These days, the University of Washington has punt return fever.
Through three games, Dante Pettis leads all FBS returners with a whopping 38.8 yards average per punt return.
But that is not what is capturing people’s imagination. In each game, Pettis has returned a punt for a touchdown.
On Saturday, he took one back 77 yards against Fresno State in a 48-16 Huskies’ victory that tied two NCAA records:
▪ He matched Texas Tech’s Wes Welker (2000-03) and Oklahoma’s Antonio Perkins (2001-04) with his eighth career punt-return touchdown.
▪ He also joined Kansas State’s David Allen (1998) and North Carolina’s Ryan Switzer (2003) as the only men to return a punt for a score in three consecutive games.
Even normally-colorless UW coach Chris Petersen referred to all of it as the “Dante Pettis Show” after the game Saturday night.
“Pettis has, to me, gone to a different level,” Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre told reporters in Boulder after practice Monday.
It is MacIntyre’s and the Buffaloes’ responsibility to keep Pettis contained as the two teams meet in a rematch of last year’s Pac-12 championship game Saturday in Boulder.
One of the first questions reporters pressed MacIntrye on was whether or not the Buffaloes would even kick in Petts’ direction.
“We’ll see what we’re going to do on that,” MacIntyre said. “We’ll see.”
It all sort of comes full circle for Pettis this Saturday. As a true freshman in 2014, not only did the San Clemente, California, product score his first touchdown in Boulder (28-yard catch), he recoreded his first career punt-return score (87-yarder) in a 38-23 UW victory.
Equally amazing about all of these Pettis’ returns is how clean the rest of the unit has been in springing openings for him. Never in his career has a punt-return touchdown been called back because of a penalty.
“We spend a lot of time trying to work on that, talk about that, show clips like that,” Petersen said during his weekly press conference Monday at the Founders Club at Hec Edmndson Pavilion.
“It’s hard to practice that close to live (speed) at all. If you’re not practicing live, then how do you make great decisions? Because that’s when these split-second decisions of pulling off and not making a block (happen).”
Petersen was also asked if he can enjoy these types of high-level performances by one player while they are happening.
“To me, it’s all the same,” Petersen said. “I am not rooting one thing more than the other. I want us to do well in all of it.”
Petersen declined to give any injury updates on tight end Drew Sample (leg), or wide receivers Andre Baccellia and Chico McClatcher. None of them played Saturday. ... Kickoff for the Sept. 30 game at Oregon State has been set for 5 p.m.
UW HUSKIES OPPONENT THIS WEEK
Colorado Buffaloes (3-0, 0-0 in Pac-12 South)
7 p.m. Saturday, Folsom Field, Boulder, Colorado, Fox Sports 1, 1000-AM, 97.7-FM
Coach: Mike MacIntyre (23-31 in 5th year at Colorado; 39-52 overall with a previous stop at San Jose State).
Against the Buffaloes: UW leads, 9-5-1.
Scouting report: It is a rematch of last year’s Pac-12 championship, and while the Buffaloes lost eight defensive starters and defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt (to Oregon) from their Pac-12 South championship squad, they are off to a fast start with a new cast. Colorado ranks 40th in total defense (317.7 yards per game) and has forced seven turnovers. Offensively, much like graduated quarterback Sefo Liufau, Steven Montez (69 of 101, 858 yards, six TDs) is a big, strong thrower who does not mind getting the tough yards with his legs. Running back Phillip Lindsay (71 carries, 378 yards, three TDs) is one of the shiftiest ball carries in the conference. The last time the Buffaloes won back-to-back divisional titles was as a member of the Big 12 (2004, 2005).
WSU COUGARS OPPONENT THIS WEEK
Nevada Wolf Pack (0-3, 0-0 in Mountain West Conference)
3 p.m. Saturday, Martin Stadium, Pullman, Pac-12 Network, 710-AM
Coach: Jay Norvell (0-3 in 1st year at Nevada).
Against the Wolf Pack: WSU leads, 2-1.
Scouting report: Needless to say, after the Wolf Pack lost at home to FCS patsy Idaho State, 30-28, last week, Norvell’s short time leading the program has been a rocky one. At one point, they trailed the Bengals by 23 points in the second half before rallying to have a chance to tie. Nevada missed on a two-point conversion with less than a minute to go. It was their first loss to an FCS school since 1994. Many followers consider it one of the worst losses in school history. True freshman quarterback Kaymen Cureton (19 of 33, 205 yards, three TDs) might have a bright future someday, but will be hard-pressed to lead the Wolf Pack to a victory in Pullman.
– Todd Milles, staff writer