On their first possession Saturday, the Washington Huskies set out to prove what everybody else in the stadium assumed.
The Huskies bulled over Montana with an efficiency not apparent during the first half of their season opener last week at Rutgers. During a drive that began at the UW 11 yard line, quarterback Jake Browning took snaps for seven plays. One was a Chico McClatcher fly sweep that Montana defensive end Tucker Schye snuffed for a seven-yard loss.
The other six plays, executed with textbook precision, revealed the variously dynamic options available to Browning.
He connected with wide receiver Andre Baccellia for a 14-yard gain, with McClatcher for a 31-yard gain, and with tight end Will Dissly for the 28-yard gain that set up Browning’s roll out run for a touchdown.
Sluggish when it took the field at Rutgers, the UW offense distinguished itself with energy and enthusiasm. The interior line gave Browning ample time in the pocket, and when the ball was caught, the receiver often was the beneficiary of a crisp downfield block.
The first-quarter offensive effort wasn’t perfect for the Huskies. They were penalized three times for 20 yards, who gave up a touchdown on a tipped-pass interception returned 36 yards.
That fluky score tied the game at 7-7, and briefly suggested Montana could compete if enough crazy bounces went its way.
Instead, all the pick accomplished was the prevention of a shutout.
Leading 35-7 at halftime, the UW dominated in all three phases before head coach Chris Petersen’s only challenge became finding playing time for the reserves.
The defense harassed senior quarterback Reese Phillips, operating a hurry-up offense that seemed to play into the hands of the Huskies.
When Dante Pettis scored another touchdown on a 67-yard punt return — his second of the season, and the seventh of his remarkable career — it gave Washington a 21-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Griz never established a ground game, and when their deficit reached three touchdowns in the second quarter, running wasn’t going to be viable anyway.
There was a time — from 1993 to 2009, specifically — when the Griz might have posed legitimate match-up problems against a bigger, stronger, deeper opponent from a power conference. They never missed the postseason during that stretch, appearing in seven national title games and winning two FCS championships.
But following a 5-1 start last year, the Griz finished 6-5 and in eighth place in the Big Sky Conference.
“I’ve done a lot of thinking and soul searching and we’re going to look at every little aspect of what we do,” head coach Bob Stitt said after his team’s 2016 season concluded with a home loss to Montana State. “Internally it eats at me and eats at me and eats at me. I cannot sleep at night and I cannot enjoy anything unless our players are successful.”
Stitt had to understand that beating No. 7 Washington in Seattle would have been tantamount to Appalachian State’s 34-32 road upset of Michigan in 2007. In other words, historic.
Upset of the Decade history wasn’t happening Saturday. The only chance at history was when a Montana punt floated into the hands of Dante Pettis, whose first-half touchdown return set the Pac-12 record and left him one short of the NCAA record.