Jesse Callier Illinois
Jesse Callier rushed for 66 yards in the second half and his first touchdown since tearing his ACL to help the Huskies pick up their first nonconference win on the road since 2007.
Jesse Callier rushed for 66 yards in the second half and his first touchdown since tearing his ACL to help the Huskies pick up their first nonconference win on the road since 2007.Photo by Joshua Bessex
CHICAGO — Steve Sarkisian keeps preaching that this season’s team is different. It’s better, deeper, and more mature than every other team he’s ever had on Montlake. With a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter against Illinois on Saturday night, the Huskies had a chance to prove it.
Despite being up 31-10 late in the third quarter, the UW let Illinois — a team picked to finish last in the Big Ten Leaders Division — creep back into the game. A soon-to-be rout dwindled into a one-score game, and instead of immediately thwarting the comeback with a touchdown, the UW offense settled for a field goal and left the door ajar.
Greg Ducre slammed it shut.
The senior cornerback sealed the UW’s 34-24 victory over Illinois in Soldier Field on Saturday with a critical interception with 3:51 left in the game. Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase heaved a throw down field about 30 yards to the UW 31-yard line that Ducre hauled in to give the No. 19 Huskies their first nonconference win on the road since they beat Syracuse in the 2007 season opener.
While Ducre finished the job for the Huskies, running backs Bishop Sankey and Jesse Callier shined the brightest. The pair teamed up for 274 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns, to go along with a 31-yard receiving touchdown for Sankey. Sankey posted a career-high 208 rushing yards, while Callier came in during the second half to get 66 yards and his first touchdown since tearing his ACL in last year’s season opener.
Callier barely played in the season opener, but that didn’t stop him from playing his role when his number was called in the second half.
“My dad always told me when I was little, ‘Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready,’” Callier said. “Prepare everyday like it’s your last, and that it stuck with me. … I just wanted to go out there and have fun, wherever the coaches put me, I’m going to be there.”
Under Sarkisian, the Huskies were 7-18 in road or neutral site games before Saturday. The last two losses came last season, when the Huskies let close games slip away against Washington State and Boise State. They didn’t finish last year. This year they did, even when Illinois applied some pressure late.
“We’ll never doubt ourselves,” Ducre said. “But we know that when the games get close, it’s time to lock in and finish. … Now we’re coming more as a team, we’re very close, and when something bad happens, we have to overcome adversity.”
Ducre gave up a momentum shifting play in the third quarter when wide receiver Ryan Lankford left Ducre in the Illini senior the pulled in a fingertip catch for 72 yards and a touchdown. But he was true to his word. He overcame adversity and sealed the win for the UW.
The Huskies slogged through a mess of penalties and missed opportunities in the first half. Quarterback Keith Price was 17-of-21 through the air for 211 yards and one touchdown, and the Huskies outgained Illinois 278-93, but still only had a slim 10-3 lead.
Then the running game woke up.
In the first half, the UW collected only 67 yards on the ground, which was less than the yardage they forfeited through their nine penalties (84 penalty yards), and had two fumbles from redshirt freshman Dwayne Washington.
After intermission, the Huskies immediately powered down the field for a touchdown, going 75 yards in seven plays — all runs — in 1:58. They finished with 206 rushing yards in the second half.
The Illini answered with a touchdown of their own and Scheelhaase punched it in from two yards to make cut the UW lead to 17-10, with just more than nine minutes left in the third. It was the first touchdown relinquished by the UW defense this season. But the offense had an answer too.
Price methodically marched his team down the field to the Illinois 39-yard line before handing the ball to Callier. The junior running back took the handoff, cut left and was met with an open field to the end zone. He was surprised by the open running lane, but he took it, slipped through a couple of would-be tacklers and scampered in for a 39-yard touchdown to put the Huskies up 24-10.
The Huskies scored three touchdowns in the third quarter, racking up 229 yards in the period alone.
Behind a smaller, but speedy, defensive line, the Huskies kept the pressure on Scheelhaase and the Illini offense that entered the game ranked 10th in the nation in passing. The Huskies finished with four sacks, three from junior Josh Shirley, after not getting a single one in the season opener against Boise State. Scheelhaase finished 9-of-25 for 156 yards — a season-low for the fifth year senior — and threw only one touchdown after tossing four last week.
With a win from the road, the only thing standing the way of the Huskies and a 3-0 record heading into Pac-12 play is Idaho State on Sept. 21. The last time the UW did that was in 2000. That season ended in a Rose Bowl victory for the Huskies. What will come of this season is still to be determined.
Reach Sports Editor Thuc Nhi Nguyen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @thucnhi21
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