CHICAGO (AP) — Coming off a big win, Illinois really had a chance to open some eyes.
Instead, the Fighting Illini were passed over and run through and got tripped up again after chipping away at a 21-point deficit.
It all added up to 34-24 loss to No. 19 Washington at Soldier Field on Saturday.
“We’re a young football team,” coach Tim Beckman said. “I told this football team I’m proud of them and proud of the way they’ve worked for the last 10 months. We need a little bit of a break.”
The Illini are off this week before hosting Miami of Ohio and visiting Nebraska for the Big Ten opener.
They were coming off a surprising blowout win over Cincinnati, but a comeback bid came up short this week. Keith Price threw for 342 yards and two touchdowns, and Bishop Sankey ran for a career-high 208 yards to lead Washington to a rare road win.
Josh Shirley added three sacks, and the Huskies came out on top after dropping seven of nine away from home. They hadn’t won on the road outside the Pac-12 since beating Syracuse in 2007.
“We had a chance to finish them off,” Price said. “We didn’t do it. We let them crawl back in the game late.”
Washington (2-0) collected 615 yards in this one after racking up 592 and keeping high-powered Boise State without a touchdown in a 38-6 rout two weeks ago. But the Huskies had to hang on down the stretch.
They saw a 21-point lead in the third quarter dwindle to seven in the fourth, before sending Illinois (2-1) to its sixth straight loss against ranked opponents.
“In every department there should be improvement,” Shirley said. “The sky’s the limit for this team. We just have to go back to the drawing board on Monday and fix the corrections next week.”
The Illini cut it to 31-24 on Aaron Bailey’s 10-yard run with 9:10 remaining, but Washington’s Travis Coons kicked a 32-yard field goal to make it a 10-point game with 4:44 left. Gregory Ducre then picked off a deep pass by Nathan Scheelhaase, sealing the win for the Huskies.
Price completed 28 of 35 passes without an interception. Kevin Smith caught five passes for 104 yards. Jesse Callier had a 39-yard touchdown run, and Sankey carried 35 times in this one after running for 161 yards in the opener. He scored a 31-yard touchdown on a screen in the first half and on a 1-yard run early in the third quarter, capping a 75-yard drive in which Washington did not attempt a pass.
The defense sacked Scheelhaase four times with Shirley leading the way, and the Huskies won despite committing 12 penalties for 104 yards.
Illinois couldn’t keep the momentum going after blowing out Cincinnati last weekend.
“We gave up over 600 yards of offense,” Beckman said. “Their running game, I don’t think we really stopped it either. We faced a very good quarterback, a senior quarterback. We have to get better if we’re going to be contenders, no question.”
With Hall of Famer and Chicago native Dick Butkus watching his alma mater play in the stadium where he starred for the Bears, the Illini couldn’t get much going. Scheelhaase, off to his best start in four years as the No. 1 quarterback, was just 9 of 25 with 156 yards. He did connect on a 72-yard touchdown to Ryan Lankford right when the Huskies looked like they were ready to pull away, but that was the lone bright spot for him.
“I thought I could have pressed the tempo a little more,” Scheelhaase said. “I could have done a better job of that. As a quarterback any time you walk off the field without a win, I definitely want to go back and you feel you’re unsatisfied.”
The long touchdown came on the first play from scrimmage after Jaydon Mickens scored on a 9-yard pass, slipping past two defenders and diving into the end zone to boost Washington’s lead to 31-10. Instead of a blowout, Scheelhaase then hit Lankford for that TD, and things got real interesting after a trick play by Illinois in the fourth.
Bailey took the snap and faked a handoff before pitching to Miles Osei, who then hit Matt LaCosse for a 35-yard pass. That led to a 10-yard touchdown run by Bailey, cutting it to 31-24 with 9:10 remaining only to have Coons kick an insurance score for the Huskies a few minutes later.
“We had laser focus,” Shirley said. “Sometimes, in the past, we let our guard down at the end. This time, we came together as a team and finished.”
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