By Brent Stecker
Washington has a new calling card.
In Saturday’s 31-13 win over Arizona Saturday, the No. 16 Huskies stormed out of the locker room at halftime with a dominant touchdown drive that put the Wildcats on their heels. It’s been a regular occurrence this season for Washington – in each of its three wins against FBS opponents this season, the offense has opened the third quarter with a statement-making scoring drive.
As impressive as that recurring theme has been, it was even more impressive how long the Huskies had to drive to make it happen Saturday.
Three things we learned:
1. Long drives aren’t a problem.
Washington was plagued by slow starts earlier in the season, which coach Steve Sarkisian said was partly because the Huskies had long fields to deal with. Twice on Saturday (albeit in the second half), Washington proved that its offense can handle a long field and finish in the end zone every now and again. First was a 95-yard drive that opened the second half, where the Huskies faced third down just once in 14 plays. The other was their next possession in which they took just 10 plays in 3:51 to march 90 yards down the field.
2. Washington’s red-zone efficiency is on point.
Football teams can’t do better than scoring touchdowns in 100 percent of their red-zone opportunities, which is exactly what Washington did against Arizona. Sarkisian had been unhappy with settling for field goals against Boise State and Illinois earlier in the season, but he didn’t have to do any settling in the Huskies’ four trips to the red zone against the Wildcats. In fact, all but five of Washington’s points came from red-zone touchdowns.
3. Travis Coons is an asset.
Kicker/punter Travis Coons may have missed a point-after attempt in the fourth quarter, but he’s 3 for 3 on field goals this season and his punting has been nothing short of stellar, especially on Saturday. All five of his punts against the Wildcats were downed or went out of bounds inside the Arizona 17-yard line, and two were inside the 10.
“Travis was awesome. It was just an amazing effort by him punting the football, and snapping the ball in that stuff (rain) is not easy,” Sarkisian. “Travis not only was he was punting great, those were great catches.”
Three things we’re still trying to figure out:
1. How long is Bishop Sankey’s leash?
Sarkisian had said 35 carries against Illinois was more than he liked junior running back Bishop Sankey taking. On Saturday, with rain and wind making it extremely tough on the passing game, Sankey (162 yards, one touchdown) broke Corey Dillon’s school record with 40 carries.
On the one hand, Sarkisian said he set up Sankey for a bigger workload by limiting him to four attempts a week before against Idaho State. But on the other hand, with fellow junior Jesse Callier (11 rushes, 57 yards, one touchdown) finding his stride, could Sankey start ceding some playing time to him? If that is the case, don’t expect it to start next week against No. 5 Stanford.
2. Is the defense for real?
Arizona’s offense hardly had room to breathe in the first quarter as it mustered just 11 yards on 16 plays against an inspired Washington defense. The Wildcats eventually found success on the ground, as expected with the NCAA’s leading rusher in 2012, Ka’Deem Carey (132 yards), in the game. But with Arizona scoring just twice, Washington showed it could bend but not break, as Sarkisian said several times after the game. But to this point in the season, the Huskies have mostly faced teams that employ a fast-paced offense much like their own. Next week will be different.
3. Do the Huskies match up well against Stanford?
Washington is 4-0 for the first time since 2001, but the road to 5-0 is a rocky one with a game against Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif., next week. The Huskies’ defensive front was able to contain a speedy Arizona team, especially in the first half, but the Cardinal have a much more stout running game and proven offensive line. One look at what Stanford did to an impressive Washington State defense in a 55-17 win Saturday should be enough to strike some fear into Huskies fans’ hearts.