Orange defensive coordinator Scott Shafer knew his defense had a tough task in slowing down Heisman hopeful Jake Locker. After the Washington quaterback's performance on Saturday, Shafer would probably settle for a slow down.
Locker tossed four touchdown passes – three to Jermaine Kearse – and had nearly 300 yards passing as he executed the Washington offense with precision. Chris Polk added another 117 yards on the ground, and the Huskies (1-1) pulled away from Syracuse, 41-20.
“They did a lot of good things on offense,” senior linebacker Derrell Smith said. “I give credit to their offense, and their quarterback, he was a good quarterback. We’ll learn from the mistakes in this game and move onto the next one.”
Despite the margin of victory, it was the Huskies who were feeling the pressure early. Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib started the scoring by doing his best Jake Locker impression on a 28-yard scramble to put the Orange (1-1) on the board first.
SU’s defense built on that momentum by forcing the Huskies to punt. Senior Mike Holmes returned the ball to the Washington 49-yard line to put the Orange in good position again. That drive led to a 29-yard field goal by freshman Ross Krautman, and 10 minutes into the game Syracuse had a 10-point lead.
On Washington’s ensuing possession, it appeared that Syracuse had stopped the Huskies again when Locker’s pass to Devin Aguilar was caught out of bounds on third and 11. However, the play was reviewed and it was determined that Aguilar did have possession of the ball before going out of bounds.
The Huskies only ended up getting a field goal out of that drive, but that play seemed to signal a transition in the momentum.
“We went out there and got up on top real fast, then started making a little bit of mistakes and lost the momentum,” said senior running back Delone Carter who rushed for 91 yards.
Syracuse was forced to punt on its next offensive possession, and the Huskies were able to tack on another Erik Folk field goal to pull within four. Following Folk’s second field goal, disaster struck for the Orange.
Prince-Tyson Gulley fumbled the ball as he was fighting for extra yards during the kickoff return. The Huskies recovered at the Syracuse 22-yard line, and six plays later, Locker connected with Kearse for the first of their three TD’s.
That touchdown put Washington up 13-10 with four minutes remaining in the second quarter, and it was a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Syracuse tried to rally on their next possession by driving into Husky territory, but a missed 43-yard field goal by Krautman left the visitors in a three-point hole heading into the intermission.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” senior Doug Hogue said. “Washington is a good team, but there were a lot of opportunities that we had out there that we could have capitalized on.”
Following its slow start to the game, it didn’t take Washington long to get going in the second half. On the second play from scrimmage, Locker flared the ball out to Kearse who turned the pass into a 57-yard touchdown. Twenty seconds into third quarter, SU was suddenly looking at a 10-point hole.
From that point on, Washington would continue to pull away. One big reason was the Huskies ability to convert on third down. They were 9-of-18 on the night compared to just 5-of-16 for SU.
The Orange did a decent job of moving the ball up and down the field, but struggled once they got into Washington territory.
“We made a lot of mistakes. I feel like we got a little comfortable, and that’s when the mistakes started to come,” Carter said.
Syracuse tried to mount one last charge when Smith knocked the ball from Polk’s hands deep in Husky territory. Nassib connected with Alec Lemon on a 19-yard strike a couple plays later to pull the Orange within 14, 34-20, with seven minutes remaining.
One week after falling in the fourth quarter to BYU, though, Washington was not about to let another game slip away. Two plays later the Huskies were in the end zone, as Locker found Aguilar on a 14-yard strike for the final points of the game.
After two games on the road, the Orange return to Syracuse to kick off their home season next week when they play host to Maine. That game is slated for 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time.
“Washington’s offense did a good job of just spreading out our defense,” wide receiver Van Chew said. “Our whole team just has to come together after this and prepare for Maine.”