Sixteen seconds were all the Washington Huskies needed Saturday to establish themselves as the superior football team against Idaho.
Safety Budda Baker, among the many key Huskies starters who participate on special teams, barreled through a seam of the Idaho kick return unit and forced a fumble recovered by Keishawn Bierra at the Vandals’ 21-yard line. Jake Browning then threw a well-aimed spiral to Dante Pettis for a touchdown, and that was basically that.
Washington head coach Chris Petersen had to be pleased with the MMA-style, draw-blood-with-the-first-punch start, but he also realized 59 minutes is a long time to keep a very good team from humiliating a not-so-very good team.
No trait is preached more by coaches than toughness, but when it comes to unwritten rules about running up the score, these guys can be as sensitive as cats disrupted from a nap.
Three years ago, Idaho coach Paul Petrino had a tense postgame exchange with Washington State counterpart Mike Leach after Leach put several defensive starters back in the game for a late goal-line stand.
Leach’s reasoning was that the Cougars hadn’t produced a shutout victory since 2003. Petrino’s reasoning was that returning the first-team defense to protect a 42-0 lead violates any definition of sportsmanship.
Their midfield handshake found Petrino saying something to Leach, and Leach saying something back — two words often repeated in any movie starring Al Pacino — during an episode that underscored what can wrong when a coach fails to use restrictor plates in a blowout.
Petersen is skilled at the drill of keeping things from devolving into the football equivalent of a pie in the face, as well he should be. Since Petersen arrived from Boise State, where his team developed a reputation for its willingness to take on anybody, anywhere, Washington’s nonconference schedule has included home games against the likes of Georgia State and Sacramento State.
The most remarkable aspect of the Huskies’ 59-14 victory over Idaho on Saturday — a team that hasn’t beaten them since 1905 — was that the coaching staff was able to keep the margin respectable for the losers.
After Browning tied a school record with his fifth touchdown pass — an 8-yard strike to wide receiver John Ross on the first possession of the third quarter — the bench was emptied. Backup quarterback K.J. Karta-Samuels, for the second time in two weeks, saw action requiring a delicate balancing act.
If a quarterback is going to play, he should be given the opportunity to throw the ball here and there. Only problem was, Karta-Samuels took his first snap with the score 42-0, and throwing the ball seemed, well, uncivilized.
“That's kind of what we signed up for,” offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said of the conundrum regarding a backup quarterback who ended up completing 4 of 5 passes for 62 yards and a touchdown. “In the second half we got more vanilla and ran it, but we didn’t want to only do that.
“We wanted to pick and choose when to throw it, but you want to give the kid an opportunity to play and show what he can do. He converted a couple of third-down throws and almost threw a second touchdown. That’s the thinking: You want to let the kid play and see where he’s at.”
Karta-Samuels was part of a second-half cast that featured backups on both sides of the ball. Petersen was being a good sport, but there also was a pragmatic reason to play reserves.
“It’s such a long season,” he said, “we’re gonna need some of these guys. It’s all great right now; we’ve got a these bodies. But you start playing in our league, players start getting worn down a little bit.
“Some of the second-half guys will be first-half guys.”
First-half guys, he might have added, in games that won’t be over after 16 seconds.