Once they took the field, the Huskies did not appear to care when their game started: They dominated California on both sides of the ball.
Washington coach Chris Petersen had lamented the “painful” nature of their late starts — comments that seemed to get under the skin of ESPN, based on their needling of Petersen and the Huskies during the broadcast, and even before — but this one was a pure joy ride.
No pain, only gain.
The Huskies’ 38-7 victory over Cal on Saturday was the sort of complete, dominating performance they had been seeking. Heck, Jake Browning even threw a touchdown pass to Jusstis Warren, a 6-foot-2, 252-pound outside linebacker who lined up at fullback.
Perhaps it’s a testament to the standards they’ve built that there was some internal displeasure over elements of their performance. Petersen lamented “some self-inflicted wounds,” while wide receiver Dante Pettis said, “We didn’t execute at times. But we never stopped fighting. I guess that’s all you can ask for. We can go back in and fix our mistakes.”
That’s the micro point of view. In the big picture, there was no letdown against an unranked, heavy-underdog foe like that experienced earlier in the day by Oklahoma in a stunning loss to Iowa State. Perhaps it was a teachable moment for the Huskies, who never let the Bears — who had thrown a mild scare into USC two weeks ago — think for one minute that an upset was possible.
There was no first-half struggle like a week earlier in Corvallis, when Washington was clinging to a 7-0 lead at halftime. This time, the Huskies led 24-0 at intermission, having held Cal to 46 total yards – minus-19 on the ground. The Bears finished with 93 total yards (minus-40 rushing), the fifth-lowest total allowed by Washington in program history, and just the seventh time they’ve held a foe under 100 yards.
They took much joy in amassing what amounted to a defensive shutout. Cal’s lone score came when Darius Allensworth scooped up a Pettis fumble and sprinted 37 yards into the end zone late in the third quarter.
“We’d like to have that goose egg, but like they say, stuff happens,’’ said defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski.
There was no blemish by the second- and third-stringers on defense, who last week squandered the whitewash by giving up a late touchdown to Oregon State. This time, Cal’s offense never sniffed the end zone.
“That was great to see,’’ Kwiatkowski said. “They took it a little personal last week when they gave up that one touchdown.”
It was Pac-12 After Dark in all its chilly, bleary-eyed glory, and the Huskies were dressed in their Saturday finest, replete with purple chrome helmets that bedazzled.
So, for the most part, did the Huskies, who might not like these evening starts but gave a primetime effort for those insomniac East Coasters who stayed up to see it.
There was Browning, spared an interception early in the game on an ill-advised pass into the end zone that was dropped by a Cal defender, but otherwise flawless. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for another on a fourth-and-two keeper, when he sprinted into the end zone untouched on an option play.
Untouched, that is, until a Cal player materialized to smack hard into the Washington quarterback long after the touchdown was a fait accompli. That drew a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct, and drew an animated, head-bobbing response from the normally staid Browning.
“I didn’t really care,” he insisted. “It was a clean hit. He just hit me late in the end zone. I was just happy I scored. I think it’s the longest run I’ve ever had in my life. I was more fired up about that than getting drilled.”
There was Myles Gaskin, rushing for two touchdowns to bring his career total to 32, tying Joe Steele for third on the UW all-time list. Earlier in the game, Gaskin had passed Steele in rushing yardage.
There was freshman tight end Hunter Bryant with a breakout game, catching nine passes for 121 yards, including his first career touchdown, in which he yanked the ball out of the hands of a Cal defender in the end one.
“Hopefully, they’re not all that hard for him,” Petersen said.
If you’re intent on finding a downer for Washington, you can focus on placekicker Tristan Vizcaino, who missed a 38-yard field goal in the first quarter to continue an alarming slump. Vizcaino, who had to compete for his job all week after a miss at Oregon State last week, has now been errant on four of his last five attempts and is 4 of 9 for the season. Redshirt freshman Van Soderberg was given the next try and made a 23-yarder.
The next time the Huskies had a field-goal situation, Petersen elected to eschew the kick, leading to the aforementioned Browning touchdown.
“We’ll just keep working,” said Petersen.
But don’t expect any more commentary on game times from the coach. “I think we just need to move on to a new topic,’’ he said. “I think we beat up this one enough.”