John Ross III returned to the field with gusto as the Huskies romped the Scarlet Knights in their season opener Saturday at Husky Stadium. Here are first impressions from our UW reporters.
The No. 14 Huskies opened the 2016 season with a convincing 48-13 victory over Rutgers before an announced crowd of 58,640 at Husky Stadium on Saturday. Here are early impressions from Seattle Times reporters Adam Jude and Percy Allen:
Adam Jude’s early impressions:
Fast start: Holding their highest preseason ranking since 2002, and propped up by as much offseason hype as any team in college football, the Huskies sure looked the part of a top-15 team in building a 24-0 lead in the first quarter. Jake Browning was cool and comfortable in directing the offense, completing 17 for 23 for 277 yards with threes TD in the first half, connecting with eight different receivers. One of his six incompletions was a drop in the end zone. It was otherwise a near-perfect start for the Huskies, who built a 34-3 halftime lead. All three of Browning’s touchdown passes were on beautifully thrown deep balls — the first to Chico McClatcher on the far right sideline and two to John Ross III in his return from two knee injuries that sidelined him for the 2015 season. In his three quarters of work, the sophomore quarterback had ample time in the pocket behind an emerging offensive line that featured Coleman Shelton making his first start at center. Sophomore K.J. Carta-Samuels relieved Browning late in the third quarter and threw his first career TD pass, of 4 yards, to redshirt freshman Andre Baccellia, his first TD reception.
Dominant D: Rutgers’ offense had a net gain of 20 yards on its first 19 plays from scrimmage and didn’t have its first snap inside UW territory until the second quarter. The Huskies’ defense, ranked as the best in the Pac-12 in 2015, was dominant again Saturday. Junior LB Keishawn Bierria stripped Rutgers QB Chris Laviano on the Scarlet Knights’ second possession, a fumble recovered by UW’s Psalm Wooching. Bierria had a spectacular game with 12 total tackles (11 solo) and fellow inside linebacker had 11 tackles before UW’s starters sat in the third quarter. Vita Vea and Elijah Qualls each had one sack for a defensive line that played without injured end Jaylen Johnson (leg).
Fresh faces: Four true freshmen made their debuts for the Huskies: safety Taylor Rapp, right guard Nick Harris, wide receiver Aaron Fuller and linebacker Brandon Wellington. Fuller had one catch for 5 yards, and Rapp was credited with several tackles. Several other true freshman suited up for the game but didn’t play, including CB Byron Murphy, RB Sean McGrew and LB Amandre Williams. Those who didn’t suit up (and thus are in line to redshirt): LB Camilo Eifler, CB Isaiah Gilchrist, CB Kentrell Love, WR Jordan Chin, P/K Van Soderberg.
Percy Allen’s early impressions
John Ross makes remarkable return and generates Heisman buzz: Jake Browning began Washington’s third series with a long pass to John Ross III who blew past sophomore cornerback Isaiah Wharton along the right sideline. However, Browning’s throw sailed about 10 yards too long for the speedster (who clocked a UW best 4.25 seconds in the 40-yard sprint). Four plays later Browning threw to Ross again on a similar route and this time the duo connected on a 38-yard reception over Wharton. On UW’s next possession, Ross broke free in the middle of the field and hauled in a 50-yard pass from Browning with 48 seconds left in the first quarter. Late in the second quarter, Ross returned a kickoff 92 yards for another score to cap a brilliant return from two knee surgeries that forced him to miss the 2015 season. Ross finished with five catches for 90 yards – both team highs.
Plenty of work for Tristan Vizcaino: Rutgers has a John Ross III-caliber player and a dangerous returner in senior Janarion Grant who averaged 24.6 yards on kickoff returns last season. He also had three touchdowns. Washington held him to a 12-yard return on the opening kickoff before junior kicker Tristian Vizcaino booted five straight touchbacks. Driving the ball into the end zone was a tremendous weapon for UW, which negated Rutgers’ big-play potential on kickoffs and forced the Scarlet Knight to start at its 25 on five possessions. Vizcaino finished with five touchbacks on eight attempts to highlight a stellar performance from UW special teams. In addition to Ross’ kickoff return for a touchdown, Dante Pettis returned a 68-yard punt for a score. And Cameron Van Winkle was 2 for 3 on field goals. He converted from 45 and 42 yards while missing a 47-yarder.
Momentum building for big game against Stanford: The 14th-ranked Huskies certainly weren’t going to snap their 15-game non-sellout streak with an 11 a.m. kickoff on Labor Day weekend against Rutgers, but UW administrators have to be a little disheartened by the 58,640 in Saturday’s opener. Keep in mind classes at Washington start at the end of the month, which resulted in quite a few empty seats in student section behind the west end zone. If the Huskies duplicate Saturday’s dynamic debut, then the crowds may grow for next Saturday’s 2 p.m. game against Idaho. UW plays Portland State at 5 p.m. in its nonconference finale before traveling to Arizona in the Pac-12 opener. Washington is expecting a capacity crowd at Husky Stadium for its Sept. 30 game against Stanford. The last sellout was the 2013 Apple Cup versus Washington State.