No. 8 Washington overcomes slow start, jolts Rutgers
PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- As far as junior quarterback Jake Browning is concerned, Washington has a lot to fix after its season-opening win over Rutgers on Friday night.
“We have a standard that we play to as an offense, and that’s not it at all,” Browning said.
The No. 8 Huskies overcame a sluggish first half to grind out a 30-14 victory over the pesky Scarlet Knights in front of 46,093 fans at High Point Solutions Stadium, one year after beating Rutgers by 35 points to open the season.
Washington handed Rutgers its 10th straight loss dating to 2016, but the Scarlet Knights took away some positives after staying with a Top 10 team for most of the game.
“Last year, you watch that game and you would’ve said there was a lot of physical mismatches across the board,” Rutgers coach Chris Ash said. “I don’t feel that way right now. I feel like we just didn’t execute in some critical situations on some key plays that cost us that football game.”
Browning, who finished sixth in the Heisman voting last season, shook off a slow first half and a booming hit on a sack to throw two touchdown passes.
He finished 17 of 30 for 284 yards, 203 of which came in the second half as the Huskies picked up the tempo. Senior kicker Tristan Vizcaino added three field goals.
Redshirt freshman cornerback Byron Murphy spearheaded the defense for the defending Pac-12 champions with two interceptions while also downing two punts inside Rutgers’ 3-yard line on special teams.
The Huskies extended a three-point halftime lead to 17-7 when Browning found a wide-open Lavon Coleman out of the backfield for a 7-yard touchdown on third-and-goal with 9:17 left in the third quarter.
Browning later added an 18-yard scoring pass to running back Myles Gaskin for a 20-point lead on the first play of the fourth quarter.
“We wore out in the second half,” Ash said. “I thought we were putting good pressure on the quarterback in the first half. We knew we were going to struggle at times with some pass rush, and we got tired and that showed up.”
Rutgers was hanging around after sophomore Dacoven Bailey scored his first career touchdown on a 34-yard pass from Kyle Bolin with 10:31 left in the game. That connection cut the Huskies’ lead to 27-14, but Washington answered with a 42-yard field goal by Vizcaino for the final margin.
Rutgers led Washington for nearly the entire first half before an electrifying punt return touchdown by senior Dante Pettis let the heavily favored Huskies breathe a little easier, giving them a 10-7 lead at the break.
“Football is a game of momentum swings,” Pettis said. “We knew that coming in it wasn’t going to be full speed ahead for us. We were ready for a fight.”
Pettis raced 61 yards for a score with 3:50 left in the second quarter to put Washington ahead after Rutgers held Browning to 5-of-11 passing for 81 yards in the half.
Washington’s defense allowed the Huskies to claw back in front by forcing three punts and coming up with an interception by Murphy after Rutgers scored on its opening possession.
The Rutgers defense, which allowed 37.5 points per game last season, started with two stops to set the tone for a first half in which it limited Washington to 97 total yards, 51 of which came on one play.
The first drive for Bolin couldn’t have gone any better, as he capped an 11-play, 59-yard march with a 3-yard touchdown pass to senior wideout Janarion Grant for a 7-0 lead with 7:08 left in the first quarter.
Bolin, a graduate transfer from Louisville, finished 24 of 34 for 178 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for the Scarlet Knights, who were next to last in scoring offense in FBS last season.
NOTES: Washington’s Dante Pettis tied a Pac-12 record set by Desean Jackson with his sixth career punt return for a touchdown. ... Redshirt sophomore WR Jawuan Harris, who led Rutgers with 39 catches last year, sat out the game because of a violation of team rules. ... Washington senior LB Azeem Victor, a returning All-Pac 12 selection, and sophomore CB Austin Joyner both sat out for a violation of team rules. ... Washington became just the third Pac-12 team to play a game at Rutgers, joining Washington State (2015) and California (2001), which both picked up wins.