SEATTLE — A University of Washington offense that has sputtered much of the season finally showed up in a big way on Saturday night, reaching season highs for yards and, most importantly points, in a 34-15 Pacific-12 Conference victory over Utah at CenturyLink Field.
The Huskies, who won their sixth game of the season to become bowl eligible, easily topped their previous season scoring high for a non-FCS opponent. Washington, which had 52 points against Portland State back on Sept. 15, had scored 21 points in wins against San Diego and California, and in a loss against Oregon.
“This is a really cool win for our team,” said UW head coach Steve Sarkisian. “We’re happy to be bowl eligible, but there’s plenty of work yet to be done for this football team.”
Washington also rolled to 437 yards of offense, with big nights from quarterback Keith Price and running back Bishop Sankey. Price, who has struggled at times this season, had a season high of 277 passing yards with three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) and no interceptions.
“I thought this was far and away Keith’s best game of the year,” Sarkisian said. “I’d kind of felt that this was coming over the last couple of weeks. … It’s cool to see a guy believe in himself and play his way through it.”
Sankey, meanwhile, finished with 162 yards on 36 carries and two touchdowns. It was his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season. The total pushed the sophomore tailback over 1,000 yards for the season — he has 1,017 — and gives Washington a 1,000-yard rusher for the fourth consecutive season, following three straight years when Chris Polk reached the milestone.
“Bishop had another excellent night running the football,” Sarkisian said, adding, “He’s a stud. He runs hard.”
“He makes us look really good,” said UW center Drew Schaefer. “Sometimes it’s not blocked perfectly, and sometimes he has to beat (someone) or make someone miss. But he’s done an awesome job of that. He’s run hard all season and I’m happy for him.”
Defensively, the Huskies limited Utah to just 188 yards of offense, with 58 of those yards coming in the first quarter, including 46 on a breakaway touchdown run by Utes running back John White. Utah managed one other TD drive in the third quarter, but otherwise the UW defense kept the visitors in check.
Utes freshman quarterback Travis Wilson, harassed by a UW pass rush for much of the game, managed just 55 yards through the air.
Utah scored the game’s first touchdown midway through the first quarter after a UW punt, and aided by a hugely controversial personal foul penalty against Washington safety Justin Glenn. The penalty came on a third-down play and extended the drive, and two plays later White shot through a gap on the left side and dashed 46 yards for a touchdown.
The Utes then surprised the Huskies with a spread PAT formation, and Jake Murphy carried for the two-point conversion and a 8-0 lead.
Washington answered early in the second quarter with an eight-play, 66-yard scoring march, with Price finding wide receiver Kasen Williams at the back of the end zone for an acrobatic touchdown. Under heavy pressure — he was hit as he threw — Price lofted a pass that Williams had to extend to reach, with one foot barely touching the turf and just inside the back stripe.
The Huskies kicked the PAT and trailed 8-7.
Washington finally went in front to stay late in the second quarter with another eight-play drive, this one covering 67 yards. The big play on the possession was a 47-yard pass from Price to wide receiver Jaydon Mickens, who slipped behind the Utah secondary. The pass was slightly underthrown and Mickens had to slow to make the catch before stumbling and being knocked down at the 4-yard line.
It took the Huskies three plays to reach the end zone, with Price scrambling from the pocket for a 4-yard TD run.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham rolled the dice on the team’s first possession of the second half, going for a first down on fourth-and-1 at the Utah 43. The Utes used a hurry-up play, but the Huskies stood up White at the line of scrimmage and a measurement confirmed no gain.
The Huskies quickly made the Utes pay for the gamble, needing just four plays for their third touchdown. The big gain was a 24-yard completion to tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, giving Washington a first-and-goal at the Utah 9.
On the next play Price found wide receiver DiAndre Campbell over the middle for a TD and a 21-8 lead.
But the Utes came right back with their best prolonged drive of the night. Utah covered 61 yards in nine plays, and White notched his second TD by going around right end for 20 yards.
Minutes later, the Huskies got one of the game’s big breaks when they punted and Utah returner Charles Henderson fumbled. Washington’s Jamal Kearse recovered at the Utah 46, and five plays later Sankey took a pitch around left end for a 2-yard TD carry.
The clinching touchdown came in the fourth quarter on another Sankey carry, which capped an extended drive that used up much of the fourth-quarter clock.
Being bowl eligible, the Huskies are likely to reach the postseason for the third consecutive season of the four-year Steve Sarkisian era, Washington’s head coach. With a 6-4 record, the Huskies will close its regular season with road games at Colorado and Washington State, the two cellar dwellers in the Pac-12’s South and North divisions.
“We talked early on as a football team that this season is about taking the next step,” Sarkisian said. “We’re not playing just to get bowl eligible. … There’s a lot of meat left on the bone, and our goal is to eat again next Saturday.”
The victory came in Washington’s final game at CenturyLink Field, its temporary home. The Huskies will return to a renovated Husky Stadium next season, having gone 6-1 at the cross-town stadium, dating back to last season’s Apple Cup win against Washington State.
“It’s a nice way for us to go out, our last game here,” said wide receiver Cody Bruns, one of 11 UW seniors playing his final home game. “We’ve been together a long time, so it’s good to go out on top.”