Pettis (4 TDs) fuels No. 6 Washington past Fresno St.
SEATTLE — Regardless of how Dante Pettis got his hands on the ball, Fresno State had no answer for the dynamic Washington receiver, returner — and passer.
Pettis caught three scoring passes and tied an NCAA record with his eighth career punt return for a touchdown as sixth-ranked Washington concluded its nonconference schedule with a methodical 48-16 victory over Fresno State on Saturday night.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Pettis said of the punt return record. “Coming into college, I would have never thought that was something I could do. I didn’t even know I was going to be a punt returner, to be honest. Now that it’s here, I haven’t really thought about it too much.”
Pettis scored on passes of 4 and 7 yards and added a 77-yard punt return as the Huskies (3-0) opened a 34-0 lead one series into the second quarter. Pettis’ 73-yard touchdown catch on the second play of the second half put Washington up 48-7. He also completed a 36-yard pass on Washington’s first offensive play.
“Dante can do it all,” Washington coach Chris Peterson said. “We might have him start kicking field goals, and punting as well. There’s not much he can’t do.”
Myles Gaskin also had three first-half touchdowns on runs of 28 and 7 yards and an 8-yard pass reception. Jake Browning completed 19 of 22 passes for 255 yards with four touchdowns before departing early in the third quarter.
Fresno State (1-2) converted two Washington fumbles into field goals of 29 and 34 yards by Jimmy Camacho to make it 48-13 entering the fourth quarter. Camacho added a 31-yard field goal in the final period.
Washington, which lost to Alabama 24-7 last season in the college football playoff semifinals, opens Pac-12 play Sept. 23 at Colorado (3-0), which defeated Northern Colorado 41-21 on Saturday.
“I think it’s been a pretty productive three games,” Peterson said of the nonconference schedule. “We know it changes now, it changes dramatically. The level of competition, going into a truly hostile environment where we haven’t been yet this year. We’ve been a long ways, but it’s not going to feel the same as going into Boulder. It’s good. Here we go.”
It was the second consecutive loss to a ranked opponent for Fresno State, which was coming off a 41-10 loss to No. 1 Alabama.
Fresno State managed one first down before punting on its five-play opening possession. Washington responded with a five-play, 76-yard scoring drive, capped by Gaskin’s 28-yard run up the left side with 10:49 left in the first quarter. The Huskies dipped early into their bag of tricks with a 36-yard pass from Pettis to tight end Hunter Bryant on their first play.
The Huskies forced a three-and-out on the Bulldogs’ next possession and answered with a 70-yard scoring drive to make it 14-0. Browning hit Bryant with a 50-yard pass on the drive and found Pettis in the left corner on a 4-yard scoring pass.
On the first play of the next series, Washington linebacker Tevis Bartlett picked off a Chason Virgil pass and returned it 24 yards to the Bulldogs’ 7-yard line. Gaskin promptly scored on a run up the middle out of the wildcat formation. Tristan Vizcaino missed the extra point, but Washington was in front 20-0 halfway through the first quarter.
Things went from bad to worse for Fresno State, which punted again, and Pettis returned it 77 yards for the score — his third consecutive game with a punt return for a touchdown.
“I don’t think that was a bad punt,” said Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford, who was an offensive consultant last season with Washington. “We had him over on the numbers. They did a nice job of blocking it and we didn’t defeat the one-on-one blocks and they did a nice job. Typically that’s what happens with them. Dante gets a lot of the credit but it’s all the people around him that really execute very well.”
The Bulldogs finally showed offensive life with a 60-yard drive near the end of the first quarter, but Camacho’s 48-yard field-goal attempt missed wide right.
Pettis’ third touchdown, a 7-yard pass from Browning, capped a 68-yard march that put the Huskies up 34-0 with 12:07 left in the half.
Fresno State got on the board with 2:59 left in the half when Virgil hit Da’Mari Scott with a 6-yard pass to finish a 50-yard drive following Washington’s first punt of the game.
Browning’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Gaskin with nine seconds left in the half pushed the lead to 41-7.
“I think we started fast,” Browning said. “We were just executing pretty well, and when you’re executing well, you just get some momentum going. And, we’re a pretty tough team to stop when we get some momentum going.”
NOTES: Freshman TE Hunter Bryant made his first start for the Huskies in place of Drew Sample, who injured his ankle last week vs. Montana. ... Junior WR Brayden Lenius started in place of Andre Baccellia, also injured against Montana ... Washington’s 27 points were the fourth most in the first quarter in program history. The Huskies scored 28 points three times. ... Dante Pettis’ eight career punt returns for touchdowns tie him with Wes Welker (Texas Tech) and Antonio Perkins (Oklahoma). ... After back-to-back games against highly ranked opponents, Fresno State has a much-needed bye week before opening Mountain West play at home against Nevada on Sept. 30. ... Gaskin’s two rushing touchdowns gave him 27 for his career, moving him Chris Polk (26, 2008-11) and into a tie with Jacque Robinson (27, 1981-84) for career rushing TDs. Up next are Hugh McElhenny (28, 1949-51) and Rich Alexis (28, 2000-03).