CHICAGO -- The Washington Huskies couldn't have asked for a much better start to their season, but they are anyway.
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.
Yet despite rolling up 615 yards of total offense (342 through the air and 273 on the ground), the Huskies weren't getting too full of themselves afterward. The Illini managed to cut Washington's lead to 31-24 with 9:10 left in the fourth quarter, which forced the Huskies to keep their composure to secure the victory.
"We had a chance to kind of finish them off and we didn't do it," said Washington senior quarterback Keith Price, who completed 28 of 35 passes and threw for 342 yards and two TDs. "We let them crawl back in the game late. They end up hitting a bomb (for a TD). That kind of deflated us a little bit. I'm just proud of the way we fought back. We didn't let that bother us, didn't let it rattle us and we just kept running plays."
They ran 85 plays, to be exact. That was 23 more than Illinois (2-1), which was held to 327 total yards of offense -- about half of Washington's total. The Illini held the Huskies to 278 total yards in the first half and trailed just 10-3 at the break, but Washington rolled out 337 yards in the last two quarters.
"We played a very good football team," Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. "We just didn't make plays when we needed to make plays, left some points out there early in the football game ... defensively just did not slow them down. Tackling was probably the major concern."
Huskies junior running back Bishop Sankey led the way on the ground, carrying 35 times for 208 yards -- both career highs -- and scored two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving).
His rushing TD came at the end of the first drive of the second half, which lasted just 1:58 and used seven plays -- without a 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 -- just the way Washington coach Steve Sarkisian drew it up.
"I think it speaks to our toughness and how hard we prepare in the running game," Sankey said. "That's something that Sark planned at halftime and we knew we just had to go out there and pound the rock."
Illinois countered with a 75-yard scoring drive of its own on the ensuing possession to cut Washington's lead to just a touchdown, with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase scampering in from 2 yards on a bootleg scramble to breathe life into the Illini.
Overall, it was a tough night for Scheelhaase, who completed just 9 of 25 passes for 156 yards and as sacked four times.
Washington's ground assault was also relentless.
The Huskies went up 24-10 on their second drive in the third quarter, going 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 just three minutes after Scheelhaase scored.
Price then led the Huskies to another touchdown drive on their third 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 quarter. 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.
"It's a long season ahead, so we should definitely be looking at the situation with a glass half-full mentality," Scheelhaase said. "We're excited about the opportunities ahead of us and also getting some rest on our bye week and allowing our bodies to recover."
NOTES: Beckman fell to 0-7 in his career against ranked opponents. ... The last time Illinois and Washington played was 1971, a game won by the Huskies. ... Illinois played without injured defensive players Vontrell Williams, Bryce Douglas, Henry Dickenson and Ralph Cooper. ... Jonathan Brown led the Illini in tackles for the third straight game, racking up 15. ... Illinois has played only two games in Soldier Field and lost both, with both losses coming to both Pac-12 schools from the state of Washington. ... The Huckies racked up nine first-half penalties for 84 yards and finished the game with 12 for 104 yards. ... 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.