Huskies bounce back with rout of Syracuse
But after falling behind early 10-0, Washington looked like the team UW fans expected to see this season in a 41-20 win Saturday in the home opener in front of 62,418 at Husky Stadium.
Seattle Times staff reporter
As he does about two hours before every home game, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian gathered his players at midfield of Husky Stadium on Saturday for a brief speech as they made the journey from the bus to the locker room to get ready for the home opener against Syracuse.
"The whole talk is just about, 'Man, we've got a unique experience as young men to be part of college football,' " Sarkisian said. "And I just want to make sure that our guys embrace the opportunity that they get every Saturday and not miss it."
For the first 10 minutes or so of the game, however, the UW players appeared to be letting it slip by as the Orange scored the first 10 points.
But unlike some Washington squads of recent vintage, this one stayed together, fought back, and eventually pulled away from the Orange, 41-20, improving to 1-1.
"Games aren't always going to go the way you envision them or draw them up," Sarkisian said. "And obviously the start of the football game for us was not designed by any means."
But after falling down 10-0, and leading just 13-10 at halftime, the Huskies blew it open, largely on the unstoppable combination of Jake Locker-to-Jermaine Kearse.
Kearse caught a career-high three touchdown passes as well as setting career highs with nine receptions for 179 yards. Twice, he took short passes and turned them into long TDs, one for 57 yards on the first play of the second half to put UW in command for good.
Sarkisian said that play "really broke the ice."
Kearse also had a 5-yard TD late in the second quarter to put UW ahead for good at 13-10, and a 28-yarder midway through the third quarter to make it 27-10.
"They had a tendency to pressure quite a bit," said Locker, who finished with a career-high tying four TD passes, hitting Devin Aguilar in the fourth quarter. "So one of our thoughts was to find ways to get the ball out quick and let guys make plays with the ball in their hand."
It worked to perfection, though only after UW shrugged off the shaky start.
A penalty on a punt allowed Syracuse to keep the opening drive alive, and it resulted in a 28-yard TD run by QB Ryan Nassib when he broke past a Cort Dennison tackle.
A penalty on the ensuing kickoff resulted in bad field position for UW, which couldn't move and punted. Syracuse capitalized with a field goal to go up 10-0 with 4:29 left in the first quarter.
And that meant a healthy dose of anxiety among the 62,418 on hand, who were already feeling a little antsy after the way UW had lost its opener last week at BYU.
Coaches implored the players to stay calm, however. They did as told, slowly getting back in the game with a pair of field goals, then using a big break to take the lead. Syracuse kick returner Prince-Tyson Gulley fumbled away a kickoff and UW kicker Erik Folk recovered at the 22. Six plays later, Locker hit Kearse from 5 yards out and the onslaught was on. UW outscored Syracuse 34-3 in a span of 35:01 from the late first quarter to the early fourth.
"I really think it's a sign of growth," said Dennison, a junior. "Maybe last year we would have kept our heads down and just kept dwelling on the negatives, and this year we get past the negatives. We realized we have a ton of game left and we turned everything to a positive. I don't think we made the same mistakes the rest of the game."
When it was over, UW could point to improvement in a number of areas. Locker was not sacked and UW gained 467 yards against a Syracuse defense billed as one of the best in the Big East. And the defense had three sacks and two turnovers after not getting any of either last week.
And when the Orange converted a Chris Polk fumble to cut the lead to 34-20 midway in the fourth quarter, UW immediately responded with another quick scoring drive (Locker to Aguilar from 14 yards out).
For some UW players, who had read some of the comments of Syracuse players — one said he didn't think the Huskies would score more than 14 — it was an especially sweet win.
"We didn't really appreciate that," said UW safety Nate Fellner. "I think we showed what we can do."
They'll get more of a chance next week as No. 6 Nebraska comes to town.