Washington Huskies

Petersen says Huskies’ running game ‘No. 1 thing’ to fix on offense

Washington running back Dwayne Washington (12) gets tackled by Boise State’s Sam McCaskill (94) and Tanner Vallejo during the second half Friday. The Broncos held the Huskies to 29 rushing yards on 22 carries.
Washington running back Dwayne Washington (12) gets tackled by Boise State’s Sam McCaskill (94) and Tanner Vallejo during the second half Friday. The Broncos held the Huskies to 29 rushing yards on 22 carries. The Associated Press

How bad was the Washington Huskies’ offense against Boise State on Friday night?

So bad that their longest rush from scrimmage — a 12-yard scramble for a first down by quarterback Jake Browning — actually suggested failure from both the running and passing games. If Browning had adequate time to throw, or an open receiver, he wouldn’t have had to scramble. And if the Huskies had run the ball in any kind of productive way, that 12-yard gain wouldn’t have been the highlight.

But it was, and that’s the primary reason the Huskies lost, 16-13, in their season opener. They finished with 29 yards rushing on 22 carries — and just 179 yards of total offense — which marked just the 11th time since 1996 that the Huskies finished a game with fewer than 30 yards on the ground.

With Big Sky conference member Sacramento State visiting Husky Stadium on Saturday — a considerably lesser foe, to be sure — priority No. 1 for this young Huskies team will be developing a rushing attack that can actually keep the offense on the field. And take some pressure of Browning, a true freshman who was mostly limited to short passes, scramble attempts and throwing the ball away in his first career start.

“It was certainly very concerning — probably the No. 1 thing on offense,” UW coach Chris Petersen said of the running game at his Monday press conference. “And it was a little thing here and a little thing there that made it kind of look bad.

“…It’s nothing we didn’t anticipate and see, it just happened a lot faster. So there’s a lot of those little things. We’re going to have to get our run game better for us to progress, without question.”

The Huskies relied heavily upon their run game last season, when 60 percent of their total plays were runs (607 carries for 2,640 yards) and they struggled to pass the ball downfield consistently under the direction of quarterback Cyler Miles.

Petersen described the Huskies’ offense in the first half of Friday’s game as “very, very poor,” and again emphasized the need to stretch the defense by taking more shots downfield. Browning completed 20 of 35 passes for 150 yards, a paltry average of just 4.3 yards per attempt. By comparison, Miles, who was often criticized for his inability to complete longer throws, finished last season with a pass-per-attempt average of 7.3.

“We need to see more of that, without question,” Petersen said of the vertical passing game. “I think we’ve got to take some chances and be able to do that. Sometimes it’s coverage-predicated. Boise is a shot team as well, and they got one off on us that they should have hit, and that has to do with coverage — taking them out of their shots as well.

“But we’ve got to design things where we’ve got chances to take some shots. And we will.”

Pettis honored

Sophomore receiver Dante Pettis, the player who scored UW’s only touchdown Friday, was voted the Pac-12’s special teams player of the week by media.

With UW trailing 16-3 late in the third quarter, Pettis returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown to put the Huskies in the end zone for the first (and only) time.

It was the second punt-return touchdown of Pettis’ career, the first coming Nov. 1 last season at Colorado.

“He’s a guy that I’ve had extremely high expectations for, really, since he’s been here,” Petersen said. “One, because we made him the punt returner. Two, because he played as a true freshman, and he’s very smart and he’s really talented athletically.”

Pettis is the first UW player to return two punts for touchdowns in a career since Charles Frederick, whose touchdown against Oregon State in 2003 stood for 11 years as the Huskies’ most recent punt-return score.

NOTES

Browning is now listed by himself as the team’s starting quarterback, after being listed alongside Jeff Lindquist and K.J. Carta-Samuels prior to the Boise State game. … A minor ankle injury kept Lindquist from playing quarterback Friday — he and Carta-Samuels each have brief packages of plays designed for them — but Petersen said Lindquist is “a lot better than he was last week, so we’ll just see.” … Sixth-year tailback Deontae Cooper traveled to Boise but didn’t suit up due to what Petersen described as an injury that’s “nothing serious at all.” But he remains week to week. “Sometimes these guys just take a minute,” Petersen said. “I was surprised he was as set back as he was for this game. I thought he would be more ready to go. So we’ll just see.” The injury is not knee-related. … Asked about Browning’s “pissed-off” demeanor immediately following the Boise State game, Petersen said he liked it. “I think our guys should be pissed off. I really do. That’s what you want. You don’t want guys feeling sorry for themselves and moping around. That’s what most people do. I think the true competitors are really irritated about it and trying to figure out how to fix it. Most people think they’re competitors and they’re not. They’re mopers. That (intensity) is in his nature and that’s what the rest of our guys need to continue to develop.”

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