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Washington Huskies overcome slow start to survive Rutgers 30-14

Halftime flipped a switch in the season opener for Washington

NCAA Football: Washington at Rutgers Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Petersen remarked in an interview before the start of the game that he didn’t know how Rutgers was going to play. He wasn’t really able to gameplan for Rutgers specifically.

When Washington came out, it looked like they really didn’t have a plan; after the opening kick, UW went three (four) and out, with the only positive play being called back on an offensive pass interference. Things eventually changed enough to get to the final score of 30-14, but it took a while.

The defense was caught being over-aggressive on multiple occasions, allowing for a methodical Rutgers march down the field for seven points. Ben Burr-Kirven, starting in place of the suspended Azeem Victor, was caught out of position, while the young secondary was inches away from tipping or intercepting passes on multiple occasions as well.

Washington got the ball back and immediately registered its first chain-moving play. After two relatively unsuccessful runs, Jake Browning took what might have been the hardest hit of his career. Luckily, he survived to drop a bomb to Dante Pettis for 51 yards before the Dawgs settled for three in the red zone.

Twenty-four-year-old freshman punter Joel Whitford was able to pin Rutgers back against their own goal line on consecutive punts, and Gus Edwards was the only reason the Huskies weren’t able to score a safety. His second effort showed itself three times getting out of the end zone.

The Huskies were able to take the lead thanks to Dante Pettis’s record-tying ability to score touchdowns on punt returns. Rutgers punter Ryan Anderson booted it from the back of his end zone and drove the returner back. Pettis bobbled the ball but was able to regain his bearings before he had any defenders bearing down on him. He weaved his way to the first Husky touchdown of the evening to give Washington the lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

Rutgers started to show more signs of life on their final drive of the half but ultimately missed a long field goal to end all of the first half festivities.

After halftime a switch was flipped. Rutgers wasn’t able to make significant progress on their opening drive of the second half so the ball was booted over to the Huskies.

The Dawgs were finally able to handle their assignments up front and as a result they made their way down the field and into the end zone on ten plays. In the red zone Lavon Coleman was heavily featured, garnering three carries and a a touchdown catch to put the score at 17-7

Washington’s offense didn’t make it into the end zone reliably from there on out, and that is surely going to be something Petersen is going to touch on. John Ross on fades and slants was a favorite of this offense a season ago in the red zone, and finding a reliable threat outside of fades to Dante Pettis and busted coverages is going to be important for this offense to reach its maximum potential.

First Instant Reaction Dots of the season:

  • Washington’s lines really struggled early on, both on offense and on defense. Browning wasn’t given much time to go through his progressions, which he was forced to do on most throws - his first read wasn’t open often. On designed runs UW averaged just a shade over 4 yards per carry, far from what UW would expect against Rutgers. The defensive line gave up quite a few runs up the middle; Greg Gaines and Vita Vea weren’t the world destroyers they have been expected to be in the run game.
  • Browning didn’t have much zip on his throws. Arm strength was never a selling point for him but it really seemed off for most of the game. His shoulder did have an operation during the offseason so it could just be him rounding into game shape. One has to hope that nothing was dinged up when he was leveled early in the game.
  • Myles Gaskin’s first two seasons combined for 156 receiving yards. He has more than half of that after a single game in his junior season. He’s not going to have two acrobatic downfield catches every game, but he has added an entire new dimension that Jonathan Smith will exploit throughout the season.
  • May we never again have to know what it’s like to not have a first round talent at cornerback. Desmond Trufant, Marcus Peters, Sidney Jones (he counts) and now Byron Murphy. Murphy excelled in coverage, grabbing a pair of interceptions and being the best Husky corner out of a young bunch. Myles Bryant played well, and Jordan Miller didn’t embarrass himself either. The only real glaring mistake was true freshman Keith Taylor getting beat deep for a (questionable) touchdown.
  • Taylor Rapp was everywhere. He was consistently around the ball in coverage as well as in run support. His shoulder might need as much icing as Browning’s considering how many times he threw it into defenders.
  • After the early struggles, Burr-Kirven was able to settle in and lead the Huskies in tackles with 12.