After dominating an underwhelming nonconference slate, just how good the defending Pac-12 champs are was still in question. After thumping Colorado, it seems they’re a contender.
BOULDER, Colo. — If the Huskies were yearning for their first true test of the season — or even if they weren’t — they got it, at least for one tense half, on a Seattle-style night of rain and muck. And even the hint of snow in the air.
But if the Huskies wanted a chance to show that all the hype, and all the hope, surrounding them this season was warranted, they got that, too. And that was the lasting impression they left when squeaker transformed to scorcher in a dominant second half: That they can be every bit as good as advertised.
The Huskies won decisively, 37-10, over the Colorado Buffaloes, but for at least a little while, it seemed like it was going to be a much different night.
“It was our performing anxiety,’’ laughed defensive lineman Vita Vea, whose blocked punt in the second quarter yanked the momentum back permanently in Washington’s direction.
“Being our first conference game, and the last time we saw them was in the Pac-12 championship, we knew they were going to come out swinging. We came out, if it makes sense, with too much energy. You could see in the second half we were able dial it back down and get back to how we normally play.”
They were stuck at Folsom Field, and time kept dragging on. So slippery was the field that Ralphie the Buffalo, the snorting Colorado mascot who leads the team onto the field each half, was grounded. Too dangerous. Just like, it seemed, the Buffaloes, who set the tone with a 75-yard touchdown march on their first possession, then nipped at Husky heels the rest of the half.
In the end, however, the Huskies prevailed and eventually even breezed in the second half behind a long touchdown hookup from Jake Browning to Quentin Pounds, an interception return for a touchdown by Myles Bryant, the brilliant running of Myles Gaskin — who had a career-high 202 yards — and some stout defense that increased in ferocity as the Huskies sniffed the finish line and poured it on.
And they did it all without a punt-return touchdown — or even a return — from Dante Pettis, whom the Buffaloes wisely avoided. But it hardly mattered, as Gaskin capped the suddenly worry-free night with a 57-yard TD romp.
“After each series, we started to find our groove, slowly but surely,’’ Vea said. “It was a good experience to learn from that, just not to get in over our head, and stick to what we normally do.”
Some had said it was a trap game for Washington, but that implies they didn’t see it coming. The Huskies knew all week, and probably all summer, this one was fraught with the sort of danger that wasn’t present in their first three nonconference cupcakes. Even when they were engaged in a tight first half in the opener at Rutgers, one never got the feeling they were in real and present danger.
But that wasn’t the case early on Saturday, just as the Huskies expected. The Buffaloes had the sort of deep-seated drive and motivation that only comes with being crushed in an important game with a national audience watching. Washington had beaten them 41-10 in the Pac-12 title game, and Colorado had been burning to avenge that loss ever since. They’ll have to wait until next time to do that, however.
“They obviously had a chip on their shoulder about the Pac-12 championship,’’ Browning said. “We knew they were going to come in and give us their best shot.”
If the fired-up Colorado start made one think, just for a brief moment, that the calculus of the Husky season had to be recalibrated, by the end of the night all the glorious possibilities were still spread out in front of them.
The Huskies ended up with a blocked punt and two interceptions — both by Jordan Miller — in the first half, yet clung to just a 10-7 lead at intermission, done in by a missed field goal and a couple of stalled drives deep in Colorado territory. They had regained control of the game, yet not to the extent that they could breathe easily in the rarefied air of Boulder. Not yet, anyway.
“We’re giving them the game,’’ Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said in between halves, not even knowing the huge gift to Washington that was to come in the second half.
A brilliant 43-yard touchdown hookup from Browning to Pounds, who simply out-willed two defenders in the end zone on Washington’s first possession of the second half, portended a more relaxed finish. Another missed field goal by Tristan Vizcaino caused some heartburn, which was eased when Bryant jumped a route, snagged a pass from Colorado’s Steven Montez and sprinted into the end zone.
And then it was domination and destruction for UW, with a pounding rushing attack led by Gaskin behind a dominant offensive line.
“Myles is a special player, but I think he’ll give credit to the O-line, too, before he takes any,’’ Browning said. “I thought they played really well, especially after all we’re hearing about is how we can’t run the ball.”
Gaskin indeed saluted his line (“those guys are maulers”) but said the Husky offense still has room for growth. Asked in what specific area, he replied, “Everywhere. We want to be great, so everywhere.”
Test aced. But many more tests to come.