Huskies’ defense answers questions in emphatic win over Illinois
The Washington Huskies may have entered Week 3 as a 2-0 team, but neither of their two victories could be called emphatic.
Win No. 3, though, certainly can be.
The Dawgs’ defense answered the questions that surrounded it all week, backing the high-flying offense with a big 44-19 win over Illinois at Husky Stadium on Saturday. And while wide receiver John Ross and quarterback Cyler Miles did their fair share contributing to the highlight reel, it was the D that deserved the most accolades after forcing the Illini into three turnovers, including two that Shaq Thompson returned to the house.
The Huskies’ inexperienced secondary did its job, limiting strong-armed Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt to 230 yards on 16 for 26 passing. The pass rush was exactly what the Huskies were looking for, sacking Lunt six times, including three by Hau’oli Kikaha alone. And perhaps most importantly, the absences of defensive backs Marcus Peters (one-game suspension) and Jermaine Kelly (fractured ankle in practice this week) didn’t end up hurting Washington.
It was a tremendous bounce back from the week previous, when Eastern Washington and its stud quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. shredded the Huskies for 52 points and 475 yards through the air.
“That’s how it should look on defense,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said after Saturday’s win. “I’m proud of our defense flying around and making plays … great turnovers and scoring.”
The pressure on Lunt was an important part of the Huskies’ game plan because Lunt can make teams pay when he has time in the pocket, as evidenced by his 456-yard passing effort in Week 2 against Western Kentucky. Add to that the shaky game the UW defensive backs had against Eastern Washington, and it was clear the onus was on the defensive line and linebackers to make Lunt uncomfortable.
Kikaha and company took care of it, and then some. The six sacks pushed the Illini back a combined 29 yards, and the pressure they provided had a big hand in Illinois converting just one of 11 third downs.
“I think the pressure we put on (Lunt) was pretty good. He wasn’t able to stay back there for a long period of time, which helps out the secondary,” Petersen said. “Any secondary needs that help, and when you look out there and three of the four are true freshmen, you tell the line that they have to get to that guy.”
While Kikaha’s three-sack game would be the top story on most days, nobody shined brighter than his fellow linebacker Thompson. Seven days after he showed off his running-back skills with a 57-yard touchdown run, he added two more scores against the Illini – one on a 36-yard pick-6, and the other on a 52-yard scoop-and-run fumble recovery.
“He’s just a player. You put him on offense, and he does some good things. He’s good on special teams. Then he creates his own offense on defense,” Petersen said.
There’s no question Thompson’s touchdowns went a long way in building a momentum that quickly become insurmountable for Illinois.
“This game is so much about turnovers. And then when you can score off them, that’s game-changing stuff,” Petersen said. “My hats are off to our defense for playing that hard. Shaq came up big again.”
Now with their final non-conference game up next, a meeting with Georgia State at home, the Huskies will finally enter with an impressive performance behind them. And they can thank their defense for that.