SEATTLE — As spring games go, this was one for the ages.
And not necessarily in a good way.
The University of Washington put on one of the strangest spring football games in recent memory with a scoreboard that kept piling up points for defensive stops, some scrappy play that resulted in nine penalties and two players getting benched and a leading first-half tackler who didn’t actually tackle anybody.
Yes, it was that kind of afternoon.
But perhaps the moment that best summed up Saturday’s scrimmage came at the end of the first quarter, when a fan was allowed to come onto the field and run a pass pattern for UW quarterback Keith Price. The play resulted in a touchdown … and the Huskies’ most impressive offensive moment of the first half.
“Obviously, we have a long way to go,” said Price, who completed 14 of 28 passes for 168 yards to the receivers actually on the team. “So, we’ve got to just keep pushing ourselves.”
A total of 49 points were scored despite plenty of offensive ineptitude, but only because of a scoring system that gave three points for defensive stops and five for turnovers. Injuries prevented the Huskies from fielding two full teams. The second defense had to use a pair of safeties — Travis Feeney and James Sample — who are still recovering from injuries and wearing red jerseys to prevent them from making contact. Sample was credited with a team-high three tackles in the first half — four for the game — even though he was only required to tag his opponent.
Officially, the defense won the game by the score of 39-10, with 13 defensive stops on 15 total drives. The only thing keeping it from a total defensive domination was as lack of turnovers. The UW defense dropped two interceptions and a third that safety Will Shamburger corralled in the back of the end zone — only to have a foot out of bounds.
The UW offense dropped seven passes on the afternoon and needed 15 drives before finally getting into the end zone. A much-improved UW pass defense broke up several other passes. The Huskies also had seven sacks, due in part to an offensive line that was playing with two new tackles and without starting guard Colin Tanigawa.
The offense’s only points on eight first-half drives came on a Erik Nothstein field goal. The Huskies didn’t get into the end zone until the closing minute of the third quarter, when Price scrambled and hit fullback Jonathan Amosa at the 15-yard line before the senior fullback ran the rest of the way and stumbled across the goal line. That capped off a 10-play, 71-yard drive and marked the lone TD of the afternoon.
It was just another day of spring practice in that the defense got the better of the UW offense — again.
“I feel like that’s kind of how it’s been all spring,” senior safety Justin Glenn said. “We came out and made a statement this spring that our defense is going to be solid this year — definitely improved from last year. It feels good to come out here and kind of dominate the offense like that.”
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of Saturday’s scrimmage was the lack of impact from the three players expected to help Price carry the offensive load in the fall.
Running back Jesse Callier had just four yards on two carries, while wide receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins combined for just two catches. Williams went 49 minutes before catching a pass, while Seferian-Jenkins twice had passes broken up.
Offensive coordinator Eric Kisau said the trio was minimized because the Huskies were intentionally running a vanilla offense designed to keep most of the big-play opportunities under wraps.
Price and Williams have been staying after practice lately to work on pass routes together. The synergy that fans expected between the sophomore quarterback and freshman receiver has taken longer than expected to develop.
“Kasen just has to keep developing as a receiver,” Price said Saturday. “And I’ve just got to keep getting him the ball — and I don’t think I did that today.”
James Johnson had a team-high six receptions for the Huskies. Price caught a pass himself, from Callier, on a trick throw-back play. UW’s leading rusher was Bishop Sankey, who had 34 yards on 11 carries and also added 51 yards on four receptions.
The Huskies had just 20 total rushing yards, a figure that was somewhat skewed by the seven sacks. However, the rushing total still would have fallen well under 100 yards even without substracting what was lost in the sacks.
Coach Steve Sarkisian wasn’t overly concerned about the Huskies’ offense. He saw the emergence of a long-struggling defense as a building point heading into the fall.
“They had a great spring,” said Sarkisian, who overhauled his defensive staff after last season. “It’s a real credit to our defensive coaching staff to be able to get this done in 15 practices. … A great job on the defensive side of the ball.”
The starting lineups included two Snohomish County products: left guard Dexter Charles of Stanwood High School on offense, and safety Justin Glenn of Kamiak on defense. Charles also played left tackle with the defense while projected starter Erik Kohler sat out the first two drives. … Senior center Drew Schaefer started the game but played just one series. … Quarterback Derrick Brown, who completed 12 of 24 passes and struggled for much of the afternoon, threw two of the best passes of the scrimmage when he connected with tight end Michael Hartvigson and receiver DiAndre Campbell in double coverage. … Seferian-Jenkins had a rather quiet camp, production-wise, and Sarkisian said after Saturday’s scrimmage that the freshman’s decision to play basketball could “possibly” have an effect on the football field in the long run. Sarkisian added that he has yet to make a decision on whether to allow Seferian-Jenkins to play basketball next season.