Game Ball Goes To: Dante Pettis
This was a pretty easy category to decide, made even easier by the fact that the team's only touchdown of the evening came from Pettis via his punt return. Last year against Colorado, Dante ended Washington's 11-year drought of returning a punt for a touchdown; his second career return for a score Friday against Boise State provided a spark to the Huskies that led to them coming within a foot of a Cameron Van Winkle field goal from engineering a second-half comeback for the ages. However, Pettis still needs to clean up the mental aspect to his game, as his illegal touching penalty stalled a promising fourth-quarter drive following a Boise State turnover.
Who Stepped Up: Azeem Victor
In 2014, the presence of linebackers John Timu and Shaq Thompson meant that Azeem Victor didn't have many chance to show his worth on the field of play. In Washington's first game following their departures to the NFL, Victor wasted no time in displaying the talent that landed him the starting inside linebacker job. The 6-3, 240 lb. third-year sophomore led the team with 14 tackles, including one tackle for loss, and was a general source of chaos for the Broncos' offense all game long. Special recognition also goes to Joe Mathis, who earned 2.5 TFLs and one sack.
Most important play: Justin Taimatuia's sack on the final drive (at the 2:06:00 mark of the clip)
There's no question that Washington's offense clicked when it needed to during its final drive, and it was encouraging to see Jake Browning display poise beyond that of a true freshman making his first start on the road against a top-25 opponent. But the second sack of that drive occurred in a situation in which a sack was the only outcome that could not be allowed to happen, as it transformed what would have been a 38-yard field goal attempt into a 46-yarder. Without that sack, the Dawgs almost certainly tie the game (in 27 career attempts, Van Winkle has not missed an attempt from fewer than 40 yards, not counting a 36-yarder that was blocked last year against Cal) and go into overtime, with all of that second-half momentum behind their backs.
Most Important Statistic: 10:22 (Washington's time of possession in the first half)
Washington's offense controlled the ball for barely a third of the opening half, and ended its possessions thusly: Punt, punt, interception, punt, three-and-out, and kneel-down to end the half. During that span, the Huskies ran an average of 3.5 plays per drive; gained 15 rushing yards on 10 attempts; completed seven of 11 passing attempts for 41 yards; and recovered a Dwayne Washington fumble while turning the ball over once via interception. Meanwhile, Boise State's possessions went punt, touchdown, touchdown, turnover on downs, interception, and field goal, during which the Broncos rushed for 152 yards on 32 attempts, completed 12 of 18 passes for 102 yards and an interception; and scored on three of four trips into the red zone. The moral of the story: Washington's defense could be very good this year, but not when it's put into the position of staying on the field for two-thirds of a half.
Surprise of the Game: Surrendering just 83 yards in the second half after yielding 254 in the first
After a rough first half that wasn't helped by the offense's inability to sustain a drive and give their counterparts some time to breathe, Washington's defensive players and coaches made some wonderful halftime adjustments that led to the Huskies skunking the Broncos in the game's third and fourth quarters. In the first half, Boise State gained an average of 4.75 yards per play, tallied 15 first downs and converted on six of 10 third-down situations. Contrast that with the second half, when Washington held the Broncos to 2.76 yards per play and six first downs, and allowed just two third-down conversions in eight tries. Pete Kwiatkowski and his staff deserve full credit for analyzing what went so wrong in the disastrous first half, and for keeping up their players' morale while they made the proper adjustments that led to an impressive performance in the game's final 30 minutes.
Biggest Source of Frustration: Gaining only 29 rushing yards on 22 attempts
Husky fans came into this season holding out great hope for 6-2, 226 lb. running back Dwayne Washington, who finished out the 2014 regular season with three consecutive 100-yard performances and five touchdowns while averaging 7.8 yards per carry. His eight carries for 14 yards (1.75 yard average) was therefore a massive disappointment for the fourth-year junior, who seemed out of sync with his offensive line and didn't seem to break a single tackle. In addition, his notorious propensity for putting the ball on the ground reared its ugly head in the first quarter, when Washington fumbled the first completed pass of Jake Browning's career. On a night when the entirety of the Huskies failed to eclipse 30 rushing yards (a figure unseen since the Dawgs tallied -5 yards on 25 attempts in 2013 at Arizona State), it seems abundantly clear that Washington and Lavon Coleman will have to show massive improvement soon (to say nothing of the offensive line, whose players are just as, and perhaps more, complicit in the running game's failure), lest they sink down the depth chart in favor of true freshman Myles Gaskin.