The Huskies’ 45-3 win looks great on paper, but UW will have to answer a lot of questions heading into next week’s road showdown at Utah.
The score says the Huskies stampeded over North Dakota as everyone in the stadium expected. The eyes say the Huskies sparked more concern than they did confidence going forward.
The result typified what we see when top-10 programs take on teams from the FCS. The quality of play made you wonder if Washington is truly a top-10 team.
One week after falling to Auburn in Atlanta, ninth-ranked Washington beat North Dakota, 45-3. And though the box score would suggest the Huskies skated, reality showed that they stumbled.
“If we play like that the rest of the season, we’re not going to be very happy with the results,” said UW quarterback Jake Browning. “We’re going to have to be a lot better. That starts with me. I need to be a lot better.”
Browning’s 313 yards and two touchdowns on 23-of-37 passing isn’t cringeworthy upon first glance. But when you add two interceptions and a slew of wayward throws, it might interrupt some Husky fans’ slumber.
You can live with not dropping 70 points on a team such as North Dakota. You can’t live with four three-and-outs in a five-drive span.
But that’s what happened as Washington’s offense repeatedly gave North Dakota life. That’s why with 6:09 left in the third quarter, the Huskies were up only 17-3.
The inevitable eventually occurred, as UW found the end zone on four of its next five drives before running out the clock. But even that stretch included a Browning interception and a TD pass from backup QB Jake Haener, who entered after the Huskies took a 28-point lead.
“I think we got a standard to play to and I don’t think we played to it,” Browning said. “I don’t think I played to my standard. … I wasn’t happy with how I played.”
Some fans, if you haven’t noticed, can be a bit reactionary. Some see Haener come into the game, hit all seven of his passes for 110 yards and wonder if he has a shot to unseat Browning.
No way. Not after the three years of goodwill Browning has built up and a Pac-12 Player of the Year award. Not after Haener’s seven-pass perfection came against a North Dakota team that had already been beaten.
This is still Browning’s team despite eight quarters of mediocrity this September. Besides, he was hardly the only factor in the Huskies’ early slop.
Perhaps more discouraging was Washington’ 54 first-half rushing yards.
North Dakota held running back Myles Gaskin to 37 yards on 11 carries through those first two quarters, which included a 24-yard scamper on the final play of the half.
UW finished the game with 195 yards on the ground, but it took more than 30 minutes for the engine to get warm. So just what was going on there?
“I’ll be honest, I don’t know. I’ll have to go watch the film. I would really like to know myself,” said Washington offensive lineman Kaleb McGary. “We certainly expected a quicker start. I’m very confused as to why it was that way.”
Perhaps it’s not surprising there wasn’t a crisper effort given the disheartening loss last week. When you invest that much emotion and come up short, a subdued response in a formality game is understandable.
But that’s twice now in which question marks have vastly outnumbered exclamation points when it comes to Washington’s offense. And stingy as the Huskies’ defense may be, it still requires support.
Next up for Washington is Utah, which finished third in the Pac-12 in scoring defense last year. And the game will be in Rice-Eccles Stadium, which stands as one of the more intimidating venues in the league.
“It will be a challenging game,” said Washington coach Chris Petersen, adding that Utah’s crowd will be more hostile than Auburn’s was. “It will be interesting to see next week what we’re all about.”
What the Huskies are all about may not be known completely until the end of the season. As far as next week, they just need to be better.