SEATTLE — It was a night to remember former University of Washington head coach Don James and a chance to halt a disappointing three-game losing streak, and the Huskies did a good job accomplishing both Saturday night.
Facing a struggling California team that had won just once this season — against Portland State in the season’s second week — the Huskies took command early and rolled to an emphatic 41-17 homecoming victory at Husky Stadium. The win improves Washington’s season record to 5-3 and Pacific-12 Conference mark to 2-3.
“This was the type of performance I was hoping we’d have,” UW head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “It’s been a tough three weeks. We’ve had some excruciating losses … and there was some soul searching that went on this past week.
“I thought to our kids’ credit they took some constructive criticism, and to our (assistant) coaches’ credit they also took some constructive criticism. … Ultimately I thought our kids played really hard. All in all, it was a good performance.”
“Tonight we came out and bounced back,” added running back Bishop Sankey. “I love how our guys responded. We really got the job done. … This will boost our confidence. And coming off our bye week (next week), I think it’s something we can continue into the last half of our season.”
Offensively the Huskies sputtered at times, particularly during a lethargic second quarter, but overall they had far too much firepower for an overmatched California defense. Washington put up a whopping 642 yards of offense despite backing off in the fourth quarter with the game already in hand.
UW quarterback Keith Price shrugged off a nagging thumb injury on his throwing hand— one that caused him to miss practice time during the week — to complete 20 of 32 passing attempts for 376 yards and two touchdowns.
Price was questionable to play until Thursday, when he passed the ball well during practice. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to go or not,” he said. “Thursday was kind of my test day, and obviously I passed the test.”
“When he came out Thursday and threw the ball the way he did, I felt great about him playing,” Sarkisian said.
Price’s favorite target against the Bears was slot receiver Jaydon Mickens, a speedy sophomore, who caught six passes for 180 yards and both aerial touchdowns.
And Sankey continued to pad his impressive season total of rushing yards with a career-best 241 yards on 27 carries with two touchdowns, the eighth-best single-game total in UW history. The effort moved Sankey over 1,000 yards for the second straight season.
The Huskies made it look easy on their opening drive, despite being pinned back to their own 3-yard line after a booming California punt. Washington needed 11 plays to cover 97 yards in just 3:44, with Sankey going through the right side for the final 3 yards to the end zone.
Later in the period, the Huskies tacked on a field goal and another touchdown— a dandy 68-yard strike from Price to Mickens running free behind the Bears’ secondary — to push the lead to 17-0.
But in the second quarter Washington’s offense ground to a halt, or at least until the closing moments. Because with a little over a minute before halftime, and on a third-and-3 play from the UW 41, Sankey took a handoff, started right, cut back at the corner, and was suddenly free in the secondary.
His 59-yard scamper gave the Huskies a 24-7 cushion at halftime, during which the university honored James, the team’s head coach from 1975 to 1993, and the man who led Washington to a share of the 1991 national championship.
The Huskies tacked on two more touchdowns in the third quarter, and Price had a hand in both. First he tossed a 47-yard scoring pass to Mickens early in the period, and later he faked a handoff and scooted around left end for a 1-yard TD carry.
The fourth quarter was a chance for many of Washington’s backup players to see action, and for the Bears to pad their offensive stats. California running back Khalfani Muhammad spun through the UW defense for a 73-yard TD run with five minutes to play in the game, more than doubling the team’s rushing total to that point.
Bears quarterback Jared Goff, a true freshman, had a busy night. He threw 54 times and completed 32 for 336 yards and a touchdown.
Beating California “feels good,” UW linebacker John Timu said. “Our confidence level is up. We did this one for Coach James, who built this program for us, and now we’ve just got to keep playing hard.”