CHICAGO — Washington was able to avert panic.
The Huskies, after watching their 21-point lead get whittled down to seven, used an interception by Gregory Ducre and a 32-yard field goal by Travis Coons to solidify their 34-24 win over Illinois on Saturday night before 47,312 who sat under a clear sky at Soldier Field.
Last season the Huskies controlled the final two games late and lost both.
On Saturday, 19th-ranked Washington (2-0) had Illinois’ face in the dirt prior to easing up. In the fourth quarter, the Huskies had enough resolve to ground the Illini (2-1).
“I didn’t feel tension,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said.
There were ample reasons for confidence.
The offense rolled again. Two weeks after gaining 592 yards in the opener, the Huskies zoomed to 615 against Illinois, good for the sixth-most in school history.
Bishop Sankey ran for a career-high 208 yards. His previous best was set last season when he rushed for 205 yards in the Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State.
“I thought Bishop Sankey was a warrior again tonight,” Sarkisian said.
Quarterback Keith Price was equally dynamic and precise to
boot. Price was 28-for-35, including three passes he intentionally threw away. Price’s 342 yards were the second-most of his career.
After two games, Price is completing 77.3 percent of his passes.
“I left a lot out there, I’m not even going to lie,” Price said. “There are some throws that needed to be made.”
Price found nine receivers. Senior wideout Kevin Smith caught five passes for 104 yards. Kasen Williams beat two defenders for a downfield jump ball that produced a 43-yard completion. Jaydon Mickens led the team with eight receptions.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins had a quiet night in his season debut with three catches for eight yards.
One of Price’s biggest throws was also among his simplest.
After fumbling twice on two touches in the first half, redshirt freshman running back Dwayne Washington was benched.
Jesse Callier, last year’s starter until he tore his ACL in the first game, was summoned in the fourth quarter.
With third-and-8 looming from Washington’s own 45-yard line, the Huskies’ paused from their immediate-snap approach. Price turned to the sideline, Sarkisian signaled and the Huskies reset.
Callier, who had a large impact throughout the second half, leaked out of the backfield with an escort from left guard Dexter Charles. Price made a simple, clean dump-off to Callier, Charles popped a block and Callier scampered for a 27-yard gain.
“They gave us the right look,” Price said. “Sark dialed it up, perfect play, perfect call.”
Coons came on to kick a 32-yard field goal five plays later. Illinois took over down 34-24 and was intercepted by Ducre.
It made up for a 72-yard TD pass in the third quarter to Ryan Lankford, who beat Ducre on the play.
Sankey opened UW’s scoring with a 31-yard touchdown catch, then added a 1-yard TD run early in the third. Callier’s 39-yard run put the Huskies up 24-10 and Mickens’ darting 9-yard run gave them 31-10 lead.
The wind was calm. The weather sunny. The same outlook applied to Washington after its first regular-season non-conference road win under Sarkisian.