Linebacker Thompson leads Huskies to 44-19 win over Illinois

  • By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
  • Saturday, September 13, 2014 7:06pm
  • SportsSports

SEATTLE — One week after seizing a big early lead and then barely holding on to beat Eastern Washington, the University of Washington football team again jumped to a big lead and this time held on convincingly, knocking off Illinois 44-19 on a day of brilliant sunshine at Husky Stadium.

Washington took leads of 28-3 early in the second quarter and 38-12 at halftime, and then kept the Fighting Illini from mounting anything close to a comeback in the second half. It was the most decisive outcome of the season for the Huskies, who improved to 3-0 with one non-conference game to go before the start of Pacific-12 Conference play.

“We’re making progress,” UW head coach Chris Petersen said. “I’m proud of the guys.”

The Huskies got big plays from several players, but no one did more than junior linebacker Shaq Thompson. He returned an interception 36 yards for a first-quarter touchdown, and then picked up a fumble and scooted 52 yards for another touchdown in the second quarter.

“I’m proud of our defense flying around and making plays,” Petersen said. “Great turnovers and scoring. That’s how it should look on defense.”

The two defensive touchdowns were part of a five-touchdown first half for the Huskies, who had the luxury of becoming conservative offensively after halftime. Washington passed the ball just four times in the final two quarters.

Afterward, Petersen seemed relieved and for obvious reasons. Washington escaped with a 17-16 win in the season opener at Hawaii two weeks ago, and then pulled out a 59-52 nail-biter last week against Eastern Washington.

Evidently, lopsided victories can do great things for a coach’s demeanor.

And there were certainly plenty of smiles among all the other Huskies, too. Quarterback Cyler Miles, who was 15-for-20 for 191 passing yards and one touchdown, said the team’s offense “was improved from last week, which is all we can ask for. I thought we moved the ball very well at times.”

The Huskies divided the carries between four running backs with three — Dwayne Washington, Jesse Callier and Lavon Coleman — all gaining 45 yards or more. Miles added another 55 yards on the ground.

The biggest offensive highlight, though, belonged to wide receiver John Ross. Late in the first quarter, Ross came open behind the Illinois secondary and a pass from Miles reached him in full stride, resulting in a 75-yard touchdown. It was the third touchdown reception of 55 yards or more for Ross in as many games this season.

“With (the speedy Ross), you just put it up and let him run under it,” Miles said. “That’s what I did, and then he did the rest.”

After giving up 52 points a week ago, the team’s defensive effort was also decidedly better, both “up front and in the secondary,” Thompson said. “The secondary really played out there with a lot of confidence.

“There’s a mindset that we have to get better each and every week, that’s going to be our mindset from here on out. … We’re just determined to get better on both sides of the ball,” he said.

For the Huskies, it was not a flawless game by any means. Washington committed its first turnover of the season, a lost fumble by Miles in the third period, and there were also eight penalties, with one negating a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Ross.

“I don’t know how complete it was,” Petersen acknowledged. “I thought we made some progress as a coaching staff, and I think we’re going to make even more progress this week as we iron out some things coaching-wise and playing-wise to get us all on the same page.”

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