TUSCON, Arizona – Presumed dead at halftime, Washington’s offense made a miraculous recovery inside Arizona Stadium on Saturday night.
In the first 30 minutes in Tucson, Ariz., the Huskies – who scored just 13 puny points in a loss at Stanford the week before – gained a grand total of 134 yards. Outside of a 44-yard first quarter scamper by Sean McGrew, they rushed for 25 yards and 1.5 yards per carry. Jacob Eason completed just 7 of 12 passes for 65 yards.
Things looked bleak. The Huskies looked broken.
Then the half ended, and the offense finally arrived.
Specifically, UW scored touchdowns on four second-half drives after leaving the locker room. Chris Petersen’s team turned in an impressive 51-27 win way after dark on the road at Arizona.
But in the first quarter on Saturday, UW blocked a punt, recovered a separate muffed punt, ripped off a 44-yard run …
And scored six total points.
For Husky fans, Washington’s red zone issues must grow more worrisome by the week. On third-and-10 from Arizona’s 15-yard line late in the first quarter, junior quarterback Jacob Eason completed a five-yard crossing route to Aaron Fuller that had no realistic opportunity to reach the sticks. After cornerback Kyler Gordon recovered a muffed punt at the Arizona 8-yard line a few minutes later, the Huskies gained five yards on three plays. They attempted – spoiler, unsuccessfully – to barrel up the gut on a run from five yards out on third-and-goal.
They reached Arizona territory on four first-half drives, and turned in two field goals, a turnover-on-downs and a pooch punt that trickled into the end zone for a touchback.
But fear not: that wouldn’t be the last time Eason reached the end zone on Saturday night.
UW’s first touchdown went to an Eastside Catholic alum … but not junior tight end Hunter Bryant. Midway through the second quarter, Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate was flushed out of the pocket and corralled by senior defensive lineman Benning Potoa’e. As he fell, Tate attempted to throw the ball out of bounds with his opposite hand, and instead fumbled the football into the shadow of his end zone. Senior linebacker Brandon Wellington scooped it up and barreled in for his second touchdown of the season.
Like Wellington, Washington’s defense started with a full head of steam. Arizona managed just 31 total yards in the first quarter, averaging 1.4 yards per rush. Tate – who threw for 404 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-30 win at Colorado the week before – completed just 4 of 8 passes for 21 measly yards. Arizona’s first four drives each resulted in punts.
UW’s defense dominated … until it didn’t.
Arizona closed the first half with back-to-back nine-play touchdown drives, gaining 143 yards along the way. Tate found wide receiver Jamarye Joiner sprinting past nickelback Elijah Molden over the middle for a 40-yard score. Running back J.J. Taylor followed that up with a 1-yard touchdown run. Before the first half ended, momentum swung emphatically towards Arizona, which led 17-13 at halftime.
That’s when Jack Westover took over.
OK, so that might not be entirely accurate. But the redshirt freshman tight end from Bellevue did score his first career touchdown on the opening drive of the second half, slipping out of the backfield on play-action before hauling in an Eason pass from three yards out. He also assisted on the Huskies’ second score of the quarter, shoving running back Salvon Ahmed from behind on an eventual 4-yard touchdown run.
Early in the fourth quarter, Eason showed off all of his considerable arm talent, lofting a 22-yard rainbow that Fuller snatched over his shoulder for another score. Ahmed added two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, for good measure; the junior finished with 95 rushing yards and three touchdowns, while McGrew added 106 tough yards of his own.
Eason completed 15 of 22 passes on the night, throwing for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Petersen also made good on his promise to more heavily feature freshman wide receiver Puka Nacua; the 6-1, 204-pounder contributed three catches for 97 yards.
Jimmy Lake’s defense returned to form as well, notching four turnovers on the night. UW allowed just three second-half points, and junior outside linebacker Ryan Bowman even added a diving interception in the fourth quarter. The Huskies also bottled up the elusive QB on the ground, holding Tate to -28 yards on 8 attempts.
In the end, the Huskies turned in two complete quarters … and that was more than enough. As a date with the No. 13 Oregon Ducks looms, the Huskies will hope the second-half version shows up next Saturday.
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