Their defense gave them a chance.
Their special teams gave them a spark.
Their offense, led by true freshman quarterback Jake Browning and an inexperienced offensive line, gave them nearly nothing.
And while the Washington Huskies made this season opener at Boise State more interesting than it might have appeared at halftime, they still left Albertsons Stadium on Friday in the same fashion as most Broncos opponents.
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In coach Chris Petersen’s return to Boise, against the program he coached to 92 victories in eight seasons, the Huskies showed that Year 2 of their own Petersen era is unlikely to yield such greatness in a 16-13 loss before a crowd of 36,836.
The Huskies (0-1) did drive to Boise State’s 19-yard line in the final minute with a chance to tie the game, but Cameron Van Winkle missed a 46-yard field-goal try with 21 seconds to play.
The Boise faithful cheered for their former coach here on Friday night, and why not? Petersen did for Boise State what no other coach ever had.
So the mood was not bitter when Petersen walked onto that blue turf an hour before kickoff. Instead, the fans welcomed him with a warm ovation — not thunderous, certainly, but loud enough to prove that any wounds opened by Petersen’s departure have apparently healed.
If those fans knew what Petersen’s team would play like in the first half, they might have cheered even louder.
Boise State gashed the middle of the Huskies’ young defensive front with 32 rushes for 152 yards in the first two quarters, including a pair of touchdown runs by Jeremy McNichols that helped BSU to a 16-0 halftime lead.
Considering that at that point, the Broncos were outgaining UW 254-56 and the Huskies had achieved just four first downs — their offense again looked boring and stagnant and inert, all adjectives appropriately applied to last season’s outfit, too — the Huskies were lucky to even be within two scores.
They got on the board with a Cameron Van Winkle field goal in the third quarter. Then their special teams changed the complexion of the game.
After UW’s defense forced BSU to go three-and-out late in the third quarter — Boise State totaled 83 yards in the second half and did not score — Huskies receiver Dante Pettis returned the ensuing punt 76 yards for a touchdown to cut the Broncos’ lead to 16-10.
And when Jaydon Mickens blocked a Boise State punt with a little less than 10 minutes remaining, the Huskies had the ball at BSU’s 27-yard line with a chance to score a touchdown and take the lead. But the drive stalled and they settled for a field goal.
The final drive of the game was the most frustrating for UW. After Browning completed a pass for a first down to Pettis at BSU’s 19-yard line, the Huskies were backed up by a holding call, then backed up again by a sack of Browning that put the ball at BSU’s 37.
Browning, who completed 20-of-35 passes for 150 yards and an interception, threw a screen pass to Dwayne Washington that gained eight yards to the Broncos’ 29, close enough for Van Winkle to try to tie the game.
But he missed, and Petersen left this stadium in a fashion to which he is not accustomed.
NOTES: Browning wasn’t the only first-year player who saw the field for the Huskies. Former O’Dea High School tailback Myles Gaskin played some offense, as did true freshman receivers Chico McClatcher of Federal Way and Isaiah Renfro. True freshman linebacker Tevis Bartlett played some defense and special teams, and true freshmen Austin Joyner and Ben Burr-Kirven each played special teams. ... Sixth-year tailback Deontae Cooper made the trip but did not suit up for the game, apparently because of injury. ... The Huskies’ first touchdown of the season came on a 76-yard punt return by sophomore receiver Pettis. He also returned a punt for a score last season, after UW had gone without a punt-return touchdown since 2003.