Jake Browning returns from a shoulder injury to throw for 263 yards and four touchdowns and also runs for a score.
Throw this in the better-late-than-never file. Or, maybe, better-when-late file.
It took the latest kickoff in Husky Stadium history for the Huskies to finally kick-start their sputtering offense, but they did so in a big way Saturday night — a fast-starting performance that could go a long way to determining how their season ends.
Washington’s defense continued to dominate and Jake Browning returned from a shoulder injury to have the best game of his young career in the Huskies’ 49-3 rout of Arizona before the smallest crowd in recent memory at Husky Stadium.
“About time,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “That’s what we’ve been waiting for.”
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The victory pushes the Huskies (4-4 overall, 2-3 Pac-12) back to .500 on the season and keeps alive their hopes of reaching a bowl game for the sixth consecutive season.
Arizona scored first, getting a field goal on the game’s opening drive. The Huskies scored the rest while turning in their most complete performance of the season.
It happened before the smallest of crowds. The Huskies announced that 56,749 tickets had been sold for the game, but maybe half that many fans were in their seats for the 8 p.m. kickoff.
Before Saturday, the Huskies had scored only one first-half touchdown in their first four Pac-12 games, and that came more than a month ago against California.
On a drizzly Halloween night, Browning threw three touchdown passes in the first half against Arizona, helping the Huskies to a 21-3 lead at halftime. In six previous games against FBS opponents, UW had been outscored 85-30 combined in the first half.
Browning sat out UW’s loss at Stanford a week earlier with a minor right shoulder injury, but he came back and looked better than ever against a depleted Arizona defense that ranked among the worst in the Pac-12. In the first half, Browning completed 10 of 16 passes — with three drops by receivers — for 145 yards, and UW converted half (4 of 8) of its third downs in the first half.
Arizona (5-4, 2-4) entered the week leading Pac-12 in scoring at 41.8 points per game. UW came into the game leading the Pac-12 in scoring defense at 18.9 points. In a battle of strength vs. strength, the Huskies proved stronger.
The Wildcats took the opening drive and marched 65 yards to the UW 10-yard line. Despite losing starting nose tackle Elijah Qualls to an apparent ankle injury, the Huskies — with the Pac-12’s top red-zone defense — limited Arizona to a field goal on the drive.
Senior linebacker Travis Feeney had the best game of his UW career, with 11 tackles, two sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and one pass break-up, helping the Huskies hold Arizona to 160 yards in the first half (3.3 yards per play), including 28 yards rushing on 20 carries.
The Wildcats finished with 330 yards on 86 plays — 3.3 yards per play. They were averaging 6.8 yards per play coming into the game. Arizona also had four turnovers; UW had none.
The Huskies finished with 468 yards, averaging 7.7 yards per play.
“That was awesome,” Feeney said. “That was as good as any performance I’ve been part of here.”
Sidney Jones and Budda Baker both intercepted Arizona’s Anu Solomon in the first half — Solomon’s first interceptions of the season — and UW safety JoJo McIntosh had the first interception of his career off the Wildcats’ other QB, Jerrard Randall.
It stayed 3-0 for most of the first quarter before Browning floated a pass to Dwayne Washington for a 13-yard touchdown, giving the Huskies a 7-3 lead and starting their 42-0 scoring run.
In the first half, Browning added a 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Joshua Perkins and a 5-yard TD pass to Brayden Lenius, the first TD of his UW career.
In the third quarter, the Huskies needed less than two minutes and five plays to march 75 yards to push their lead to 28-3 on Browning’s fourth touchdown pass, this to Dante Pettis from 31 yards.
Browning’s most impressive play — or, at least, his most surprising — came on his 12-yard TD run to the left corner midway through the third quarter, extending UW’s lead to 35-3.
Browning completed 16 of 24 passes for 263 yards and a career-high four touchdowns and a QB rating of 213.7.
Dwayne Washington broke free for a 69-yard TD run in the third quarter, and backup QB Jeff Lindquist added an 8-yard TD run to make it 49-3.