SEATTLE — The Washington Huskies pride themselves on being a team that’s able to make good halftime adjustments. And with Saturday night’s weather changing from build-an-arc bad to just normal Seattle gloominess, this seemed like another chance to get the offense revved up after the break.
Then, on the opening kickoff of the third quarter, a flag hit the ground, a block-in-the-back penalty was marched off, and the Huskies found themselves starting the second half at their own 5-yard line.
Arizona had just scored a touchdown to end the half, cutting Washington’s lead to 11-6. And if the Huskies couldn’t escape the shadow of that fancy new scoreboard in the west end zone — who are we kidding, there were no shadows on this day — giving the ball back to Arizona at midfield could have opened the door for the Wildcats to take the lead in what to that point had been a sloppy game.
Instead, the Huskies marched 95 yards on 14 plays on what proved to be the most important possession in Washington’s 31-13 victory.
“It was huge, just because it was 95 yards,” said receiver Kasen Williams. “We know we can move the ball on them and that’s what we showed, especially on that drive.”
That drive marked the third time in four games this season the Huskies have scored on their first possession of the second half, but none of the earlier scores were as meaningful as this one. With the score tight, with Arizona gaining some confidence late in the first half, and with the weather limiting both teams’ offensive output, long drives, points — heck, completed passes — were hard to come by in this game.
“We went in the locker room and just talked about fixing a few things and going out and executing in the second half,” Sarkisian said. “This has been a pretty reoccurring theme for us of coming out in the third quarter playing good football and executing offensively better than we did in the first half.”
One adjustment Sarkisian noted was more two-tight end sets. Another, of course, was that the improved weather meant a more balanced attack.
“The weather kind of calmed down,” said quarterback Keith Price. “We started airing it out a little bit more. I knew I needed to get in a rhythm in order for us to win the game, and guys did a good job of winning play.”
When the Huskies took the field at the five, their immediate goal was a little more modest than game-changing-95-yard drive.
“Two first downs,” Price said when asked what he was thinking. “We knew we needed to get two first downs to get some breathing room so we could start running our offense.”
Bishop Sankey, who rushed for 161 yards on a school-record 40 carries, got the first of those first downs, as well as some much-needed breathing room, when he opened the drive with an 11-yard carry. Two plays later, Price hit Austin Sefarian-Jenkins over the middle for 20 yards and the Huskies were really in business. In going 95 yards, the Huskies needed to convert on only one third down, a 15-yard pass to Williams on third-and-seven.
The Huskies kept moving the ball with rushes of 11 yards by Jessie Callier and 17 yards by Sankey, then after a personal foul got the Huskies to the Arizona 3-yard line, and a Sankey run got them to the 1, Price hit a wide-open Seferian-Jenkins for the score.
Obviously the Huskies would just as soon avoid having to 95 yards very often, but the fact that they were able to do it, then go 90 on their next possession, was one of the biggest reasons they were able to pull away for a convincing win.
“It was huge,” Sarkisian said. “That was a great drive by our offense. There was a great mix of run and pass… We can’t expect our offense to go 95 yards consistently, that’s a hard thing to do. But that being said, that was a tremendous drive by the offense.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.