In a game that many tuned out by the third quarter, the Washington Huskies delivered the football equivalent of a first-round haymaker to the Fresno State Bulldogs by building a 41-7 halftime lead. While Jake Browning and Dante Pettis are playing like the stars we know them to be, Washington’s rushing offense has yet to click into gear, and the defense’s inability to consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks could spell trouble down the road.
Rushing Offense: B
Washington’s ground attack entered Saturday’s game as the team’s biggest enigma, and that circumstance remains as we approach league play. Myles Gaskin made the most of his limited touches against the Bulldogs, parlaying eight carries into 56 yards and two touchdowns. Lavon Coleman carried the ball seven times for just 13 yards, but there’s no reason to think that’s indicative of how his 2017 season will proceed. Salvon Ahmed further cemented himself as the third-string tailback, earning the lion’s share of second-half carries when the game was already well in hand.
Passing Offense: A+
Jake Browning has made a career of feasting on inferior defenses, and he was true to form for the two quarters (plus one additional series) that he played Saturday. It’s hard to expect much better production from your starting quarterback than 19 completions on 22 attempts for four touchdowns and zero turnovers, and his figure of 11.6 yards per attempt is the fourth-best of his career. K.J. Carta-Samuels performed admirably in relief during the second half, completing all five of his attempts without throwing an interception, but he did lose a fumble after being sacked in the third quarter.
Dante Pettis got in on the action as both a passer and receiver, slinging a beautiful 36-yard completion to Hunter Bryant on a double-pass gadget play. In addition, Pettis turned in one of his finest performances of his receiving career by corralling five receptions for 92 yards and three touchdowns to go along with his punt return touchdown (more on that in a minute). Bryant, Aaron Fuller, Brayden Lenius and Quinten Pounds all produced multiple catches, which should help the offense’s cause as the Huskies look to develop more receiving weapons as the season progresses.
Rushing Defense: A
The Huskies were the bigger and more physically talented team Saturday, and that advantage was well on display when the Bulldogs tried to run the ball. Discounting sacks, Fresno State ran the ball 30 times for 126 yards and coughed up one fumble, with the Huskies limiting starting tailback Ronnie Rivers to 29 yards on 10 carries. The Dawgs jumped out to such a big early lead that Fresno State was forced to throw the ball much more than they would have likely preferred, but it is nonetheless encouraging that Washington’s reserves played disciplined enough to not allow any tremendously long runs outside of Marcus McMaryion’s 19-yard scramble late in the fourth quarter.
Passing Defense: A-
Neither of Fresno State’s quarterbacks saw much success against the Huskies Saturday, as Chason Virgil and Marcus McMaryion combined for 21 completions on 36 attempts for 194 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The pick came midway through the first quarter when Tevis Bartlett made a beautiful read on a bubble screen and immediately positioned himself in the passing lane, and came up just a handful of yards away from the end zone. Elijah Molden came just a hair’s breadth from reeling in a pick of his own, and Azeem Victor, Connor O’Brien, Jojo McIntosh and Myles Bryant were each credited with a single pass defended. Even with the starters still on the field, the Huskies have yet to generate much of a pass rush, which could spell trouble later in the year when the Huskies play against quarterbacks like Josh Rosen and Luke Falk.
Special Teams: A-
The Fresno State game was the third consecutive contest in which Dante Pettis returned a punt for a touchdown, further cementing him as the best returner in Husky history and one of the best in the annals of the NCAA. Meanwhile, Sean McGrew produced a solid return on Washington’s sole kick return of the day, making it from the goal line to the 30 before he was tackled. In what was a slow day for the kickers, Tristan Vizcaino connected on five of his six PAT attempts, with the one miss being the result of him simply pushing the ball wide right. Punter Joel Whitford only saw the field three times and shanked his first attempt out-of-bounds at the 50-yard line, but booted the other two a respectable distance of 48 and 40 yards, respectively.
The central challenge of playing an overmatched opponent is making sure that the team’s players do not consider the win a foregone conclusion. In that, Chris Petersen and his staff must consider Saturday’s game a rousing success. Washington’s offense scored touchdowns on each of their first four possessions, giving the Dawgs a lead that they would never come remotely close to surrendering. As for penalties, the Huskies drew four flags for 40 yards, including one of the most egregious facemasking violations you will likely ever see courtesy of Zeke Turner. With league play approaching, there’s no question that the staff will put an emphasis on avoiding unnecessary personal foul penalties in the weeks to come.
What overall grade do you give the Huskies for their performance against Fresno State?
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