No. 7 Washington overwhelms Montana
Washington coach Chris Petersen and his players on offense were not pleased with what they called “a wake-up call” the previous week. They responded to the challenge with a balanced performance, but it was the defense that left the biggest mark on Saturday night.
Jake Browning threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns and the defense forced four turnovers as seventh-ranked Washington stifled Montana 63-7 in its home opener at Husky Stadium in Seattle.
The Huskies (2-0) clicked early on offense and had help on special teams, but it was the defense that kept the pressure on throughout. The Grizzlies (1-1) gained just 31 of their 163 total yards on the ground.
Washington didn’t make it much easier in the passing game. Leading by 35 late in the third quarter, cornerback Jomon Dotson intercepted Montana quarterback Reese Phillips and zig-zagged to both sides of the field before completing the 68-yard return to extend the lead to 49-7.
The Huskies racked up nine tackles for a loss, four sacks, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries and posted a second-half shutout.
“I thought our defense played well. We stopped them when we really needed to,” Petersen said. “When you score on defense, I think that just always changes things. I don’t know why it is, but it does.”
Offensively, Browning completed 22 of 26 passes, including five to senior tight end Will Dissly, who hauled in two touchdown throws. Freshman Salvon Ahmed led a balanced rushing attack with 54 yards on nine carries and his first career touchdown, a 1-yarder to push the advantage to 56-7 with 10:37 remaining in the game.
In all, the Washington offense generated 506 total yards, and five different Huskies ran for a touchdown. Browning added a career-high 50 yards rushing.
Washington, which rattled off 56 unanswered points, has outscored FCS opponents 153-10 over the last three seasons.
“They’re as advertised,” Montana head coach Bob Stitt said about Washington. “They’re a very, very good football team. In a game like this, you have your opportunities to do your things early. Their athleticism and size and power hurt you as the game goes on, and then it’s a little bit of a snowball effect.”
After throwing for 381 yards and four touchdowns in a season-opening win over Valparaiso, Phillips struggled against a defense that ranked in the top 20 last season. The senior finished 17 of 28 for 123 yards. Montana was just 2-for-17 on third-down conversions.
Washington made amends for last week’s sluggish start and raced out to a 35-7 halftime lead.
A 21-point first quarter set the tone, capped by senior return man Dante Pettis’ record-setting punt return as time expired. Pettis eluded four would-be tacklers on an electrifying 67-yard touchdown -- the seventh of his career to set a Pac-12 record.
Browning and running back Myles Gaskin added first-quarter scoring runs for the Huskies. Browning needed less than four minutes to put the Huskies ahead 7-0 on a 1-yard touchdown run. In contrast, the Huskies needed 26 minutes before taking their first lead in last week’s 30-14 win over Rutgers.
”I was pleased that offense started a little faster,“ Petersen said. ”I thought it played well aside from the one ball that was thrown a little bit behind Dante and got tipped (and intercepted).
“But. other than that, it was pretty clean on offense.”
Montana allowed 326 total yards in the half. Sophomore safety Josh Sandry supplied the lone Montana highlight, returning a 36-yard interception for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 with 4:56 left in the quarter.
“That was fun,” Stitt said. “(Being tied at) 7-7 was a good feeling. You would have liked to have made some more plays.”
The Grizzlies’ next-best scoring chance was spoiled on a fumble at the Huskies 35-yard line with 8:10 to play in the half.
NOTES: Washington preseason All-American LB Azeem Victor made his season debut after serving a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules. It was Victor’s first game in nearly 10 months since breaking his right leg and missing the final four games of the 2016 season. He made four tackles. ... Washington WR Dante Pettis surpassed the conference mark for punt return scores set by California’s DeSean Jackson (2005-07), whom he tied the previous week. ... Washington leads the all-time series 17-1-1, but the former Pacific Coast Conference members hadn’t played head-to-head since 1951. Montana’s lone victory was in 1920.