CHICAGO -- The Washington Huskies couldn't have asked for a much better start to their season.
After blowing out formerly-ranked Boise State to open the year, No. 23-ranked Washington beat Illinois 34-24 on Saturday night to spoil the Fighting Illini's homecoming game held in front of 47,312 at Soldier Field.
Keith Price completed 28-of-35 passes and threw for 342 yards and two TDs, while Bishop Sankey carried 35 times for 208 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) to lead the Huskies (2-0). Nathan Scheelhaase completed just 9-of-25 passes for 156 yards for the Illini (2-1) -- who couldn't come all the way back after cutting the Washington lead to 31-24 with 9:10 left in the fourth quarter.
Washington appeared to take control of the game on the first drive of the second half, which lasted 1:58, used seven plays and didn't have one pass attempt. Sankey, who capped it with a 1-yard plunge into the end zone for a 17-3 lead, took five of the handoffs from Price for 53 of the 75 yards the drive covered -- including runs of 25 and 22 yards.
The Huskies controlled the Illini's front seven during the march, opening several wide holes for Sankey to dart through for big gains.
Illinois, however, countered with a 75-yard scoring drive of their own on the ensuing possession to cut Washington's lead to just a touchdown. Scheelhaase scampered in from 2 yards out, untouched, on a bootleg scramble to breathe life into the Illini with 9:14 left in the third.
Washington's ground assault was relentless, though.
The Huskies took their next drive 85 yards in 10 plays, with Jesse Callier -- who started the day third on the depth chart -- getting three carries and breaking free for a 39-yard TD run to make it 24-10 three minutes after Illinois' score.
Price then led the Huskies to another touchdown drive on their next possession -- this time 10 plays for 78 yards -- finding Jaydon Mickens with a 9-yard pass to make it 31-10 with 3:32 left in the third.
Scheelhaase hit Ryan Lankford with a 72-yard TD pass to make it 31-17 just 16 seconds later and freshman quarterback Aaron Bailey -- a short-yardage specialist -- made it 31-24 with 9:10 left in the fourth with a 10-yard run on fourth-and-1.
Price led the Huskies down the field for a field goal to push their advantage to 10 points and the Illini couldn't respond.
Illinois blew a chance to get on the board first when Taylor Zalewski missed a 41-yard field goal early in the second quarter. Just 2:55 later, the Huskies took a 7-0 lead on a 31-yard catch-and-run by Sankey for a touchdown.
The score capped an impressive eight play, 75-yard drive that was spearheaded mostly by Sankey and Price, who threw for 211 yards in the first half and completed 17 of his 21 attempts through the first two quarters.
Scheelhaase, who was held to just 4-for-13 for 61 yards passing in the first half, nearly had a long touchdown pass on the first drive of the game. He lofted a perfect pass to senior receiver Steve Hull running wide open behind the Washington defense, but the ball bobbled off his hands to negate what likely would've been a 43-yard scoring strike.
NOTES: Illinois head coach Tim Beckman came into the game 0-6 in his career against ranked opponents. ... The last time Illinois and Washington played was 1971, a game won by the Huskies. ... The Illini coaching staff took advantage of the weekend in Chicago, one of its main recruiting areas. Assistant coaches spread out throughout the Chicago area on Friday night to watch games of prospects they're recruiting. ... After not being sacked once last week against Cincinnati, Scheelhaase was dropped four times in the first half alone by the Huskies' defense. ... Jim Cornielson, who sings the national anthem prior to Chicago Blackhawks games, pulled double duty on Saturday. He sung the anthem to start the Dollar General 300 NASCAR Nationwide series race at nearby Joliet before singing it to start the game at Soldier Field. ... Illinois played without injured defensive linemen Vontrell Williams and Bryce Douglas and also without injured linebackers Henry Dickenson and Ralph Cooper. ... The Huskies are familiar with playing in NFL stadiums after playing all of their home games last season at CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks. ... Washington racked up nine first-half penalties for 84 yards.