In the midst of Washington’s John Ross returning after 20 months away from football and reminding everyone just how fast he is, the unthinkable happened.
Quarterback Jake Browning overthrew Ross when the speedster was open racing down the sideline.
“I’ve got to put more air under it,” Browning said with a grin.
The return of Ross proved the biggest highlight for No. 14 Washington in its season-opening 48-13 win over Rutgers on Saturday. While many Pacific-12 Conference teams struggled, the Huskies appeared worthy of their preseason billing, even if their first true test of whether they are a top-15 program won’t come for a few more weeks. They host Idaho on Saturday.
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Ross was the star, playing for the first time since suffering a major knee injury during spring practice in 2015. He had five catches for 90 yards, with 88 coming on two long touchdown catches, and he returned a kickoff 92 yards for a score. He has five touchdowns of 90 or more yards in 27 games at Washington.
“I figured they would kick it to me because I didn’t do nothing last year. I haven’t really proved” anything, Ross said. “Just to see they did, I got very excited.”
Ross provided a dynamic missing from Washington’s offense last season, when the Huskies struggled to move the ball through the air. In 13 games last season, Washington had five passing touchdowns of 30 or more yards.
Browning threw three touchdown passes of 30 or more yards Saturday.
“It can’t just be the John Ross show,” coach Chris Petersen said. “People will figure out how to slow that down fast. But I think it’s really nice to come out of the gate and make some plays there so people have to pay attention to that closely.”
Speed never was the question about Ross before his injury. The question was where to play him. His exceptional speed made him a threat as a wide receiver, but it also made him effective as a defensive back. Because of the injuries Washington suffered in its secondary in 2014, Ross split time between offense and defense.
Before Saturday, the last time Ross was on the field in a game setting was January 2015 in the Cactus Bowl. Ross started at cornerback, meaning the growth potential at wide receiver is significant. Since his knee injury, Ross has concentrated on being a wide receiver, but it takes game opportunities to really assess where he needs to improve.
“I feel better than I have ever,” Ross said. “I feel bigger. I feel faster. Just really thankful I’m able to do it again.”