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Originally published September 3, 2011 at 8:28 PM | Page modified September 3, 2011 at 10:15 PM

Steve Kelley

Huskies' season opener was all gotcha and no gimme

The Huskies are talented, but very, very young. That was obvious in this 30-27 season-opening win over Eastern.

Seattle Times staff columnist

quotes Congrats on the win UW fans. Just know that this EWU team was an FCS National Champion... Read more
quotes Well, let's face it, the Huskies should have lost this game. They were outplayed and... Read more
quotes Boy. I saw a different game. I was shocked at Eastern's speed on defense and our comp... Read more

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One play saved them. One acrobatic interception by Desmond Trufant in the end zone with 29 seconds left in a three-point game rescued Washington from a most disastrous start to the season.

Eastern Washington quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell threw a 50-50 ball intended for Brandon Kaufman that he probably wishes he could have back. It was one of his few mistakes in a wonderfully entertaining afternoon.

Trufant, a true star in the making, got position on Kaufman, out-jumped him, grabbed the ball, kept his concentration and came down with the interception.

Nothing about this sun-splashed late-Saturday afternoon was easy for Washington, including this interception.

The Huskies are talented, but very, very young. That was obvious in this 30-27 season-opening win over Eastern.

The defending FCS champion Eagles have almost as many dangerous athletes as Washington and Mitchell played this game with a gunslinger's swagger and an NFL quarterback's arm.

From Eastern's first drive of the game — a quicksilver, nine-play, 58-yard touchdown march — to its last — a manic last-minute blitzkrieg from its 5-yard line to the Husky 25 — this game didn't feel like your typical big school vs. little school early-September tuneup.

This game was dangerous, as scary as Appalachian State a few years ago at Michigan or James Madison's win last year over Virginia Tech.

This is supposed to be the first year of Washington's new A-B-C nonconference scheduling policy. The idea is to schedule one tough game, the "A" game (Nebraska), a challenging-but-less-difficult "B" game (Hawaii), and a gimme opener "C" game (Eastern).

But this game felt more like a gotcha than a gimme. The Eagles are experienced and smart and used to winning.

And Mitchell's performance reopened all of the questions about Washington's secondary that lingered for the first two-thirds of last season.

For most of the afternoon, he was the best quarterback on the field and his receivers Kaufman, Ashton Clark, Greg Herd and Nicholas Edwards looked every bit as talented as UW's pass catchers.

Trust me, there are softer schools on Washington's schedule this season than Eastern Washington.

Eastern spread the field with wide receivers from sideline to sideline and the Huskies had too many breakdowns. Mitchell completed 39 of 69 passes for 473 yards and three scores.

And just think, next Saturday Washington has to face Hawaii's quarterback Bryant Moniz, who led the nation in total offense last season.

In the end, the only real difference between the two teams might have been a couple of muffed punts by Eastern and a couple of punishing penalties.

The first muff, in the first quarter, led to Keith Price's first touchdown pass of the season — a smart, 7-yard checkdown throw to an unlikely target, fullback Jonathan Amosa.

And the second muff, late in the third quarter of a seven-point game, was followed by a Price-to-Kasen Williams pass that briefly gave the Huskies some air, 27-13.

Price-to-Williams, get used to it. You'll be seeing a lot more of that hookup.

This is supposed to be Price's offense, his season. He is Jake Locker's heir. He worked doggedly all summer, practicing with locked-out NFL players like Tennessee quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

He made himself better and won the job in a two-man battle with Nick Montana.

But he's young and raw and needs time to mature into the kind of quarterback Washington will need to win consistently in the Pac-12 Conference.

Still, redshirt sophomore Price played like he belonged. In the huddle, in the pocket and on the run, he made plays.

All three of his touchdown passes came when he took his time, read his progressions and made the right decisions.

Price completed 17 of 25 cautiously called passes for 102 yards. He didn't commit a turnover.

His start was more good news than bad, but there were mistakes.

Twice in the second half, he failed to read Eastern blitzes. Once he was sacked for a 12-yard loss and another time he was sacked and lost a fumble that was recovered by his tackle Erik Kohler.

Coach Steve Sarkisian's play-calling was deliberately conservative. Most of Price's pass plays were safe — a lot of rollouts that allowed him the time to survey the field.

But in the end, Washington made one last play and got a win that was all gotcha and no gimme.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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