Huskies Make Hard Work Out of Win

SEATTLE - Steve Sarkisian understood San Diego State's game plan going into their Saturday night tussle with the Aztecs at CenturyLink Field. He knew Rocky Long was going to attack, attack, and attack some more. But he had no idea he was going to throw some major tricks at the Washington Huskies, ones that may not have even been legal.

Coming out of the media timeout for the second quarter, San Diego State huddled along their sidelines. They came out, and before Washington could recognize the ruse the ball had been snapped and Aztecs receiver Tim Vizzi was screaming down their sidelines, 30 yards clear of any Huskies. The ball found Vizzi in stride and the 5-foot-10 junior from Moorpark, Calif. waltzed into the end zone untouched - and the UW coaches and players were still scratching their heads in bewilderment over what had happened.

Washington had failed to recognize that Vizzi was a live player in the game, having just stepped about a foot away from the SDSU sidelines. According to Steve Sarkisian after the game, what the Aztecs did with that play definitely skirted the intent of the rules regarding deception.

"I still don't know if it's legal or not, I've still got to find out," Sarkisian said post game after the Huskies pulled out a less-than-impressive 21-12 win over San Diego State Saturday night at CenturyLink Field. "My interpretation of the rule is that you can't substitute or you can't run a play with the intent to deceive and I sure thought there was intent to deceive and then I thought we called timeout and we didn't get a timeout called."

Sarkisian later noted that it was USC's 2006 win over Washington where the Trojans used the same ruse to score a touchdown with receiver Steve Smith while USC was lining up for a field goal.

"I thought at that point that's when the rule got changed," Sarkisian said ruefully. "I kind of got burned on one of my own deals here."

But the Huskies' defense dealt the Aztecs a little deception of their own in forcing three turnovers and holding SDSU on some key stops - namely on two-point conversions and late in their own red zone - to keep the game in Washington's favor.

"It's good to win and good to be 1-0 and win a different style of game then we are accustomed to playing around here," Sarkisian said. "We had to rely on our defense. Our offense sputtered a bit and to find a way to win that type of a game for us was encouraging on that front."

The game didn't start out stale by any stretch. The Huskies picked off SDSU quarterback Ryan Katz on their very first possession and converted that turnover into seven points, led by do-it-all quarterback Keith Price. A punt by the Aztecs on their next series became seven more points after a nine-play, 62-yard drive that took over four-and-a-half minutes.

They were rolling. At one point Price, the junior from St. John Bosco, was 13-14 for 95 yards. It was all going according to plan - but then the Huskies got in their own way. Penalties, sacks and poor execution stalled the Dawgs while San Diego State hung tough and kept coming. Injuries to Jesse Callier and Ben Riva compounded problems.

"We got out and got into a little bit of a funk," Sarkisian said. "The game got a little funky. I've called better games and I'll call better games than I did tonight. I've seen Keith Price better than I have tonight. He just didn't feel quite right, comfortable all the way through it. We're probably not going to be great on offense if Keith and I just aren't in the rhythm of the game so we'll get better with that."

Washington was sacked three times and only managed 108 total yards in the second half, including only 32 yards on the ground. They were unable to continue to impose their will on the Aztecs defensively, and actually took a step backward. And when things seemingly started to go their way, it was all brought on by a stronger defensive effort. Will Shamburger's 44-yard scoop-and-score with 10 minutes left in the third quarter gave UW a new lease on life; a Travis Feeney strip of Katz and recovery by Justin Glenn on the ensuing SDSU drive had the Huskies back in business once again.

But instead of putting the game away - something that is a habit of a team schooled in strong fundamentals and playing with confidence - UW coughed it right back up inside the Aztecs' 10.

Sarkisian knows the offense can't suffer a lack of synchronicity like they did Saturday night and expect to survive.

"I set the tempo, and my tempo wasn't very good," Price said after the game."

But there's a silver lining - like there often is. The defense held things together. Often it was with duct tape and bailing wire, but they did a very good job of keeping things in front of them and managing their responsibilities. Unfortunately there were too many missed tackles and wide open spaces for Katz to run into for Justin Wilcox's liking, and those will have to get cleaned up in a hurry. Take away Katz' 77 yards - 31 came in the final two plays of the game with the contest out of doubt - and the Huskies held SDSU to 250 total yards, a very reasonable outcome.

Add to that the turnovers forced and UW fans can be satisfied that at least the defense is starting to show signs of recovery after surrendering an average of over 450 yards a game in 2011.

Are they a finished product? Not by any means. But in a game where the offense needed a startling pick-me-up, the defense was able to deliver. And it's been a while since Washington has been able to say that.

"It means we're doing our job," Feeney said afterward. We're not going to be the defense of the past. We're going to step it up this year and make sure our defense is good. We're going to be on top of things as we were today - always yelling for the ball, always stripping and always forcing turnovers. Turnovers win the game. That's what we did and it won us the game."

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