Remember that painfully slow start at Rutgers?
Couldn’t be further in the rear-view mirror for the No. 6 Washington Huskies.
Showcasing a near-perfect and as entertaining a first 10 minutes you will ever see in a college football game, the UW rode that blazing start to a 48-16 victory over stunned Fresno State at Husky Stadium.
The Huskies (3-0) did what they were supposed to do against three middle-of-the-road non-conference opponents, defeating Rutgers (30-14) on the road before returning home to wallop Montana (63-7) and now the Bulldogs, led by former Cal coach Jeff Tedford.
“It has been a pretty productive three games,” Huskies coach Chris Petersen said. “We know it changes now — and hanges dramatically.”
For all the great plays the Jake Browning-led offense has made the past 10 quarters, or stops by a swarming defense, if you connect the dots on what sparked the suddent turnaround, look no further than to No. 8.
Dante Pettis is just flat-out ridiculous.
First, it was his 61-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the first half at Rutgers than changed the whole complexion of that game.
Last week, he returned another one 67 yards on the final play of the first quarter that set a new Pac-12 record.
With punt-return scores in back-to-back games, there was no way the Bulldogs would give the senior from San Clemente, California a chance to tie the NCAA record with three in a row?
They certainly obliged.
“I was very surprised,” Pettis said.
And Pettis certainly thanked them in the best way he knows how.
With more than five minutes remaining in the first quarter, Pettis received a punt on the right sideline near his own 20-yard line. He used a stutter-move to split two defenders, then broke two more tackles as he made his way to daylight left.
The last converging defender left to beat was Fresno State running back Saevion Johnson, whom Pettis froze just enough at the Bulldogs’ 30, then ran by his final sliding tackle all the way to the end zone for a 77-yard score.
“You know, we punted the ball into the boundary and tried to pin him in and he still got out of there,” Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford said. “He is so slippery and has great balance and great speed.”
That gave the Huskies a 27-0 lead at the 5:11 mark of the quarter, and Pettis a piece of NCAA lore.
He tied Texas Tech’s Wes Welker (2000-03) and Oklahoma’s Antonio Perkins (2001-04) with his eighth career punt-return touchdown.
He also tied another NCAA record with a punt-return score in three games, matching Kansas State’s David Allen (1998) and North Carolina’s Ryan Switzer (2003).
“(Tying two NCAA records) is pretty cool. It is something I will look back om and say it is pretty awesome,” Pettis said. “For right now ... it’s not a wim. I definitely would like to continue winning.”
Possibly an early-season Heisman Trophy darkhorse candidate?
Just look what else he did Saturday against Fresno State.
He opened the game by taking a lateral along the left sideline from Browning, and firing downfield to Hunter Bryant for a 36-yard completion — setting up Myles Gaskin’s 28-yard touchdown scamper.
Pettis later caught a pair of short touchdown passes — a 4-yarder later in the first quarter, and a 7-yarder early in the second quarter.
Then, just 1:02 into the second half, he got deep in the middle of the field. Browning heaved it as far as he could. Pettis snatched the pass in stride, split two defenders and sprinted for a final 73-yard touchdown catch, the longest of his career.
He now has six all-purpose touchdowns, trailing only Oregon’s Royce Freeman (nine) for the conference lead.
“Dante can do it all” Petersen said. “We might have him start kicking field goals, and punting as well.”
After the Bulldogs tallied their lone first-half touchdown on Chason Virgil’s 6-yard strike to Da’Mari Scott with less than three minutes remaining in the first half, Browning guided a final exclamation-point series.
He completed seven of his nine passes to five different UW receivers. The 11-play, 75-yard march was capped by Browning’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Gaskin along the right seam with nine seconds to go in the first half, giving the UW a 41-7 lead.
“We are a pretty tough team to stop when we get some momentum going,” Browning said.