University of Washington

Huskies thrash Wildcats, 49-3, before sparse Halloween crowd at Husky Stadium

Washington quarterback Jake Browning (3) throws a touchdown pass to Joshua Perkins, left, against Arizona in the first half an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, in Seattle.
Washington quarterback Jake Browning (3) throws a touchdown pass to Joshua Perkins, left, against Arizona in the first half an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, in Seattle. AP

They announced the attendance at Husky Stadium on Saturday night as 56,749, though a reasonable person would believe that only a little more than half that many actually showed. It rained. It was cold. It was late. It was Halloween. So, many stayed home.

And a lot of empty seats stood witness to the Washington Huskies’ most complete, most dominant Pac-12 victory of the Chris Petersen era.

Arizona entered this game as one of the nation’s highest-scoring teams, but it was Washington that looked the part of an offensive juggernaut, taking a blowtorch to the Wildcats’ spare-parts defense in a 49-3 demolition that pulled UW to 4-4 overall and 2-3 in Pac-12 play.

“It’s about time,” Petersen said afterward.

“I think our team kind of felt the urgency this week that we needed to get something done in a hurry.”

So they did. It helped that UW quarterback Jake Browning returned from the shoulder injury that kept him out of the Huskies’ loss last week at Stanford, and he showed why his presence is so important with the most impressive performance of his young career. The true freshman completed 16 of 24 passes for 263 yards and four touchdowns, added a 12-yard rushing touchdown, and mostly looked like the quarterback the Huskies thought he would be.

Sitting out against Stanford, Browning said, “was horrible. It sucked. You just sit there and watch. It was miserable. But that made it feel that much better to come back this game.”

Arizona, meanwhile, did nothing to dissuade the notion that it achieved its 5-3 record (now 5-4) and gaudy offensive statistics thanks mostly to soft scheduling. Anu Solomon and Jerrard Randall both played quarterback, as expected. But neither played particularly well. Solomon, who started, took several big hits from Washington’s pass rush — the Huskies had four sacks and several hurries — and he threw his first two interceptions of the season in the first half. Randall threw a pick, too, to UW safety Jojo McIntosh, the first of the redshirt freshman’s career.

The Huskies didn’t score any points off those turnovers, but thanks to a stout defense that held Arizona to just 3.3 yards per play before halftime, UW was able to use the interceptions to set up advantageous field position.

And that, eventually, paid off. Browning capped a six-play, 80-yard drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to tailback Dwayne Washington on a wheel route, and two possessions later found tight end Joshua Perkins for a 13-yard touchdown pass to take a 14-3 lead with 9:29 left in the first half.

Browning’s shoulder was still pretty sore earlier this week, Petersen said, but he showed significant improvement as the week progressed. And he showed no signs of pain as he carved the Wildcats’ defense as if they were a Big Sky team.

“As well as he played,” Petersen said, “he still left a few things on the table there that we were trying to get him to do. Some little things that can make a big difference. I think he’s getting more confident each week.”

UW’s final scoring drive of the half was its most impressive. Browning converted a third-and-6 with a risky 17-yard completion to freshman receiver Isaiah Renfro. He connected with Perkins over the middle for 24 yards on the next play, then again found Renfro, who caught a short pass and wiggled free for a 13-yard gain to Arizona’s 5-yard line.

Browning tossed a 5-yard fade pass to Brayden Lenius for a touchdown on the next play, giving the Huskies a 21-3 lead that felt nearly insurmountable.

It was, and it became more so in the second half. Browning led the Huskies on another quick touchdown drive to begin the third quarter, first flipping a quick pass to Jaydon Mickens, who juked a defender and scooted 40 yards up the right sideline, then finding Dante Pettis up the middle for a 31-yard touchdown pass three plays later.

And on third-and-1 at Arizona’s 12-yard line later in the third quarter, Browning kept the ball on a designed run around left end, sprinting untouched into the end zone for his fifth touchdown of the game. Later, midway through a meaningless fourth quarter, third-string quarterback Jeff Lindquist scored on an 8-yard rush of his own.

Dwayne Washington also added a 69-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, which reminded of the 66-yarder he ripped off against the Wildcats last season in Tucson.

The Huskies lost that game after a late fumble led to a last-second Arizona field goal. It was indisputably their most frustrating defeat in a mostly frustrating season.

On Saturday, they left no doubt. Arizona didn’t score a touchdown, managed only 3.8 yards per play, converted only 6 of 18 on third downs, and simply looked nothing like a team that averaged nearly 42 points in its first eight games.

UW linebacker Travis Feeney finished with nine tackles, two sacks, 4 1/2 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. Cory Littleton added seven tackles and a sack.

“We knew our defense was going to be dominant tonight,” UW linebacker Keishawn Bierria said. “Their offense is pretty simple.”

It looked that way.

“They got off blocks,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “Tackled well. Covered well. We didn’t execute, didn’t call good plays. Didn’t do anything well, really.”

In other words: Washington’s defense, despite playing without nose tackle Elijah Qualls, who left the game with an apparent leg injury in the first quarter and did not return, played like it has all season.

And, finally, the Huskies had an offense to match.

That it started with a touchdown in the first quarter, and three total in the first half, meant even more considering UW had scored only one first-quarter touchdown all season prior to Saturday.

“I think that made everyone feel better,” Petersen said. “I think these kids … they work hard. They really care. A lot of it has to do with them pressing and stumbling over ourselves sometimes. To get points on the board, I think made it breathe a little bit easier.”

EXTRA POINTS

Petersen said he didn’t have an immediate update on Qualls’ injury, though he said there was some discussion during the game that he might be able to return. … Junior cornerback Kevin King did not suit up after injuring his leg in last week’s game. … Arizona committed four turnovers, the most the Huskies have forced in a game this season. … Ten different Huskies caught passes, including Browning, who caught a 4-yard toss from tailback Deontae Cooper on a trick play.

christian.caple@thenewstribune.com

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