UW wide receiver Dante Pettis on his seventh career punt return for a TD against Montana
For Jake Browning, wins are not the only thing that matter around the University of Washington.
He is the undisputed leader of the Huskies’ offense, so when the unit does not play well — when it does not hold up its end during any portion of any game, like last week at Rutgers — it gets under his skin.
But on Saturday, Angry Jake gave way to Precise Jake.
Right from the get-go, No. 7 UW was on point in all three phases in crushing Montana, 63-7, in front of 68,491 in its home opener at Husky Stadium.
It was just a fun afternoon all the way around for the Huskies: Browning fired bullets, ran away from Montana defenders and even threw in a de-cleating block. Offensive tackle Trey Adams registered his first career carry. And Dante Pettis delivered another special-teams gem, setting a Pac-12 record with his seventh career punt-return touchdown.
The Huskies have never lost to an FCS school. And they were not about to start Saturday. Washington piled up 506 yards of offense while the defense held Montana to 159 yards and forced four turnovers.
“Everybody’s goal in life is to start fast. And I thought it was really important for us, because we got off to such a slow start last week on both sides of the ball,” UW coach Chris Petersens said. “That was one of our goals going into the game, and we did that.”
The UW put together four touchdown drives in the first half of 65 yards or longer, led by Browning.
He hit on passes of 31 yards to Chico McClatcher, and 29 yards to Will Dissly to set up the game’s first touchdown on his own 1-yard scamper just 3:34 into the game.
The one Browning wishes he could have back was really his only bad mistake.
On the UW’s second drive, he tried squeezing in a pass on the shoulder of Pettis. It was too high for the senior to grab, and it deflected high in the air, and right in the waiting arms of Montana’s Josh Sandry, who went 36 yards untouched for the game-tying touchdown with less than five minutes remaining in the opening quarter.
But Browning showcased one of his underrated qualities on the next series: Scrambling.
On first down from the Grizzlies’ 41, he felt pressure, saw a crease and took off running to his right.
Four different defenders tried to getting their hands on Browning, who cut left and gained 16 yards.
“It’s an interesting style, isn’t it? I close my eyes half the time when he’s reversing his field and all of those things,” Petersen said. “But he’s smart and crafty. We know he is going to take off and scramble. That is part of his game.”
On the next play, a 21-yard run by true freshman Salvon Ahmed, Browning sealed off the right edge with a bone-crushing block on defensive end Tucker Schye.
Myles Gaskin finished off the 75-yard scoring drive with a 4-yard touchdown scamper.
Then it was Pettis’ turn to do something spectacular.
Greg Gaines’ sack for the UW defense finished off a three-and-out Montana drive, and punter Eric Williams unloaded a punt down the left seam.
Pettis hauled it in on a full sprint, then turned the corner down the right sideline. As soon as he crossed midfield., he cut it back into the teeth of the coverage, but ran by everybody.
“Once I cut back, I thought, ‘Yeah I am scoring.’ Then I started getting a little tired,” Pettis said. “And the punter, who was fast, flew at me. And I was like, ‘Oh man, I don’t know what I am about to do.’ ”
Williams dove for Pettis’ legs at the 20-yard line. Pettis stopped and twisted his body out of the way to avoid contact, then finished off the 67-yard return for a touchdown for a 21-7 Huskies lead.
“I don’t know what that move was,” Pettis said. “It was more of an avoidance than a juke.”
It was Pettis’ seventh career punt-return score, setting the new conference record. He tied Desean Jackson’s mark of six touchdowns for Cal last week against Rutgers.
With his third punt-return touchdown in his past nine games, Pettis is now one shy of the NCAA record of eight scores, shared by Texas Tech’s Wes Welker and Oklahoma’s Antonio Perkins.
Sensing they needed an answer to stay in it, Montana went for it on fourth down three times on its next series. It converted twice, driving to the Huskies’ 24.
But on the final fourth down, UW linebacker Keishawn Bierria stripped quarterback Reese Phillips on a sack, and recovered the fumble to end the threat.
Browning hit on four consecutive passes to start the next drive, and the Huskies went to a little trickery inside the red zone.
Rolling out right, Browning threw a lateral to a waiting Adams, the starting left tackle, who rumbled 9 yards and nearly scored. It set up Lavon Coleman’s 4-yard touchdown run.
Browning was magnificent in the first half, completing 11 of his first 12 passes for 168 yards. He added another 33 rushing yards. He finished 22 for 26 for 259 yards and two scores before giving way to K.J. Carta-Samuels in the fourth quarter. Browning also had 50 rushing yards and was not sacked.
And the junior from Folsom, California, finished off the half leading the offense 80 yards in 44 seconds, throwing a 20-yard touchdown pass to Dissly, the only Montana native on the UW roster, to give the Huskies a 35-7 lead.
“It was getting everybody to put good plays together … to get some momentum going, and that was the difference,” Browning said.
Jomon Dotson picked off a Phillips pass late, and returned it 69 yards for the defense’s first touchdown of the season, extending the UW’s lead to 49-7.