PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — If No. 8 Washington wants to get back to the college playoffs, the Huskies are going to have to pick it up after a less-than impressive opening victory over Rutgers.
On the other hand, if the Scarlet Knights continue to play the way they did against the defending Pac-12 champions, they are going to surprise some teams.
Dante Pettis woke up Washington just before halftime with his sixth career punt return for a touchdown and Jake Browning threw two second-half touchdown passes in a tougher-than-expected 30-14 victory Friday night.
Browning, who was the conference’s offensive player of the year last season after throwing 43 touchdowns, was frustrated.
“We got a standard that we try to play to and that’s not the standard at all,” said Browning, who completed 17 of 30 passes for 284 yards. “So yeah, we’re going to have a long week of practice. Friday game, so we got and extra day and we’ll be ready.”
The Huskies, who led Rutgers 24-0 after the first quarter of a 48-13 home win a year ago, were danger of going to the locker room down 7-3 when Pettis fielded Ryan Anderson’s punt down the middle of the field and scored on 61-yard return that put Washington in front 10-7 with 3:50 left in the half. Pettis tied former California star DeSean Jackson’s Pac-12 career record for punt returns for scores.
“Whenever a punter is backed up for some reason they always boom the ball, so he kicked it 55, 60 yards or something,” Pettis said. “I misjudged it a little bit, and then dropped it, didn’t really panic, looked straight up the field and my guys did a great job of just clearing everybody out.”
Anderson said his punt was supposed to go out of bounds and he did not execute trying to rush it.
A senior receiver, Pettis actually set up the Huskies’ first three scores this season. His 51-yard catch set up the first of three field goals by Tristan Vizcaino and his catches of 10 and 24 yards ignited an early third-quarter drive that Browning capped with a 7-yard swing pass to halfback Lavon Coleman for a 17-7 lead.
“I think any explosive plays get the sideline going, gets everybody feeling good about what going on,” said Pettis, who also returned a punt for a touchdown against Rutgers last season. “So it doesn’t matter if it’s a long run, catch, whatever. I think any time there’s a big play it’s good for us.”
Browning also found halfback Kyle Gaskin on an 18-yard TD pass on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 27-7 lead.
Louisville transfer Kyle Bolin threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Janarion Grant on Rutgers’ first possession for a 7-0 lead and a 34-yarder to Dacoven Bailey with the game pretty much decided. Bolin finished 24 of 34 for 178 yards and had two passes intercepted by Byron Murphy.
The Scarlet Knights have lost 10 straight under second-year coach Chris Ash, but Rutgers showed a lot of improvement, especially against Washington. The Huskies were returning a big chunk of a team that posted a 12-2 record that included a Pac-12 title and a trip to the college football playoffs.
Ash felt Rutgers faced a lot of mismatches last year against Washington. This year, he felt his team did not execute in critical situations.
“I feel like we’re bigger, we’re stronger, we’re more athletic and we’ve got the ability to go toe-to-toe with good football teams but again, to beat them, we’re going to have to play better football,” Ash said.
WASHINGTON: This was the easternmost game for Washington and the travel might have slowed the Huskies at the start. They still have a lot of talent and will get better.
RUTGERS: Compared to a year ago, this was a big step forward. The offense and defense are better. They will be a lot more competitive this season.
WASHINGTON: The Huskies play Montana in their home opener Sept. 9.