SEATTLE -- Safety Will Shamburger returned a fumble 44 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, Keith Price threw for 222 yards and a TD to Kasen Williams, and Washington raced to an early lead then held on for a 21-12 win over San Diego State on Saturday night.
The Huskies revamped, new look defense under new coordinator Justin Wilcox more than held their own against the Aztecs and took the first step in erasing the embarrassing memories of last year's 67 points allowed to Baylor in last December's Alamo Bowl.
Washington forced three turnovers, sacked Aztecs quarterback Ryan Katz four times and picked up its first defensive touchdown since November 2010 on Shamburger's scoop-and-score early in the third quarter.
Katz threw a 47-yard touchdown to uncovered Tim Vizzi on the first play of the second quarter and Adam Muema added a 1-yard TD run in the fourth quarter but that was it for the Aztecs, who weren't helped by questionable kicking decisions by coach Rocky Long.
Katz finished 10 of 19 for 128 yards in his first start after transferring from Oregon State. The Aztecs went for the 2-point conversion following Vizzi's touchdown on the first play of the second quarter and failed. They were forced to go for two again following Muema's score on fourth down with 12:06 left and trailing 21-12, but Katz's pass was broken up by Huskies safety Justin Glenn and the Aztecs still trailed by two scores.
San Diego State followed Muema's touchdown with another drive inside the Washington 10 but faced fourth-down at the 8 with 4:50 left. After a timeout to discuss options, Long opted to go for it rather than kicking the short field goal attempt. Katz's pass for Gavin Escobar was overthrown in the back corner of the end zone.
Washington allowed 327 total yards, well under the 453 yards per game average allowed a year ago under previous defensive coordinator Nick Holt. And they were opportunistic with cornerback Tre Watson intercepting Katz on the Aztecs' first possession of the game and giving the Huskies a short field for their first score of the season when Bishop Sankey plowed in from the 2.
It was 14-0 after the Huskies next drive after Price hit all seven of his pass attempts, the last an inside screen to Williams, who made a quick sidestep that left Aztecs' defensive tackle Sam Meredith grasping at air and sprinted 8 yards for the two touchdown advantage.
Price finished 25 of 35 passes and completed 13 straight at one point of the first half. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins had nine catches for 82 yards.
The only mistakes Washington made in the opening half was due to a coverage lapse by the Huskies on the first play of the second quarter. San Diego State slid Vizzi on the field right before the snap and had him aligned near their sideline and uncovered. Washington coach Steve Sarkisian saw the open receiver at the last second and sprinted to call a timeout but was late. Katz made an easy toss and Vizzi went untouched for the touchdown.
But it was the Huskies defense making the biggest play of the night. Colin Lockett caught an 8-yard pass in the flat but as he was pulled down John Timu started ripping at the ball and loosened it just enough that when Talia Crichton drilled Lockett, the ball came completely free. Shamburger quickly grabbed the fumble and raced the other way, barely getting inside the pylon for the touchdown.
It was the first defensive touchdown for Washington since Quinton Richardson returned an interception for a score against UCLA two seasons ago. Jamaal Kearse returned a fumbled kickoff return for a touchdown last year at Utah.