SEATTLE — With wind and rain wreaking havoc throughout Husky Stadium on Saturday night, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian turned to the ground game and running back Bishop Sankey time and time again.
Sankey had carried just four times last week in a blowout win over Idaho State. Against Arizona, Sarkisian put the game on Sankey’s back.
Sankey carried a school-record 40 times for 161 yards and a touchdown and Keith Price threw for two scores to lead No. 16 Washington to a 31-13 victory over the Wildcats.
Sankey outperformed Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, the NCAA’s leading rusher in 2012, as Washington improved to 4-0 for the first time since 2001. Sankey surpassed the school record of 38 carries set by Corey Dillon in 1996 against Washington State as stormy conditions forced both teams to limit their passing game.
“Bishop was awesome,” Sarkisian said. “He didn’t change, his focus was there, his body language didn’t change from the first carry to the last.”
Sankey carried 35 times against Illinois two weeks ago — a number of carries Sarkisian admitted was more than he would like for his starting tailback. But with the soggy conditions Saturday, Sarkisian trusted Sankey to carry the load. Sankey was more than happy to oblige.
“How ever many times they need me to carry,” Sankey said. “When I’m out there, the adrenaline is pumping. I’m not really thinking about how many carries I’m at — what the limit is. I’m just trying to pick up yards and move the chains.”
Sankey, who entered as the country’s No. 2 rusher at 148.7 yards per game, continued to be brilliant for the Huskies. He carried for 101 yards on 23 carries in the first half alone as Washington (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) built an 11-6 lead.
“He was a warhead tonight,” Price said. “…We needed to lean on our run game today. We knew it was going to be extremely hard trying to throw the ball downfield so we were kind of conservative with that.”
Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker struggled to cope with the wet conditions. His first pass was intercepted by Sean Parker as it sailed high over Johnny Jackson.
Four plays later, Keith Price connected with Kevin Smith for a 7-yard touchdown to give the Huskies a 6-0 lead after a botched extra point attempt.
The rain intensified and both offenses struggled to move the chains in the downpour.
Arizona (3-1, 0-1) failed to convert a first down on their first five possessions of the game against Washington’s stifling defense. After a safety on a punt snapped through the end zone, Kasen Williams returned the ensuing free kick 48 yards to the Arizona 28-yard line. Travis Coons converted a 42-yard field goal to take an 11-0 lead.
After their fifth straight three-and-out of the half, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez visibly chewed out Denker along the sidelines.
“The effort seemed like it was pretty good, but the execution wasn’t there all day in certain areas,” Rodriguez said. “That’s disappointing because we thought our guys were really ready to play and ready to handle the environment and the weather and all that. We just didn’t play well at times.”
Denker and the Arizona offense finally pieced together a scoring drive to end the half. Facing fourth-and-2 at the Washington 36-yard line, the Huskies sold out to stop Carey and Denker kept for a 33-yard gain to the Washington 3. Carey scored on a 3-yard touchdown to pull Arizona within 11-6 at halftime after a failed PAT. Carey ran for 132 yards and a touchdown for the Wildcats.
The rain lessened and the offenses came out firing after the break. Washington needed to convert just one third down as the Huskies marched on a 95-yard scoring drive to open the third quarter. Price capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Austin Seferian-Jenkins to give Washington an 18-6 lead. Price was efficient in throwing for 165 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Facing another fourth down, Carey ran for 24 yards on fourth-and-10 to move the Wildcats to the Washington 11. Two plays later, Denker ran around left end for a 7-yard touchdown to pull within a score of the Huskies.
Price connected on a 49-yard pass to Smith to quickly move Washington back into Arizona territory. Sankey blasted into the end zone from 1-yard out to extend the Washington lead to 25-13.
The Wildcats were driving again when Denker was intercepted by Marcus Peters, causing Rodriguez to fume again and spike his headset into the turf along the Arizona sideline. Denker completed just 14 of 35 passes for 119 yards and two interceptions.
“That’s not an excuse of how I played,” Denker said of the conditions. “Still got to get the job done no matter what. Keith Price was playing in the same conditions, so I don’t have an excuse.”
Jesse Callier added a 2-yard touchdown run for Washington.