SEATTLE — The University of Washington football team passed its third non-conference test on Saturday, though this one, like the first two, was more of a pop quiz.
The real test comes next Saturday when the Huskies travel to Tucson for their Pac-12 Conference opener against Arizona.
But so far this season Washington has met every expectation and then some. Portland State was Saturday’s foe and the Vikings, an FCS school from the Big Sky Conference, were simply no match for an eighth-ranked UW team on a cool, cloudy and sometimes blustery night at Husky Stadium.
Washington scored two touchdowns in the game’s first three minutes and TDs on their first four offensive possessions on the way to a one-sided 41-3 victory.
It was the third straight UW blowout win this season, following a 48-13 victory against Rutgers and a 59-14 decision against Idaho. It was also Washington’s sixth consecutive game scoring 40 or more points, a school record that includes the last three games of 2015.
“After three weeks I’m pretty proud of these guys,” said UW head coach Chris Petersen. “All three games were a little bit of a unique challenge. (We had) good energy, good focus and we started fast for the most part.”
Washington quarterback Jake Browning had another fine game, completing 12 of 19 passes for 163 yards and four touchdowns. Through three games his completion percentage is around 70 percent and he already has 12 TD passes.
Four of those completions went to slot receiver Chico McClatcher, who is certainly faster than anyone on the Portland State defense. McClatcher caught a flat pass and turned it into a 43-yard touchdown in the early moments, and later added another 13-yard scoring reception.
The UW running game, which was lackluster in the first two games, was better against Portland State. The Huskies got 93 yards on 13 carries with one touchdown from tailback Myles Gaskin, and totaled 213 yards on the ground.
But if Washington’s play was dominating, it was still far from flawless. The offense slowed to a crawl for much of the second and third quarters, the team was flagged five times for 65 penalty yards, and the Vikings twice came within a whisker of blocking a Husky punt.
“There are some things that we need to clean up,” Petersen acknowledged.
The Huskies will take their 3-0 record and lofty national ranking — they should move up to No. 7, given Florida State’s one-sided loss to Louisville — to Tucson for next Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. game vs. Arizona. No doubt the opponent will be tougher, the setting and climate will be a challenge, and it will be a great chance for Washington to prove that it is indeed a true Pac-12 contender.
“A 3-0 start, that’s what we wanted,” Browning said. “But now here comes the Pac-12 (schedule), and as we all know every Pac-12 game is a big game. Anybody can beat anybody.”
“I’m definitely excited for the conference (schedule),” added McClatcher. “We know Arizona is going to be a good team and that it’s going to be a test for us, but we feel pretty confident.”
Washington has not fared well in Arizona in Petersen’s first two years as head coach. Two years ago the Huskies let a late lead slip away in a 27-26 loss to the Wildcats. Last season Washington jumped out to an early lead against Arizona State, but then wilted in an eventual 27-17 loss.
“I remember both of those games very well,” said UW linebacker Azeem Victor. “I definitely remember that feeling of losing both of those games, and that’s not going to happen this time. It’s definitely not going to happen.”
Petersen has preached facing each game as a separate challenge, with no variation in preparation or focus. But he also understands the Huskies are moving to a much different and certainly more formidable stretch of their schedule.
“We’ve seen this for a while,” he said. “We’ve been staring at the schedule for a long time. We’ve got our first three games and they have unique challenges, but then we start the league in a tough way — (going) to Arizona for a night game to open the league. That’s going to be a challenge. Then we come home on a short week against Stanford (on Friday night, Sept. 30), and then we go to Eugene (to face Oregon on Oct. 8). So we’ll find out quickly what we have, but it’s the next step in progressing to where we need to go.
“We’ve been paying attention to it for a long time,” he added, “and the time is now.”