SEATTLE (AP) — The undercard to Washington’s schedule wrapped up as expected, with another one-sided romp and another night where Dante Pettis left the stadium buzzing.
Maybe it’s finally time teams will start kicking away from Washington’s record-setting punt returner.
“He’s an awesome player. He really is,” Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford said.
Pettis had four touchdowns, including an NCAA record-tying eighth punt return touchdown for his career, and No. 6 Washington finished off its lackluster nonconference slate with a 48-16 rout of Fresno State on Saturday night.
Pettis had touchdown receptions of 4 and 7 yards in the first half, and a 73-yard TD pass from Jake Browning on the second play of the second half to give Washington (3-0) a 48-7 lead. But it was his 77-yard punt return late in the first quarter that put Pettis’ name into another record book.
“It’s kind of crazy just because coming into college I never would have thought that was something I could do,” Pettis said. “I didn’t even know I was going to be a punt returner to be honest. Now that it’s here it’s kind of crazy.”
Pettis caught the kick from Blake Cusick near the Washington sideline, shook one defender, hurdled another in the open field and finally stepped through a last tackle attempt. Pettis also got a key downfield block from Myles Bryant to complete the return and give Washington a 27-0 lead.
“We punted the ball into the boundary and tried to pin him in and he still got out of there,” Tedford said. “He is so slippery and has great balance and great speed, everything he does as a receiver as well.”
Pettis’ return TD tied him with Antonio Perkins (Oklahoma) and Wes Welker (Texas Tech) for most in a college career. Pettis also tied the NCAA record for consecutive games with a punt return touchdown at three. Pettis brought one 67 yards for a score in the season opener against Rutgers and had a 61-yarder last week against Montana.
Pettis wondered last week if teams would continue kicking to him. Fresno State (1-2) did and paid for it. Now that question falls to Colorado in the Pac-12 opener for the Huskies next week.
“We know it changes now. Changes drastically,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said.
Aside from the punt return, Pettis also tied a career high with the three TD receptions and threw a 36-yard pass to Hunter Bryant on the first offensive play. He was the recipient of another nearly flawless night by Browning, as the Huskies’ 27 first-quarter points was one off the school record.
Browning was 19-of-22 passing for 255 yards and four touchdowns and a passer rating of 243.7. Myles Gaskin added touchdown runs of 28 and 7 yards, but Washington’s running game remains a concern heading into Pac-12 play next week. Gaskin also had an 8-yard touchdown reception in the final seconds of the first half to give Washington a 41-7 lead at the break.
“If guys are going to pack in there, we’re going to throw the ball,” Petersen said.
Chason Virgil had Fresno State’s only touchdown on a 6-yard pass to Da’Mari Scott late in the first half. But the Bulldogs were quickly overmatched finishing off a brutal two-week stretch of road games at Alabama and Washington.
Fresno State: The Bulldogs can feel good about their defensive performance in the second half, even if it came against mostly backups for Washington. After Pettis’ long TD early in the third quarter, the Bulldogs held Washington scoreless, forced two turnovers and had a fourth-down stand inside the 5.
Washington: The Huskies run game still has some work to do. A week after Fresno State allowed 305 yards rushing to Alabama, the Huskies could only manage 92 yards rushing. Gaskin led Washington with 56 yards rushing. He also lost the first fumble of his career. It was the first lost fumble by a Washington running back since 2015.
“Of course you want all the big stats in the running game being a running back, but we’re winning games so it doesn’t really matter,” Gaskin said.
Fresno State has two weeks to decide what it wants to do at quarterback. Virgil was 11 of 20 passes for 98 yards while Oregon State transfer Marcus McMaryion came on in the second half and was 10 of 16 for 96 yards and added 23 yards rushing, albeit against mostly Washington’s reserves.
“We felt like we missed a few throws early and wanted to give him (McMaryion) a chance to get him in the game, get him some more game time, give him some game experience,” Tedford said.
Fresno State: The Bulldogs get a week off before returning home to face Nevada in their Mountain West opener on Sept. 30.
Washington: The Huskies open Pac-12 Conference play at Colorado. It’s a rematch of last year’s Pac-12 title game won by the Huskies.