Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning, as cool and comfortable as ever, found a new favorite target in John Ross III, who dazzled the Husky Stadium crowd of 58,640 with three touchdowns in his return from a major knee injury.

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The personalized purple T-shirts served more as symbolism than statement. “Prove It,” they read on front in white block letters.

During players-only workouts, the Huskies wore them throughout an offseason that oozed with optimism. From near and far, the expectation has been that this might actually, finally, mercifully be the year the Huskies actually, finally, mercifully contend again for a conference championship.

There is still much to prove, and much to do, before they get there. But Saturday’s season-opening 48-13 victory over Rutgers — and, specifically, a dominant first quarter — was a good way to begin.

“I am really pleased with how fast they started,” UW coach Chris Petersen said of his players. “The first quarter was really, really good.”

The Huskies (1-0) built a 24-0 lead in the first quarter in near-flawless fashion in all three phases.

Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning, as cool and comfortable as ever, found a new favorite target in John Ross III, who dazzled the Husky Stadium crowd of 58,640 with three touchdowns in his return from a major knee injury.

The Huskies’ defense held Rutgers (0-1) to a net gain of 10 yards in its first 19 plays (let that sink in for a moment) and forced one early turnover when linebacker Keishawn Bierria stripped quarterback Chris Laviano.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better start,” UW co-defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said.

Rutgers didn’t enter UW territory until the second quarter and didn’t score its first touchdown until the fourth quarter, at which point UW was up 48-6 and down to its second- and third-stringers on defense.

“With all this hype about the defense and stuff, we felt it was our job to prove it coming out this season … because we haven’t done anything yet,” sophomore defensive end Vita Vea said. “That’s our whole motto.”

Even when something went right for Rutgers in the first half — a field goal to cut its deficit to 24-3 — Ross quickly answered for the Huskies with a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Big plays were theme of the day for the Huskies, who had made them a focal point in the offseason.

Browning completed 6 of 8 first-quarter passes for 154 yards and made the Rutgers defense pay for stacking the box in an attempt to slow Myles Gaskin. All three of his touchdowns came in the first quarter — on passes of 43 yards (to Chico McClatcher), 38 (to Ross) and 50 (to Ross again).

On his final TD pass, Browning had recognized before the snap that Rutgers was covering Ross in one-on-one man coverage (big mistake). So the quarterback checked out of a run play and threw a perfectly placed deep ball to Ross (big play) to make it 24-0.

Browning didn’t have the kind of complete freedom to alter a play like that last year as a true freshman.

“I thought Jake did a great job,” Petersen said. “It’s not really part of his progression unless he gets a certain matchup. So he saw the matchup and took advantage of it.”

Browning finished with 287 yards on 18-of-27 passing, with one interception. He was sacked twice in what was a solid showing for the UW offensive line.

Backup QB K.J. Carta-Samuels relieved Browning late in the third quarter and on his first play promptly threw a 4-yard touchdown pass, the first of his career, to redshirt freshman Andre Baccellia. Things were going that well for UW.

This was only Game 1, and it came against a Rutgers team that traveled across the country and was playing for the first time with first-time coach Chris Ash. Not much is expected of the Scarlet Knights, who most project to finish last in their division in the Big Ten.

Much is expected of these Huskies. And even after an impressive opening act, they know they must prove it again.

“The only thing I see is we proved we can beat Rutgers,” Bierria said. “That’s it.”

In the books
It was a record-setting day for UW returners John Ross III and Dante Pettis. Ross now holds the UW career kickoff-return touchdown record by himself and Dante Pettis tied the career punt-return TD mark.
Kickoff-return TDs No. Years
John Ross 4 2013-16
Jim Krieg 3 1970-71
Punt-return TDs No. Years
Dante Pettis 4 2014-16
Beno Bryant 4 1989-93