The Huskies (6-4, 4-3) still have two very winnable road games left to finish out the regular season, but they have football in late December to look forward to - and that's never a bad thing.
"Just another opportunity to play football, you know?" Shelton said. "Can't wait to find out where we're playing at. Can't wait to see how our team just goes off of that. I wanna see us improve more and just keep getting better."
"We talked early on as a football team and this season was about taking the next step, we aren't here just to get bowl eligible, there is plenty of meat left on our bone to go eat and our goal is next Saturday we get a chance to eat again," said Washington Head Coach Steve Sarkisian after the win.
It was a Senior Night Celebration worthy of the kind of display the Huskies put forth in all three phases of the football game, one enjoyed by all those veterans who walked with friends and family in front of a gracious and grateful CenturyLink crowd. That group included Jonathan Amosa, Cody Bruns, Talia Crichton, Nate Fellner, Justin Glenn, Anthony Gobern, Adam Long, Drew Schaefer, Semisi Tokolahi and Desmond Trufant.
On offense Keith Price showed up with his most complete, confident performance of the season. Defensively the Huskies held Utah to minus-14 yards in the fourth quarter when the game was in the balance. On special teams they didn't let the ball get anywhere near Reggie Dunn, the return phenom for the Utes that had scored three touchdowns the last two games. Travis Coons has seemingly perfected the popover, and the one deep return they did allow - to Charles Henderson - eventually ended up where all the pooch kicks had been ending up anyway.
And when John White - who finished with 142 yards on 22 carries - romped into the UW end zone to cut Washington's lead to 21-15 with 6:06 left in the third quarter, the Huskies had had enough of their hospitality routine. For the final 21:06 of the game, the Huskies were straight-up rude to their guests; 13 offensive plays for a grand total of minus-10 yards. I have no idea the last time Washington held a conference opponent to negative yards in a quarter, but it has to be a very long time. The Utes were 1-13 in converting third downs, and 1-3 in fourth down situations. In fact, after White's first touchdown - a 46-yard scamper for six with 5:37 left in the first quarter - the Huskies held Utah to 142 total yards of offense the rest of the way.
"I thought we played really good first down and second-down defense, which allowed us to play amazing third down defense," said Sarkisian.
"Our throw game was abysmal," Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham added from the other locker room. "We dropped too many balls, just never got in sync with throwing the football. We've got to be more balanced offensively."
Balance was the name of the game when you looked at Washington's offensive output - 160 yard rushing and 277 yards passing. The Huskies had been at about a 40/60 split for run/pass this year and Saturday was really no different, as their 160 yards rushing was 37 percent of their 437 total.
But more than anything, it was about execution - which led to some fairly remarkable performances. On UW's fourth-quarter drive that really put the game away, Bishop Sankey went over 1000 rushing yards for the season and Austin Seferian-Jenkins broke Mark Bruener's 18-year record for all-time catches by a tight end. In only his true sophomore year, the 6-foot-6, 266-pounder from Gig Harbor now has 96 career catches for 1267 yards. The yardage mark he already broke last week against California when he caught eight passes for 154 yards, also a UW career mark for most yards in a game by a tight end.
The numbers continue to mount: the 84 total points allowed by Washington in home games this year is the best mark since the 1996 UW team that only gave up 74 total points at home; Keith Price's 46 touchdowns is now currently fourth all-time behind Cody Pickett (55), Jake Locker (53) and Brock Huard (53). Expect Price to absolutely obliterate that mark next year, if not during the bowl game.
And on top of that, the Huskies played arguably one of their best defensive games of the year with a M.A.S.H. unit along the defensive line. In fact Seferian-Jenkins took a handful of snaps at defensive end and walk on Drew Schultz started the first game of his career. But it didn't phase him.
"We call him 'Dragon'," Shelton said of Schultz, the 6-foot-1, 254-pound sophomore from Olympia. And with Schultz' help, the Huskies took care of Utah and stuck them in the CenturyLink dungeon with their most complete game of the season. There was not one area where they didn't excel - and that includes overcoming their own early obstacles in the way of personal fouls and needless 15-yard penalties that added up to 56 total penalty yardage in the first half.
The second half was a whole different story. Washington had only three more penalties for 16 yards and on one of the decisive drives of the night that ended with the Huskies holding fast on a Ute 4th and 1 from the Utah 43 - Washington pounced. They proceeded to drive to the Utes' 9-yard line, where Price found a wide-open DiAndre Campbell for a convincing score. Not only did Washington turn the tables on a Utah team bent on trying to impose their will on the game, but they made the Utes pay the ultimate price for their indiscretion. And with Price's pass to Campbell, the sophomore receiver from Oakland became only the third touchdown target for the Huskies all season long following Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams.
"Well the team decides to go for it in their own end, you want to make the stop like we were able to do on the fourth down play and then it's another to capitalize on it and do that as well," Sarkisian said.
Price's night also played a huge part in the team's overall success, going 24-33 for 277 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Washington's average per attempt was six yards better than Utah's (8.4 to 2.4). "I just took the ball and got what I could, I didn't try to force plays, when they covered our primary routes, I got to two and three, when two and three weren't available I just threw the ball away," said Price.
Managing the game is what the Dawgs did, and they did it as effectively as any game this season. And it was a fitting end to Washington's time in their home-away-from-home, CenturyLink Field. Even though the seniors couldn't end their careers on campus, Saturday's night's performance will almost do.
"We had a lot of ups and downs, a rough start, but the great thing about it is that we were a team," said senior safety Justin Glenn post-game. He was talking about this season, but he could very well have been talking about his own career - one where he had to endure a winless season, as well as a three-bowl finale. "We went through it as a team today and we just had fun with each other. I wouldn't want to be on any other team than this one."
"Great win for us," said fellow senior and Glenn's roommate Cody Bruns, who finished his home career with two catch performance for 23 yards. "It's a nice way to go out - our last game here. We've been together a long time, so it's good to go out on top."
But to a senior, this night will not be just a one-game fete; they were already talking about next week's opponent in the hopes they can extend the festivities just a while longer. "Obviously it's great to win," said senior center Drew Schaefer. "We've put a lot of hard work in all season, especially this game week. There was a big emphasis on the o-line, a challenge for us. We just came out and played well, but there's still three games left in the season. We need to move past this and already start looking forward to Colorado next week."
Seniors Sent Off the Right Way
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