The Washington Huskies went into a hostile environment on the road against Utah, and pulled off a gritty 21-7 win. Coming into the game, the Huskies were sort of a mixed bag with who their “true selves” really were.
“Proud of our guys. This is a hard place to play,” Husky head coach Chris Petersen said. “It’s a physical Utah team and we knew it would be. Our guys obviously answered that.”
In the season opener against the Auburn Tigers, the Huskies stood toe-to-toe with another top-ten team and looked every bit the part. Last week in their home opener, the Huskies struggled with a mediocre North Dakota team, which had everyone wondering who the Huskies really were?
With the importance of starting off conference play on a winning note, the Huskies marched into Rice-Eccles Stadium with a focused effort. From the start of the game, the Huskies were sharp and rid themselves of the slow starts that haunted them the first two games of the season.
“I think we made some strides on offense,” Petersen said. “We didn’t score the points that we’d like to score, but we know the quality of defense we just went against. I think at the end of the day this is going to give our offense some confidence.”
The Husky defense set the tone on the opening drive by forcing a three-and-out from Utah and taking the crowd out of the game. On the ensuing Husky drive, running back Myles Gaskin dove into the end zone for a 38-yard TD run to take an early 7-0 lead.
Utah wasn’t going to just lay down and die, as they responded with a score of their own. Running back Zack Moss scampered into the end zone for a 4-yard TD to even the score at 7-7 in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the Huskies would add to their lead when quarterback Jake Browning ran into the end zone for a 1-yard TD run, to increase the lead to 14-7. The game was closely contested heading into halftime with both teams not backing down.
The final score of the game came in the third quarter for the Huskies, when wide receiver Ty Jones made an acrobatic play to stay in-bounds and score a TD. The play was initially ruled incomplete and was overturned after an officials review.
There were some huge keys to the game for the Huskies that put them into position to win this important game. The defense was “lights out” all night and really controlled the game with their physical and intimidating play!
Husky defenders were laying people out all night long, and it really rattled the Utah offense throughout the course of the game. Utah wide receiver Britain Covey was the recipient of some “Death Row Dawgs” punishing hits by cornerback Byron Murphy and safety Jojo McIntosh.
This is the defense the Huskies are known for and when they needed them the most, they certainly delivered. When the Huskies play defense like they did tonight then they can win any game they play on the schedule. The Huskies held the Utes to 261 total yards, while forcing three turnovers, and forced Utah to an 0-for-3 on 4th downs.
Getting off to a fast start was extremely important in this game and the Huskies were able to settle in early for once. By forcing the Utes to punt early and then answer with a TD early, it helped the Huskies set the tone and take the emotional crowd out of it for a bit.
What was great for Husky fans was to see the improved play of quarterback Jake Browning. He finished with a stat line of 14/24 with 155 yards passing, one TD and one interception. Browning made some very nice throws, and made some great decisions up until his interception, that left Husky fans scratching their heads.
“For every one of those, if you analyze it there’s probably two or three where he makes the play,” Offensive Coordinator Bush Hamdan said. “He’ll self-reflect on that say, ‘Look, I could’ve probably thrown it away or just take the sack.’ But again the guy has play-making ability and you can’t take that away from him.”
Defensively, the strategy was to keep Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley in the pocket and not let him run loose down the field. The Huskies were able to contain Huntley for pretty much the entire night except for a big momentum run of 28-yards. By keeping Huntley in check, it made the Utah offense have to throw the ball which favored the Huskies secondary.
One of the biggest factors in the win was the Huskies finally established a running game, for the first time this season. Running back Myles Gaskin had a typical stellar performance with 143 yards rushing, on 30 carries, with one TD. The Huskies were able to control most of the game with their “smooth-jazz” running back as running backs coach Keith Bhonapha describes him.
Playing in a hostile environment like Utah can be tough, and winning the turnover battle proved to be essential for the Huskies tonight. That hard-hitting Husky defense forced three turnovers on the night, which proved to be too much for the Utes to overcome at the end of the game. The Huskies had one lone turnover in the game, which came on a Browning interception in the 4th-quarter.
“I hope people remember that we came down to Utah and beat them by 14,” Browning said. “I think people can nitpick quarterbacks pretty hard and I’m going to nitpick myself pretty hard. But on some of those third downs, in my mind I’m thinking I’m just going to battle for the first down. Sometimes you’ve just got to cut your losses. It kind of goes against all your instincts because you’re thinking, ‘I want to go get this first down.’ … But there’s a lot to learn from and get better from.”
It was a typical gritty and focused road win by head coach Chris Petersen and staff. The win wasn’t perfect by any means, as the Huskies still have a lot of work to do in order to be among the elite teams in the country.
The offense must improve and become more consistent throughout the course of the season. The offensive line must play better, and the coaches will need to find the right combination of guys to gel together. Browning will have to play more consistently on a weekly basis and the punting game has to drastically improve.
“We’ve got five guys that gotta get on the same page. It takes a minute to get into a rhythm.” Head coach Chris Petersen said.
But hey..its progress and any conference win on the road, especially against a tough team like Utah will be celebrated! Husky Nation wanted to know what the “true” version of their team was, and they got their question answered tonight. A great team win which grows optimism for the rest of the season.
Up next for the Huskies is the Arizona State Sun Devils this coming Saturday, September 22nd at 7:30pm in front of the home crowd at Husky Stadium.