SEATTLE — Illinois hoped a road trip to Washington would cap a 3-0 start to the season for just the fifth time in the last 25 years.
Instead, Illinois came crashing back to reality in a 44-19 loss to the Huskies on Saturday because of turnovers and giving up big plays. Linebacker Shaq Thompson returned a Wes Lunt interception for a touchdown and picked up a fumble for another score as Washington (3-0) routed the Fighting Illini.
"When you come in here and play a team like this you can't turn the football over twice for touchdowns," Illinois head coach Tim Beckman said. "Can't let a big strike go on you there defensively. In three plays we gave up 21 points."
"I mean, you take out 21 points on three plays and we're in this football game."
Washington quarterback Cyler Miles threw a 75-yard touchdown to John Ross as part of a 21-point blitz that took less than six minutes of the first half. Dwayne Washington's 12-yard TD run gave the Huskies a 28-3 lead on the first play of the second quarter.
Before Illinois could blink, the Huskies had a 30-point lead just four minutes into the second quarter.
"Three plays really dictated the game," Lunt said. "My pick and my fumble were two of them. That can't happen. That's kind of where it started to get out of hand."
After a blown coverage left Ross racing behind V'Angelo Bentley and the Illinois defense to give the Huskies a 14-3 lead, Thompson stepped in front of Lunt's pass and returned the interception for a 36-yard touchdown. Following a safety, Andrew Hudson sacked and stripped Lunt of the ball. Linebacker John Timu shielded an Illinois player so Thompson had a clear path to scoop up the loose ball and run 52 yards for his second touchdown and a 35-5 Washington lead.
"Terrible (feeling)," Lunt said. "Terrible. And to have it happen twice in a game to result in touchdowns is really hard. I put our offense and defense in a tough situation."
Lunt threw for 230 yards for the Fighting Illini (2-1), but was unable to take advantage of Washington's depleted secondary. The Huskies played without starting cornerbacks Marcus Peters (suspension) and Jermaine Kelly (injury).
"Wes got hit a couple times and we has a little bit of pressure there but still you cannot throw interceptions that are returned back for touchdowns and you can't fumble the football," Beckman said.
Geronimo Allison had six catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns, but was the bulk of the Illini offense. After throwing for 456 yards in last week's win over Western Kentucky, Lunt was sacked five times and when he did have time missed open receivers. Illinois was 1 of 10 on third downs and committed 11 penalties.
"I think we lost a little bit of composure," Beckman said. "We just can't make mistakes like that when we're playing a team like this."
Thompson was the catalyst for Washington. A week after racing 57 yards for a touchdown on offense, Thompson's two defensive TDs were part of a 28-2 scoring run by the Huskies.
"I'm proud of our defense flying around and making plays, great turnovers and scoring," Washington coach Chris Petersen said. "That's how it should look on defense."
Miles was 15 of 20 passing for 191 yards and added another 55 yards rushing. If there is a complaint for Washington it might be the run game. Collectively, the Huskies finished with 245 yards rushing — most of those coming in the fourth quarter — but there was no standout ball carrier. Dwayne Washington had 58 yards rushing on 11 carries while Jesse Callier ran for 53 yards and had a 3-yard TD run for Washington's first score.
The effort was what Petersen was hoping to see after offense struggles in the opening win at Hawaii and the defensive concerns that arose after last week's narrow victory over Eastern Washington.
Cameron Van Winkle added field goals of 20, 25 and 51 yards.
"I think it was improved from last week which is all that we could ask for," Miles said. "I thought we moved the ball very well at times, but like any game it still can improve."
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