CHICAGO — Keith Price had a big game but was not happy with his performance Saturday.
No. 19 Washington scrapped out a hard fought road win to remain unbeaten, but in no way was it a textbook victory.
Price threw for 342 yards and two touchdowns, Bishop Sankey rushed for a career-high 208 yards and the Huskies stopped an Illinois rally, holding on 34-24 at Soldier Field on Saturday.
Josh Shirley registered three sacks, and the Huskies — after dropping seven of nine away from home – turned things around. They hadn’t won on the road outside the Pac-12 since defeating Syracuse in 2007. In spite of the triumph, the team was left with a bitter taste in their mouths.
“We had a chance to finish them off,” Price said. “We didn’t do it. We let them crawl back in the game late.”
Washington (2-0) unruffled 615 yards in this game after brandishing 592 and holding a lethal Boise State offense to two field goals in a 38-6 defeat two weeks ago. However, the Huskies were relegated to a defensive position, hanging on for dear life, as the Fighting Illini pounded out a bombing comeback.
They saw a 21-point lead in the third quarter diminish to seven in the fourth, before directing Illinois (2-1) to its sixth straight loss against ranked opponents.
“In every department there should be improvement,” Shirley said. “The sky’s the limit for this team. We just have to go back to the drawing board on Monday and fix the corrections next week.”
The Illini trimmed it to 31-24 on Aaron Bailey’s 10-yard run with 9:10 remaining, but Washington’s Travis Coons kicked a 32-yard field goal to make it a 10-point game with 4:44 left. Gregory Ducre then intercepted a long pass by Nathan Scheelhaase, securing the win.
“I thought we had a chance to maybe put them away and they fought back, and it was a good job by our guys closing the ballgame out late,” Coach Steve Sarkisian said. “It’s a great win for us, to come on the road halfway across the country and get a good non-conference win.”
Price completed 28 of 35 passes devoid of an interception. Kevin Smith trapped five passes for 104 yards. Jesse Callier had a 39-yard touchdown run, and Sankey carried 35 times in this one after running for 161 yards in the opener. He scored a 31-yard touchdown on a screen in the first half and on a 1-yard run early in the third quarter, crowning a 75-yard drive in which Washington did not try a pass.
The defense sacked Scheelhaase four times with Shirley leading the way, and the Huskies won even though they committed 12 penalties for 104 yards.
Illinois couldn’t retain the push going after blowing out Cincinnati last weekend.
Scheelhaase, off to his best start in four years as the No. 1 quarterback, was just 9 of 25 with 156 yards. He did connect on a 72-yard touchdown to Ryan Lankford right when the Huskies looked like they were ready to pull away, but that was just a flash in the pan.
“I thought I could have pressed the tempo a little more,” Scheelhaase said. “I could have done a better job of that. As a quarterback any time you walk off the field without a win, I definitely want to go back and you feel you’re unsatisfied.”
The lengthy touchdown came on the first play from scrimmage after Jaydon Mickens scored on a 9-yard pass, gliding past two defenders and plunging into the end zone to increase Washington’s lead to 31-10. Things got real exciting after a trick play by Illinois in the fourth.
Bailey took the snap and faked a handoff before pitching to Miles Osei, who then hit Matt LaCosse for a 35-yard pass. That led to a 10-yard touchdown run by Bailey, cutting it to 31-24 with 9:10 remaining only to have Coons kick an insurance score for the Huskies a few minutes later.
“We had laser focus,” Shirley said. “Sometimes, in the past, we let our guard down at the end. This time, we came together as a team and finished.”
The Huskies face Idaho State next Saturday at home. Viewable on PAC- 12 Network.