SEATTLE — The final score resembled what most anticipated following Saturday’s college football game between Washington and North Dakota.
That actual game play by the Huskies? Not so much.
Washington earned its first victory of the season, defeating North Dakota 45-3 Saturday afternoon at Husky Stadium.
However, the ninth-ranked Huskies did not steamroll their Football Championship Series opponent the way they hoped following last week’s tough loss to Auburn. Washington (1-1) was unable to impose its will on North Dakota (1-1) in the first half, particularly on offense, and the final margin was propped up by three fourth-quarter touchdowns that came after the result was all but determined.
Washington quarterback Jake Browning, who played with a brace on his right knee after taking a heavy hit late in last week’s game, put up some decent-looking numbers, going 23-for-37 for 313 yards and two touchdowns. However the fourth-year starter, who’s being counted on to lead the Huskies to a championship-caliber campaign, also had several poor throws, including two interceptions.
Washington built a 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter on Myles Gaskin’s 2-yard touchdown run, and at that point it appeared as though the Huskies were ready to turn the game into the mismatch many expected between a College Football Playoff contender and a run-of-the-mill FCS squad.
However, Washington’s next four full possessions consisted of three three-and-outs and an interception, meaning it was just 17-3 until late in the third quarter, when the Huskies forged a drive that ended with Browning’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Cade Otton. The game turned into a rout after that, with backup quarterback Jake Haener impressing in relief as he went 7-for-7 for 110 yards and a TD.
“It’s hard to think about anything but playing better on offense right now,” Browning said. “Obviously I’m happy we won, happy we put up 45 points, I thought Jake Haener came in and played really well. But, no disrespect to them, we shouldn’t be going three-and-out three times in a row at home versus North Dakota. We’re going to play some really good defenses this year and I don’t think we can do that. If we just sit there and pat ourselves on the back because we won that game, then I don’t think we’re going to improve that much. This week of practice is going to be big for us, we have to continue to improve, and that starts with me.”
While Washington’s offense had its struggles, its defense made sure the lead was never threatened, holding the Fighting Hawks to 262 total yards, including just 101 through the air.
Washington was hoping to have the type of dominating performance that would ease the sting of last week’s 21-16 loss to now No. 7 Auburn in Atlanta, a game that may have damaged the Huskies’ CFP aspirations. The final score certainly looks like one-sided affair, and when the committee does deliberations for picking the final four a quick glance at this result probably won’t hurt Washington’s stock. But it’s unlikely anyone who watched this game walked away thinking they just watched a final-four team. The Huskies will need to improve their performances considerably to convince anyone they deserve to be mentioned among college football’s elite.
It’s hard to say this game had a turning point, since only one team was ever going to win it. But when the Huskies went up-tempo on offense in the third quarter for the drive that resulted in Otton’s touchdown, it not only gave Washington’s offense a spark that had been missing, it began the process of making the final score more to the Huskies’ liking.
Washington has been trying to find gamebreaking receiving threats since the departure of John Ross two years ago and Dante Pettis last year. On Saturday the Huskies had two receivers making plays downfield as Quinten Pounds caught three passes for 98 yards, including a 57-yarder, and Ty Jones caught four balls for 72 yards and two touchdowns, including both a 43-yarder and a one-handed TD catch.
Two members of Washington’s secondary had big games. Cornerback Byron Murphy negated every North Dakota pass that came his way, finishing with three passes defensed to go along with his five tackles. Safety Taylor Rapp was unleashed regularly on the safety blitz and was a constant menace in the Fighting Hawks’ backfield, finishing with two sacks and a fumble recovery.
North Dakota received a big game out of running back John Santiago, who rushed 18 times for 139 yards, and his 69-yard run midway through the third quarter set up the Fighting Hawks’ only score of the game.
Washington already knew it would be without starting left tackle Trey Adams (back) and tight end Hunter Bryant (knee), both of whom are expected to be out for a while. The Huskies then had three other starters — center Nick Harris, linebacker D.J. Beavers and punter Joel Whitford — not suit up because of undisclosed injuries. After the game Petersen described Harris and Beavers as week-to-week.
Lynnwood native Myles Gaskin, a senior running back who became Washington’s all-time leading rusher last week against Auburn, picked up his 50th career touchdown to add to his school record. But for the most part he was held in check, finishing with 15 carries for 53 yards, 24 of which came on the final play of the first half.
Marysville Pilchuck High School graduate Austin Joyner, a junior cornerback who started 10 games for Washington last year, did not start Saturday. However, he saw plenty of time throughout the game, featuring at left cornerback, right cornerback, safety and on special teams. He finished with four tackles, including two on kickoff coverage.
Marysville Getchell High School graduate John Clark, a walk-on junior defensive lineman for Washington, saw a handful of snaps. He finished with one tackle and nearly had a sack.
Monroe High School graduate Andrew Zimmerman, a junior quarterback for North Dakota, came in for the Fighting Hawks’ final possession and went 1-for-2 for 5 yards.
Archbishop Murphy High School graduate Kyler Gordon, a true freshman cornerback and heralded recruit for Washington, was not in uniform, indicating he may be a redshirt candidate.
Washington now heads into Pac-12 play as the Huskies hit the road to face Utah at 7 p.m. next Saturday. The Utes will present a significant challenge, as they were picked to finish second in the Pac-12 South behind USC. Utah gave Washington all it could handle last year, when the Huskies needed two scores in the final minute, including a field goal as time expired, for a remarkable 33-30 victory.
North Dakota, which isn’t technically in the Big Sky Conference but is playing a Big Sky schedule as it prepares to transition into the Missouri Valley Football Conference next year, heads to Sam Houston State next week for another non-conference game.