The University of Washington couldn’t have scripted a better way to start Saturday night’s game with third-ranked LSU in Tiger Stadium.
Washington forced a fumble on the opening kickoff when LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. was popped by linebacker Taz Stevenson and linebacker Thomas Tutogi recovered at the LSU 20.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, that would be one of their few highlights in a 41-3 drubbing at the hands of the Tigers.
Washington gained only 4 yards on their first series and had to settle for a 34-yard field goal by Travis Coons after freshman wide receiver Jaydon Mickens juggled what would have been a 16-yard touchdown pass from Keith Price as Mickens was falling out of the end zone.
“I think it’s pretty clear from the naked eye that it’s a pretty good football team that got after us tonight,” said Washington coach Steve Sarkisian. “We had a couple of opportunities, I thought, early in the game that maybe could have changed the complexion of it.
“It was great getting the turnover right off the start on the kickoff and we had a couple of plays there on second and third down that we couldn’t quite execute,” he said. “We just weren’t able to execute against a team like this. When you play an elite team in the country, you have to execute well.”
It was a sign of things to come for Price and the Huskies, who played without two offensive starters — tailback Jesse Callier and right tackle Ben Riva.
Erik Kohler, Riva’s replacement, left the game with an injured kneecap less than five minutes into the game and did not return.
“We’re having some tough breaks right now, but that’s something we can’t control,” Price said after being hurried and chased from the pocket much of the night. “When injuries happen, the next guy has to prepare like he’s the starter.”
Going against one of the nation’s top defenses didn’t make things easier as the Huskies failed to move the chains on their first three series and finished the first period with only one first down and 18 total yards on 17 snaps.
Combined with the 22 yards LSU allowed in the first quarter of last week’s 41-14 win over North Texas, the Tigers have allowed just 40 yards on 32 plays in the opening period of their two games.
“We couldn’t move the ball at first,” said Price. “It was rough. We didn’t throw the ball well, and we didn’t run the ball well.”
It was more of the same in the second quarter for UW as the Huskies, who had 328 total yards in a season-opening win over San Diego State, were held to 70 yards in the first half and 183 yards for the game.
After failing to get a touchdown on its first possession, Washington was pinned back at its 4-yard line on a 62-yard punt by LSU’s Brad Wing. Again, a dropped pass hurt the Huskies as wide receiver James Johnson couldn’t hang on to a Price pass on third-and-10.
That hurt more when Korey Durkee could only manage a 32-yard punt despite having a strong wind at his back.
LSU took full advantage of the short field, going 38 yards in two plays with tailback Alfred Blue racing 21 yards untouched to the end zone to give the Tigers a 7-3 lead with 11:18 to play in the first quarter.
Later in the quarter, as UW continued to struggle on offense, LSU used another short field after an 18-yard punt by Durkee to move 47 yards to a 1-yard TD by fullback J.C. Copeland to make it 14-3.
LSU added field goals of 18 and 32 yards from Drew Alleman in the second quarter to make it 20-3 at halftime as the UW defense temporarily kept the score from piling up with two red-zone stops — including one at the Washington 1.
Washington, however, did not cross midfield on their own until 2:20 remaining in the first half when Price’s 4-yard run got the ball just inside the midfield stripe.
Down only 17 at halftime, the Huskies looked to change things in the second half. But safety Micah Eugene chased Price down for an 8-yard sack on third-and-10 to end the first drive.
The Tigers then churned out a 61-yard touchdown drive that ended with the first of two Kenny Hilliard scoring runs — this one from 3 yards out — with 10:35 remaining in the third period.
On the next possession, Price, who completed just 17 of 36 passes for 157 yards and was sacked four times, threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by LSU freshman cornerback Jalen Mills.
“I actually felt it,” Price said of the Tigers’ pressure. “I tried to get out a couple of times and you see I threw a pick trying to do too much. I should have thrown that one away.”
This time, LSU cranked out a 73-yard scoring drive that ended with a 32-yard TD pass to a wide-open Kadron Boone, who took advantage of a blown coverage in the Washington secondary.
“When you bust coverages and things of that nature, it’s hard to beat them,” Sarkisian said of LSU. “Then, they’re able to get the lead and play the style of football that they want to play.
“That’s when they can lean on you in the running game and wear you down and start rushing the passer, which they do so well.”
LSU rushed for 242 yards, including 101 yards on 14 carries by Blue, and finished the game with 437 total yards.
“We were kind of preparing for some other things, but we knew they were going to run the ball and we had to stop that,” said UW cornerback Desmond Trufant.
“It comes back to tackling, communication and back to the basics.”
“Their running backs are big, hard runners,” said defensive tackle Danny Shelton, who had 10 tackles. “They’re hard to tackle.”
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