The Huskies were so quick on offense Saturday that they ran the same play three consecutive times against Boise State and scored a touchdown on the last one.
Reviews are in, and they’re overwhelmingly positive. The Huskies unveiled their up-tempo offense in a convincing 38-6 season opening win Saturday against No. 19 Boise State, scoring touchdowns on four consecutive drives in the second half while spreading the ball to seven wide receivers.
The fancy $280 million Husky Stadium renovation was all well-and-good, sans a few opening-day hiccups. The UW offense experienced no such difficulties.
Coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday the change to no-huddle helped everyone from QB Keith Price, to TB Bishop Sankey (25 rushes, 161 yards, two TDs), to an offensive line that wore down the Broncos defense in the second half.
“I thought we really overcame some of our shortcomings that affected us a year ago,” Sarkisian said. “If we got a holding penalty a year ago, we might as well have punted on second down. We were so handcuffed after that. Saturday night we got holding penalties, and we just went and kept playing and converted on third down.”
The Huskies converted 11 of 15 third downs. They ran 85 plays, gained 592 yards and picked up 33 first downs. Sarkisian watched the broadcast version of the game Sunday night and came away intrigued with how the style changed everything from crowd involvement to the way broadcasters had to deal with each play.
“The (TV) commentators of the world almost have to comment on the drive at times rather than the play. That’s hopefully how fast we can be, and be efficient at it,” Sarkisian said. “But I think we can be faster at times, for sure.”
His team seemed to reach the ideal pace against the Broncos, leaning on the throttle in the second half when it sensed a pre-snap advantage.
Sarkisian, who calls plays from the sidelines, erased pre-game apprehensions and what he described as a tendency to second-guess his own decisions during the course of a game. The faster pace, he said, didn’t allow him time to do that.
“There was some really cool moments in there. At one point, we lined up in the same formation and ran the same play three times in a row and scored a touchdown,” Sarkisian said. “We did it all in a 40-second span. That’s the stuff we’re looking for, and I think it keeps the pressure on our opponents.”
None of it would have been possible without Price deftly handling the offense, overcoming an interception during his first possession to finish 23 of 31 for 324 yards. His two TD passes gave him the school career record with 56, surpassing Cody Pickett.
“To me, it just goes back to him just playing football,” Sarkisian said of Price, who has seen tangible gains from work with quarterbacks coach Marques Tuiasosopo, as well as a developing friendship with Seahawks QB Russell Wilson.
Wilson was in attendance Saturday night to see Price play at a level not seen since the 2011 Alamo Bowl, when he threw for 438 yards and accounted for seven touchdowns (four passing, three running).
“He sent me this long text of things I need to do better,” Price said of Wilson. “He’s awesome, man. He told me not to get too high on it.”
The UW defense will need to take the same approach. Despite holding the Broncos without a touchdown, Sarkisian pointed out the need to tackle better. It didn’t seem to affect the overall numbers: In 88 plays, they yielded 346 yards by utilizing the depth that Sarkisian has touted since the beginning of fall camp. The experience should help prepare the Huskies for conference play. Seven other Pac-12 teams (Oregon, Cal, WSU, Arizona, UCLA, Utah and ASU) run some form of a spread attack.
“We’re also aware that more teams are going to go up-tempo, and the customary game where you play 65 plays doesn’t exist anymore,” Sarkisian said. “We have to be ready to play 80 to 90.”
Seferian-Jenkins eligible, out of shape
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who sat out Saturday because of a suspension for an off-season DUI conviction, was with the first-team offense during practice Monday. He has been limited since mid-August after fracturing his right pinky finger.
Sarkisian indicated it would take some time for Seferian-Jenkins to get into game shape, especially since he hasn’t participated in every practice nor acclimated fully to the speed of the offense. The good news: He’ll have two weeks to get ready. The Huskies have a bye before they play at Illinois Sept. 14.
Said Sarkisian: “You can see a noticeable difference from the conditioning of the other 10 guys as opposed to where he is at, because he hasn’t been doing it every day . . . We’ll get him in shape and ready to go a week from Saturday.”