After a terrible first half, the Huskies exploded on hapless Colorado in the second half for a 38-3 win, their fourth in a row heading into an Apple Cup against woeful Washington State.
Of the late morning start to Saturday’s game in Boulder, CO., Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said early in the week, “I’m pumped.”
Apparently he was the only one in purple jammies capable of leaping from the sack. Fortunately for him, the rest of the Washington travelers woke up by the crack of noon.
After a ghastly first half of errors, penalties and lethargy by the offense that produced a pathetic 7-0 halftime lead, the Huskies’ feet finally hit the floor and their forearms hit some Buffaloes’ grills for a 38-3 triumph that was the fourth in a row in Pac-12 Conference play — the longest streak since 1996.
Of his enthusiasm for the early start and his players’ failure to respond, coach Steve Sarkisian said, “I was thinking same thing to myself — why isn’t this going the way I envisioned it going? But you don’t play these games on paper. You gotta go out and do it.”
Washington took in the message at halftime and motored easily. Sarkisian said nine wins, including a bowl triumph, has been the goal throughout. An eight-win regular season — best since 2001 — seems near with a final game in Pullman Friday against Washington State, which was clobbered at Arizona State Saturday.
After regular-season win totals of five, six and seven in the past three years, an Apple Cup victory would make it eight in 2012, fulfilling Sarkisian’s preseason mantra of “taking the next step.”
Quarterback Keith Price tied the school record with five touchdown passes, to five receivers (22 for 29 passing for 248 yards), although some poor decisions caused Sarkisian to give Price an animated dressing-down on the sidelines late in the third quarter.
“Keith will be the first to admit there’s a standard he set for himself,” Sarkisian said. “My challenge to him was: You don’t have to do more than that. Allow the system to work, stay disciplined with your reads.
“A few times today he skipped through reads too quickly, or read things on his own. That’s not the way to play the game. But the good thing is we need to have moments like (the chewing out) to grow.”
Three players scored their first career touchdowns, including senior Cody Bruns, one of the few remaining players from the regime of Tyrone Willingham.
Bruns, who redshirted last season following the death of his father, scored on a three-yard pass play with 1:02 left in the first half late to put the Huskies up 7-0 and end a brutal pattern of UW offensive errors.
His only previous scoring play came in his freshman year when he threw a touchdown pass.
“It’s funny, as a wide receiver, to throw one before you catch one,” Bruns told KJR radio. “We had a time out and called the play, so I knew it was coming. The line did a great job and Keith threw it right to me.
“It was great for the whole team.”
Even better was scoring on the first four possessions of the second half to end any threat of upset by a Pac-12 bottom feeder (1-7, 1-10). The first score of the second half was set up by the special-teams play of the year. Kevin Smith on the punt coverage team made a brilliant save of a ball heading out of bounds after striking a Colorado blocker. Will Shamburger recovered and the Huskies had a first down at the Colorado 35 after starting the second half 3-and-out. They scored in three plays.
But it was the defense, led by redshirt freshman linebacker Travis Feeney, that got after it with wall-to-wall domination of a Colorado offense that played three quarterbacks and was as helpless as advertised. The Buffs’ longest pass play was 10 yards.
The defense had four turnovers, plus the one by the special teams. Feeney had 10 tackles as he helped hold the Buffaloes to 141 yards of offense — a season low for a UW opponent — and just 51 in the air, after allowing Utah just 55 a week earlier in a 34-15 win. Colorado didn’t cross into Washington territory until the fourth quarter.
The coaching turnover last winter made by Sarkisian on the defensive side, led by new coordinator Justin Wilcox, is paying off in turnovers. In the last four games, Washington has eight interceptions and seven recovered fumbles.
“Justin’s a great teacher and communicator, and now we’re seeing more about his motivational skills,” Sarkisian said. “He’s implemented a defense that puts our best players on the field to be successful. A lot of youth we have on that side has grown up a lot the season.”
Four weeks ago, the Huskies were 3-4 and grumbles about Sarkisian could be heard among the purple crowd. The grumbles have morphed into grins. Yes, the Huskies have benefited by a soft late-season schedule, but they were punished by a tough early one, and survived to flourish now.
They can now wake up at halftime and still win Pac-12 games going away. A next step.