Chris Petersen made his return to the blue turf of Albertson’s Field on Friday when his Washington Huskies team took on the No. 23 Boise State Broncos. UW ultimately came up on the short end of 16-13 game, though the Huskies played well enough to win in many respects. The one area where they did not play well enough which ultimately cost Washington the win was on offense where offseason questions persist and threaten to derail UW’s season before it gets started.
One of the biggest questions this offseason for Washington was the quarterback position after 2014 starter Cyler Miles was forced to retire due to a hip injury. Petersen has had a three-man race going since the spring between junior Jeff Lindquist, redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels, and true freshman Jake Browning, an early enrollee from the 2015 recruiting class. The team had kept their quarterback derby under wraps all offseason finally revealing that Browning would be the starter when he took the field with the offense following a Boise State punt in the first quarter.
While there are bound to be some growing pains for a true freshman in a hostile environment, Browning looked very limited at times running the Washington offense on Friday night. There were flashes to back up the hype (Petersen called him the next Kellen Moore), but his stats were ultimately unimpressive, completing 20-of-34 passes for 150 yards with an interception. Almost all of his completions came on short passes, including wide receiver screens and checkdowns to the running back, and anything thrown over 10 yards, outside of a few throws on the final drive of the game, looked shaky. His timing routes to the sideline were a struggle as well. The offense seemed to have a lid put on it, unable to attack down the field, evidenced by Browning’s 4.4 yards per completion average.
But Browning was far from the only issue on offense. The running game for the Huskies was nearly non-existent. Dwayne Washington led the team with 14 yards on eight carries, a meager 1.8 yards per carry as the team managed just 29 yards rushing on 22 carries as a group. The only player to have a run longer than 10 yards was actually Browning who scrambled for a 12-yard gain on a 3rd-and-9 to keep a drive alive in the 4th quarter (one of his better plays on the night). In all, Washington managed to rack up just 179 yards of total offense and 11 first downs compared to 337 total yards and 21 first downs for Boise State.
The only reason that Washington was in a position to tie this game at the end of regulation was the spectacular second half effort from the Husky defense and special teams. After coming out a little tentative to start the game, resulting in a 16-0 halftime deficit, the UW defense turned up the heat in the second half, shutting down the Broncos, holding Boise State to 100 yards of offense after the half and forcing six punts and a fumble. UW’s special teams also stepped it up in the second half with a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown from Dante Pettis in the third quarter to pull the Huskies to within 16-10 and a blocked punt in the fourth quarter that resulted in a field goal to tighten the score to 16-13.
In spite of the offense’s struggles throughout the night, they were still in a position to play the hero at the end of the game. But after moving the ball into the redzone with under two minutes to play, UW’s offense shot themselves in the foot with a holding penalty and a sack that pushed them back out of field goal range. These late mistakes ultimately led to the long field goal attempt that was pushed just right by kicker Cameron Van Winkle, sealing a season opening loss for the Huskies.
There is no question that Chris Petersen is building something at Washington. But if he can’t get better production out of his offense than what we saw on Friday, there’s a possibility he won’t be around to finish what he’s started. Can UW get their offense on track or are the Huskies in store for a long 2015 season?