As a true freshman, Dante Pettis scored the first punt-return touchdown of his career on an 87-yard return, helping the Huskies pull away for a 38-23 victory over the Buffaloes.
BOULDER, Colo. — Dante Pettis is back where it all began.
As a true freshman, the Washington wide receiver scored the first touchdown of his career on a 28-yard reception at Colorado’s Folsom Field on Nov. 1, 2014. Later in the game, he scored the first punt-return touchdown of his career on an 87-yard runback, helping the Huskies pull away for a 38-23 victory over the Buffaloes.
Colorado (3-0) knows it must get creative in how it defends Pettis when the No. 7 Huskies (3-0) are in Boulder for the Pac-12 title-game rematch. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Saturday for a Fox Sports 1 broadcast.
“He’s a phenomenal punt returner. You get mesmerized watching him on tape,” Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. “He is a great player. But we’ve got to kick it good and cover good. That’s what you’ve got to do.”
Pettis has punt-return touchdowns in all three of UW’s games this season, tying an NCAA record. His eight career punt-return touchdowns also are tied for the NCAA record.
The Buffaloes will have to contend with Pettis and UW’s improved passing game, too. Pettis has 18 touchdown receptions since the start of the 2016 season, all thrown by Jake Browning, who was — unknown to the public at the time — dealing with a shoulder injury when UW and Colorado met in the Pac-12 title game last December.
Browning wound up having statistically the worst game of his career that night, completing just 9 of 24 passes for a career-low 118 yards.
The Huskies still won, 41-10, thanks to a strong rushing attack (265 yards) and a stellar defensive performance (including third-quarter interceptions from Taylor Rapp and Ezekiel Turner).
“The quarterback’s arm wasn’t healthy when we played them last year. I could tell that as the game went along,” MacIntyre said this week. “He’s healthy (now) and throwing it better. …
“Washington,” he added, “is better than they were when we saw them in the Pac-12 championship game.”
Pettis had one return for 18 yards in the conference title game.
He also had just one catch for 9 yards.
His matchup against Colorado’s Isaiah Oliver, one of the Pac-12’s premier cornerbacks, is as intriguing as any on the field Saturday night in Boulder.
The Huskies are expecting a rowdy crowd at Folsom Field. There also is a thunderstorm in the forecast, which could make for a wild night in the Pac-12 opener for both teams.
“We know it’s going to be a hostile environment,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “They are a good football team. It will be the best team we’ve played this year.”
Colorado’s turnaround was the best story in the Pac-12 last season, as the Buffaloes went from 1-8 in conference play in 2015 to 8-1 in 2016 to complete a worst-to-first finish in winning the Pac-12 South.
Colorado lost eight starters off its 2016 defense, but still leads the Pac-12 in scoring defense (9.0 points per game).
Talk of avenging their Pac-12 title-game defeat has been a theme of the week for the Buffaloes.
“I’m pretty sure the kids that played in the game last year definitely have to be thinking about that,” MacIntyre said. “If they didn’t, they’re not really competitors.”
Colorado has won eight consecutive games at home, its longest streak since 1993-95.