One of the biggest questions facing the Washington Huskies heading into this season was how to replace the production of NFL-bound John Ross within their corps of wide receivers.
It is still a stumper after the first game, too.
Dante Pettis, the teammate who played on the opposite side of Ross all of last season, picked up where he left off last Friday when he caught three passes for 85 yards, and returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown in the UW’s 30-14 victory over Rutgers.
But his position mates? Chico McClatcher caught one ball for 16 yards. Brayden Lenius added one reception for 15 yards. And Andre Baccellia hauled in a pass for 11 yards.
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Those numbers won’t exactly strike fear into the defensive backs of the University of Montana, which plays the No. 7 Huskies on Saturday in Seattle.
“Each of kind of contributed because we spread the ball around a decent amount in that game,” UW co-offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said. “There is one ball. Each guy had a touch. Looking at the tape, they did what we asked them to do. They really did. When the ball came their way, they made some plays.”
It might be too obvious to point out that the sample size is too small to make any wide-sweeping conclusions about how effective this receiving group can be outside of Pettis.
And keep in mind, the flow and the pace of the game against Rutgers was slow, to say the least. The Huskies ran just 21 offensive plays in the first half.
McClatcher was the first pass target from quarterback Jake Browning on the opening series, but his catch was wiped out by an offensive pass-interference penalty.
Behind Pettis (six targets), McClatcher was thrown too most often — four times.
“It was the first game, and we were trying to get out the jitters,” McClatcher said. “We had to adjust a little bit in that first half.”
The reception that was talked about most often after the game — and this week – is Lenius’ grab in traffic in the third quarter.
Part of it is for sentimental reasons. Lenius, who had caught 33 passes in 27 career games during his first two seasons in 2014-15, redshirted last year after being suspended for the first three games for an unspecified team-rule violation.
“I am just happy to be back,” Lenius said. “I missed the team last year. ... I made up for my mistakes, moved on and became a better man.”
The other part is strictly football-related. Lenius is 6-foot-5. And with his size, he could become the big target the offense has sorely missed.
“It is valuable, especially with his catching radius since he is so big,” Smith said. “It is comfortable for a quarterback to see a guy like that at 6-5 in those windows, (and know) he doesn’t have to throw a perfect ball.”
Overall, half of Browning’s 30 passes Friday were intended for wide receivers. Only nine of them went in the direction of McClatcher, Baccellia (two), Aaron Fuller (two) and Lenius (one).
Nine passes went to running backs Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman, and the trio of tight ends — Drew Sample, Will Dissly and Hunter Bryant — was targeted six times.
Baccellia says he anticipates he and the other wide receivers will see more opportunities come their way soon.
“(Not seeing passes consistently) is part of the game, and as long as we are firing on all cylinders ... we are going to have a great season offensively,” Baccellia said.
“I think it’s an honor (to start after Ross). He obviously is one of the best receivers ever to play here. He was a great player. To fill in those shoes is a big role, and I am excited for the opportunity.”
In an effor to speed up games, the Pac-12 is reducing halftime periods by five minutes —to 15 minutes. It is a start, UW coach Chris Petersen noted Thursday, but more needs to be done. “This is low-hanging fruit, in my opinion,” Petersen said. “I mean, I am with (Pac-12 officials) — we need to make this go faster. It can be painful at times. Five minutes at halftime is not a big deal. Let’s get some more things going.” ... What is a “ZonePass?” It is $79 worth of season-long VIP access in the East Field during Huskies home games. Patrons who purchase a ZonePass will not only have their own private area to socialize before the game, they will be the only ones allowed back into the area during halftime for food and beverages. ... Also, a third beer garden will be opened for home games on the east side of Husky Stadium.