Chris Petersen wasn’t happy with his rushing attack, Jake Browning wasn’t thrilled with his decision-making and the Washington football team played without three more injured starters.
Out of all this angst came a 45-3 victory over FCS member North Dakota under mostly cool but pleasant temperatures and no suspense whatsoever on Saturday afternoon at Husky Stadium.
“It seemed like a little tougher sledding than we would have liked,” said Petersen, the Huskies’ fifth-year coach. “I just felt we could play a little cleaner.”
With plenty of seats available, people came out to see this one put away early and get a preview of the next generation of players coming through, and that’s exactly what happened.
While Browning threw for 313 yards and a pair of scores but registered his disgust over his overall play, redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Haener took his first snaps from scrimmage and looked sharp as he completed all seven of his passes for 107 yards and a touchdown in mop-up duty.
Haener, like all Washington freshmen or redshirt freshmen, do not partake in media interviews, per program policy. Leave it to Browning to size up the newcomer’s college debut.
“He came in and made some big-time throws,” Browning said of Haener. “He’s earned that second-string spot in a pretty tough room and I’m happy for him.”
Sophomore running backs Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant, third and fourth coming off the bench to carry the ball, each broke a 23-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Pleasant, in fact, finished with 47 yards rushing on five carries. Overall, the Huskies totaled just 195 yards on 34 carries, not particularly eye-opening numbers considering the lower-tier opponent.
“I think we need to run the ball better, but those guys in the fourth quarter attacked it,” Petersen said. “They got after it.”
Sophomore Ty Jones, normally a starter but not on the field for Washington's opening play, used his 6-foot-4 height to pull in a pair of scoring passes, one each from Browning and Haener. Cade Otton, a redshirt freshman earning more and more playing time, had a 1-yard TD catch from Browning. Again, the starting quarterback, who was intercepted twice, wasn't too excited over what took place.
"I don't think we dominated at any point of the game," Browning said. "I think they dominated us at times on defense. I need to play better."
Washington went without starting inside linebacker D.J. Beavers, center Nick Harris and punter Joel Whitford, on top of the previous loss of offensive tackle Trey Adams in advance of the opener. While Petersen won’t discuss the grim situation surrounding Adams, who hasn’t played at all and is presumed lost for the season, he said the other three Huskies would be day-to-day in regards to their playing availability. Whitford got hurt in the Auburn game. Beavers wore a protective boot on his left foot on the sideline. Harris’ health setback is unclear.
The Huskies, evening their record at 1-1, needed two series to get on the scoreboard against their outmanned opponent. Jones dove to catch a 4-yard TD pass from a scrambling Browning, capping a 77-yard drive.
Washington led 17-0 at half after it added a Peyton Henry 29-yard field goal and Myles Gaskins’ 2-yard scoring run on a toss sweep around the right side. Even with a modest lead early, at no time did the FBS Huskies appear threatened.
The crowd was announced at 68,093 for the home opener, but the in-house attendance likely was closer to 60,000 because of the smaller school on the schedule.
North Dakota (1-1) picked up its only points midway through the third quarter on a 20-yard field goal by Brady Leach. That was as generous as the host team would get. However, the Fighting Hawks’ John Santiago churned out a lot of yards against the Washington defense, rushing for a game-high 139 yards on 18 carries, giving the coaching staff something else to address.
In game like this—with the six-touchdown difference and both teams substituting liberally—it was difficult to assess how well Washington bounced back after losing its opener to Auburn in Atlanta.
The Huskies will get tested next weekend when they play Utah in Salt Lake City. The players know it, acknowledging as much. Petersen made it absolutely clear his team will have its hands full next Saturday night, offering his team something of a challenge just a half hour after disposing of North Dakota and walking off the field.
“It’ll be interesting to see this week what we’re all about,” the Husky coach