Ahead 31-10 with 3:16 remaining in the third quarter, the difference in the score could have been more at that point. The Huskies ran and threw as a matter of convenience during the first half, yet led just 10-3, producing a flashback-inducing half reminiscent of the Boise State game.
Sixteen seconds after being alerted by their coach, the Huskies gave up a 72-yard touchdown pass from Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase to Ryan Lankford, Their lead was now just two scores. With 9:10 remaining in the game, Illinois scored again and the lead dropped to one score.
Washington was able to avert panic. An interception by Greg Ducre and a 32-yard field goal by Travis Coons kept Illinois at bay and Washington came away with a 34-24 victory in front of 47,312 at Soldier Field.
The Huskies controlled the final two games of last season late. They lost both.
Saturday, 19th-ranked Washington (2-0) had Illinois' face in the dirt prior to letting it up. In the fourth quarter, the Huskies came up with at least enough effort to trip the Illini (2-1) back to the ground.
"I didn't feel tension," Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian said.
Ample reasons for confidence existed.
The offense rolled again. Two weeks after gaining 592 yards in the opener, the Huskies amassed 615 against Illinois, good for the sixth-most in school history.
Bishop Sankey ran for a career-high 208 yards, the second time in the past three games he has rushed for more than 200 yards. His previous career-high was set at the close of last season when he rushed for 205 yards in the Las Vegas Bowl.
"I thought Bishop Sankey was a warrior again tonight," Sarkisian said.
Sankey opened the Huskies' scoring with a 31-yard touchdown catch just shy of four minutes into the game, then added a 1-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. Backup tailback Jesse Callier's 39-yard, third-quarter run put the Huskies up 24-10 and Jaydon Mickens' darting 9-yard touchdown run after a short pass from Quarterback Keith Price put them in front 31-10.
Price was precise most of the night. He was 28-for-35, including the three passes he intentionally threw away. Price's 342 yards were the second-most of his career. After two games, Price is completing 77.3 percent of his passes.
"I left a lot out there, I'm not even going to lie," Price said. "There are some throws that needed to be made."
Price found nine receivers. Senior wideout Kevin Smith caught five passes for a game-high 104 receiving yards. Kasen Williams beat two defenders for a downfield jump ball that produced a 43-yard completion. Mickens led the team with eight receptions. Austin Seferian-Jenkins had a quiet night in his season debut with three catches for eight yards.
Washington's mistakes were abundant. The Huskies were assessed 12 penalties, some of them very costly, for 104 yards. They also lost two fumbles.
After fumbling twice on two touches in the first half, redshirt freshman running back Dwayne Washington was benched. Callier, last year's starter at tailback until he tore his ACL in the first game, was summoned.
With 3rd-and-8 looming from Washington's own 45-yard line, the Huskies' paused from their immediate-snap approach. Price turned to the sidelines, Sarkisian signaled, they reset.
Callier, who had a large impact throughout the second half, leaked out of the backfield with an escort from left guard Dexter Charles. Price made a simple, clean dump-off to Callier, Charles popped a block and 27 yards later Callier was out of bounds.
"They gave us the right look," Price said. "Sark dialed it up, perfect play, perfect call."
Coons came on to kick a 32-yard field goal five plays later. Illinois took over down 34-24 and was intercepted by Ducre on its final trick-play attempt of the night. It was an atonement of sorts for Ducre, who had been beaten on the 72-yard touchdown pass to Lankford.
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