Sarkisian and 58,000 Husky Stadium worry warts from popping tens of thousand blood vessels.

A Washington victory means little more than 1-0, which is obviously better than 0-1. But a Washington loss, a very real possibility with three minutes to play, would have dogged Sarkisian for the remainder of his UW days and forever served as the nadir of opening-day embarrassments, eclipsing a 10-7 setback to Hawaii in 1973 that tormented UW fans of the Watergate era.

UW, now with a five-game winning streak dating to last season, did some good things. Newly installed quarterback Keith Price, looking poised (and somewhat Lockeresque when he hoofed it) despite a gimpy right knee, threw three touchdown passes (17 of 25, but for only 102  yards) and would have had a fourth if receiver Kevin Smith hadn’t dropped a ball in the end zone.

RB Chris Polk, something of a surprise starter after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on Aug. 18, notched his 12th 100-yard rushing game (125 yards on 23 carries), tying Robin Earl for third place on Washington’s career list.

Erik Folk, wildly inconsistent in 2010, kicked three field goals, including a 53-yarder. And freshman phenom receiver Kasen Williams, the Parade Player of the Year in 2010, atoned for two early drops that stalled drives by making his first career TD catch, which put Washington up 27-13.

But Washington did more wrong than right. The Huskies played with TGIF passion most of the sunny afternoon, seemingly never quite believing that Eastern Washington was still hanging around.

The Husky offensive line did a poor job of protecting Price, allowing three sacks. Neither did it run block especially well. Most of Polk’s rushing yards came not as a result of the offensive line’s efforts, but in spite of them.

In addition, the Huskies demonstrated a great vulnerability to the pass — especially short, dink and dunk lobs by a quick-release type of quarterback, Bo Levi Mitchell’s speciality. The unquestioned star of the game, Mitchell hung it out there 69 times, completed 39 to eight different receivers for 473 yards and two touchdowns.

To put those 69 tosses into perspective: Before Saturday, no opposing quarterback had ever aired it out even 60 times in a game against the Huskies. BYU’s Kevin Feterik came the closest, heaving it 59 times in a 35-28 win over Washington in 1999.

Further, the last time any opposing quarterback nailed the Huskies with more passing yards: Willie Tuitama 507 for Arizona in 2007 (Major Applewhite threw for an identical 473 yards for Texas against Washington in the 2001 Holiday Bowl). Mitchell’s principal accomplice: Brandon Kauffman, a 6-5 junior who caught 10 balls for 140 yards and beat up Trufant all game long until 29 seconds remained, when Trufant. who finished with a career-high 11 tackles, finally got the better of him with his end zone interception.

Despite four turnovers that abetted its demise, Eastern by far made the most favorable impression Saturday. Had the Subdivision Eagles had Washington’s depth, or a home-field advantage, Sarkisian might have been tempted to spend the remainder of the Labor Day Weekend hiding among the throngs at Bumbershoot.

Sarkisian and his Huskies avoided — barely — historical infamy Saturday. They’ll need a lot more passion and far better performances the rest of the way. The best we can say today is that UW played down to its alleged level of competition, and remarkably managed to win anyway.

NOTABLE

– With 12 100-yard rushing games, Chris Polk trails only Napoleon Kauffman (17) and Greg Lewis (15) on the UW career list.

– WR James Johnson’s second quarter touchdown reception marked his first Oct. 24, 2009, against Oregon.

– The Huskies won a season opener for just the third time in 10 seasons (last time 2007 at Syracuse) and improved to 82-34-6 all time in season openers.

– Sarkisian won a season opener for the first time after losing to Louisiana State31-23 (2009) and Brigham Young 23-17 (2010) in his first two openers.

– Eastern Washington received $400,000 for agreeing to play the Huskies (the Eagles will also play Washington in 2014).

– Eastern became the first in-state school other than Washington State to play Washington since Whitman College on Oct. 14, 1944.

NUMBERS

– 1: Number of passes caught by Jermaine Kearse (for eight yards), Washington’s leading receiver in 2010.

– 10: Third-down conversions by Eastern Washington out of 16 attempts (UW went 6-for-15). The Eagles also 2 of 4 fourth-down attempts.

– 167: All-purpose yards for UW’s Jesse Callier, including 113 on kickoff returns, 47 rushing and seven receiving.

504: Eastern Washington amassed 504 yards of total offense to Washington’s 250 (the Eagles ran 86 offensive plays to UW’s 63).

NEXT

The Huskies  host Hawaii on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. UW is 1-2 all-time against Hawaii, having lost the final game of the 2007 season 35-28 and the 1973 opener 10-7 at Husky Stadium. Washington defeated Hawaii 53-13 in 1938.

UW SCHEDULE / RESULTS

Date Opponent Line Result / Last Time Rec.
Sept. 3 vs. E. Washington UW +18 UW 30, E. Wash 27 1-0
Sept. 11 vs. Hawaii N/A Hawaii 35, UW 28, 2007 TBD
Sept. 17 at Nebraska N/A UW 19, Nebraska 7, 2010 TBD
Sept. 24 vs. California N/A UW 16, Cal 13, 2010 TBD
Oct. 1 at Utah N/A UW 41, Utah 7, 1979 TBD
Oct. 15 at Colorado N/A UW 17, Colorado 10, 2000 TBD
Oct. 22 at Stanford N/A Stanford 41, UW 0 2010 TBD
Oct. 29 vs. Arizona N/A Ariz 44, UW 14, 2010 TBD
Nov. 5 vs. Oregon N/A Oregon 53, UW 16, 2010 TBD
Nov. 12 at USC N/A UW 32, USC 31, 2010 TBD
Nov. 19 at Oregon St. N/A UW 35, OSU 34, 2010 TBD
Nov. 26 vs. WSU N/A UW 35, WSU 18, 2010 TBD

YourThoughts

  • Tbrakke

    You’re more generous to the Dawgs than me. Eastern has never been known for their defense, but we had great difficulty sustaining drives. Fourteen points were a result of muffed punts. Without those, it’s an easy Eastern victory. The defense looked completely lost and unable to defend the spread attack.

    Yes, a loss would have been worse, but that was depressing.

  • Tbrakke

    You’re more generous to the Dawgs than me. Eastern has never been known for their defense, but we had great difficulty sustaining drives. Fourteen points were a result of muffed punts. Without those, it’s an easy Eastern victory. The defense looked completely lost and unable to defend the spread attack.

    Yes, a loss would have been worse, but that was depressing.

  • SpudzDP

    I enjoyed the Huskies under Don James, when defense and special teams were the hallmarks of the program. They were also known to have a few good quarterbacks too, but it’s the defense I miss.  It’s hard watching a team like Eastern slice and dice them up as if they were playing a rival from within their own division.
    If the Dawgs continue to recruit well, and are able to build the kind of defense that dominates games, they might find themselves challenging teams like the dreaded Ducks.  Until that day, they will have to rely on Price and the offense to put up a lot of points.  A little luck would help too.

  • SpudzDP

    I enjoyed the Huskies under Don James, when defense and special teams were the hallmarks of the program. They were also known to have a few good quarterbacks too, but it’s the defense I miss.  It’s hard watching a team like Eastern slice and dice them up as if they were playing a rival from within their own division.
    If the Dawgs continue to recruit well, and are able to build the kind of defense that dominates games, they might find themselves challenging teams like the dreaded Ducks.  Until that day, they will have to rely on Price and the offense to put up a lot of points.  A little luck would help too.

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