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Sack Lake City? It’s Assault Lake City after Huskies maul Utah

Washington turned Sack Lake City into Assault Lake City Saturday night in their 21-7 win over Utah, a reminder to those that may have forgotten about Death Row or had taken UW’s defense for granted.

Sure, the scoreline isn’t audacious. It’s hardly noticeable. It’s certainly didn’t wow any AP Top-25 voter waking up east of the Mississippi Sunday morning.

But when they check out their DVR or YouTubeTV or Betamax or whatever gadget they use to tape games nowadays, they’ll see a ruthless display of defense the Utes won’t forget any time soon.

And yes, they’ll probably notice quarterback Jake Browning‘s erratic performance. They probably have already seen the gifs and memes floating around after the senior hand-delivered a pick-six to Utah’s Pita Tonga.

But Tonga didn’t score, and that was the way it went for the Utes in their own house. It went that way because UW had already put in the work to ruin Utah’s world for just one night.

From all accounts, the atmosphere at Rice-Eccles Stadium wasn’t all that. The Huskies put the muzzle on the MUSS (Mighty Utah Student Section) early when Myles Gaskin raced 38-yards down the Utah sideline for a touchdown on Washington’s first possession of the game.

Gaskin’s 143 yards proved to be a huge boost for a Washington offense searching high and low for ways to consistently move the ball. It turned out to be more than enough to get the job done.

The Utah fans, in general, enjoyed few cheerful moments. If anything, their participation in the game consisted of incessant booing every time a Washington defender laid a lick on a Utah ballcarrier – most of the time it was star receiver Britain Covey – while the MUSS pleaded for personal foul penalties.

Their pleas turned into outright anger when two Utah defenders – safety Marquise Blair and defensive lineman Leki Fotu – were dismissed due to targeting penalties.  The officials decided the big hits delivered by the Huskies were clean, and the ones coming from the home team weren’t. As you would expect, that went over about as well as a Butthole Surfers show at Kingsbury Hall.

“It’s awesome that a lot of people think physical football play is over,” Washington Defensive Coordinator Jimmy Lake said after the game. “We teach the strike zone correctly, just like the Seattle Seahawks do. And when you lead with your shoulder and you keep your head out of it, you can still hit people and have some violent, big-time hits. I was proud of those guys, we lowered our targets. It’s hard, it’s difficult, we work on it, but the guys executed tonight.”

Let’s get back to Covey, the talented wideout just back from serving a two-year LDS mission. His day started out with a loss for five yards on a quick pass to the flat that was swallowed whole by UW cornerback Byron Murphy.

The next time Covey touched the ball, it was a fly sweep where he got rocked by Jaylen Johnson and Ben Burr-Kirven.

It never got any easier for Covey, who earned a lot of credit for gamely playing on despite hits that would have taken most players to the injury tent.

On Utah’s next drive, their lone touchdown drive of the game – Covey never even sniffed the football. The message had been sent, courtesy of Death Row: you want to pass it to Covey? Do so at your own peril. You’re going to have to find another way to beat us.

They hammered that point home on the Utes’ next drive after Washington jumped to a 14-7 lead. Covey tried to fly sweep around the left end, but the Huskies’ Benning Potoa’e wasn’t having any of it. He rag-dolled Covey and spun him like a top until he dropped.

The MUSS flipped out.

The Utah coaches called time out.

Overall, Covey was targeted (!) six times in the first half by Utah. Two passes ended up incomplete, and the other four touches resulted in minus-2 yards.

Message received.

Washington safety Jojo McIntosh became Covey’s personal nightmare. The first touch for Covey in the second half ended up in a fumble forced by a couple of seniors – McIntosh and linebacker Tevis Bartlett – and recovered by Taylor Rapp.

And just to make sure McIntosh had fully savored the flavor of Covey’s favorite chewing gum, he lit the sophomore up one last time on a post route destined for the end zone.

“This is hard to watch,” ESPN analyst Brian Griese said as Covey picked himself up and struggled to get back to the line of scrimmage.

“I get how tough (Covey) is, but somebody from the Utah sideline has to pull him off the field,” added ESPN’s play-by-play man Steve Levy.

“He’s not going to take himself out,” said Griese. “Again, (Utah Quarterback) Tyler Huntley throwing the ball late over the middle. I’m putting this on Troy Taylor now, the offensive coordinator. (Huntley) is holding the ball, he’s starting down receivers, getting guys killed. Now he’s going to get a taste of his own medicine.”

That last sentence was uttered while Huntley was being engulfed by UW defensive lineman Greg Gaines.

If there was a way to peer into the future and see the eventual butt-kicking they would absorb, the Utes could have just called it good and saved themselves – and Covey – for their next opponent in two weeks, Washington State.

“We play physical, especially when we drop off into zones and they try to fit the football into tight windows,” said Lake. “That’s what’s going to happen, it’s going to be a big collision. And if we do it cleanly, it’s going to work out for us. (Utah’s receivers) were going for the ball, this is a tough, physical outfit. We were right there and we made the play(s) and they didn’t.”

Yes, fans will talk of Browning’s stop-start performance, and his mind-boggling decision-making while on the run. They will critique Race Porter’s punts for the next few days, scratching their heads in bewilderment trying to understand what it is the Huskies are trying to get accomplished in that phase of the game.

That’s all well and good because that’s what Washington will focus on too. They have to in order to continue to build skill and get better as the season goes on.

“I think we can help him get better answers,” Washington Head Coach Chris Petersen said after the win about Browning’s day. “We’re in third-and-long and that is not where you want to be against Utah. Guys are running down the field and we’re not protecting like we need to and they are very good at blitzing and bringing different blitzes and he’s trying to not take a sack…I think we’re all in this. From the o-line to the coaches. It’s not just on Jake. It’s not. And we’ll get that fixed as well.”

The only thing I wanted to do here is give Washington fans a brief respite from their hand-wringing to enjoy the best defense in the Pac-12. And it’s not close. There’s not a defense in the conference that’s in the same area code as close to Death Row.

Yes, Utah is physical and they are well-coached, but Washington used the classic formula for winning on the road: run the ball, stop the run, win the turnover battle and win on special teams.

The Huskies did all those things except the last one, but the important part is that they didn’t compound their mistakes. For example, Utah’s average starting field position in the fourth quarter was at Washington’s 27-yard line. But the Utes turned amazing field position into nothing – three stalled drives where Death Row clamped down and didn’t allow Utah any room to move.

And they did it all in such an aggressive, physical fashion that it was often painful watching Utah try and move the ball.

Washington totally sucked the will out of the home team. By the time the scoreboard ran dry, the Utes knew they had been well and truly beaten. The scoreboard was respectable, but the game didn’t reflect the score.

“They turned up the dial,” Petersen said of UW’s fourth quarter defense. “We got their best when we needed their best. We talk about that ad nauseam but I thought we tackled well tonight, I thought we were really, really physical. It wasn’t one guy. Zack Moss is a heckuva back and (Britain) Covey is as electric and shifty as anyone in our league. They made their plays but I thought our guys contained them probably as well as we could.”

If ‘contained’ is just a friendly coaching euphemism for savagely taking them out of the game piece by piece, then yes – UW ‘contained’ Utah’s skill players.

So what’s on the horizon for the Huskies after that display? An Arizona State team that looked to have things rolling until San Diego State derailed their dreams. If I’m ASU Quarterback Manny Wilkins or star receiver N’Keal Harry, I’d keep one eye open when you go to bed this week.

Death Row is thinking about you, patiently waiting.


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