What we learned from the Huskies’ 44-19 win over Illinois
The Huskies are owners of a 3-0 record, and their 44-19 thrashing of Illinois on Saturday was their first real positive performance of the season. Here’s a look at what was answered and what questions came out of Washington’s win.
Three things we learned:
1. The defense passed the test.
The biggest Washington storyline was pretty simple heading into the Illinois game: The defense had been burned a week earlier by Eastern Washington, and now it had to face Illini quarterback Wes Lunt, who topped 400 yards passing in his previous game. The Huskies came through, creating three turnovers, two of which of they scored on, and they limited Lunt to 230 yards while sacking him four times. It was enough to get a rare glowing review from head coach Chris Petersen.
“That’s how it should look on defense,” he said.
If that’s how it continues to look on defense, the Huskies are in good shape.
2. The linebackers are the real deal.
Washington’s linebacker crew could not have had a bigger day. Hau’oli Kikaha registered three sacks, Shaq Thompson became the first Husky in 20 years to return both a fumble and an interception for a touchdown in the same game, and all the linebackers had a hand in frustrating Lunt. Besides the offensive line, the linebackers returned the most experience this season, and they arguably have the most talent on the field for Washington. That was made clear against the Illini.
3. This is a run-first team.
The Huskies made an obvious improvement in the passing game against Illinois, with quarterback Cyler Miles completing his first nine attempts and finishing 15 for 20 for 198 yards, one touchdown and no picks. They also benefited from some good old fashioned Boise State trickery on a 28-yard double reverse pass by wide receiver Marvin Hall to Jaydon Mickens. But in the end, it was still the running game that did the most damage.
Washington used nine rushers to total 245 yards on the ground, with Miles actually leading the way with 64 yards. Petersen said from the get-go that his offense would be shaped by his quarterback’s strengths, and that’s exactly what is being seen. Miles can make a good, strong throw – just look at his 75-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver John Ross – but he’s very agile and has a capable stable of tailbacks behind him, and it’s been working so far.
Three things we’re still trying to figure out:
1. What can’t John Ross do?
Here’s a list of some things Ross has done this season: make touchdown receptions of 91, 75 and 55 yards; rush for a touchdown of 20 yards; and return kicks 52 and 40 yards. He also had a 100-yard kick return touchdown called back that was a sure bet for SportsCenter’s Top Plays if not for an illegal block in the back. He’s Washington’s own version of Percy Harvin, and he may be even more versatile considering he has some experience playing in the secondary last season. He’s tailor-made for a Petersen offense, and there’s no doubt he’ll break off several more jaw-dropping gains this season.
2. Can the Huskies keep up the pace?
Washington looked very comfortable in a no-huddle against Illinois, and the Illini looked like a slow Big Ten squad in comparison. The Huskies outgained them 464 yards to 351, and their 80 plays to Illinois’ 57 was the reason for that. In today’s college football game, speed kills, and that especially extends to how fast a team runs its offense. If the Huskies keep up this pace, there are good things in store.
3. Is a return to the Top 25 on the horizon?
The Dawgs opened the year at No. 25 in the nation, but their unimpressive one-point win over Hawaii scared voters off, and last week’s performance against Eastern Washington didn’t help matters. Some voters warmed back up to them after the win over Illinois, though, as they’re 32nd in the USA Today Coaches Poll and 39th in the AP poll. A win over Georgia State next week would put them at 4-0, so it’s possible they can creep back into the Top 25 by next Sunday.