Against Arizona State, a team that has beaten Washington 11 of the previous 12 meetings — including a 13-7 loss a year ago in Tempe that was the Huskies’ most inexplicable game of the 2017 season — nothing can taken for granted, and every good thing must be cherished.
So despite a stylistically modest outcome, which began with an immodest dumpster-fire play, the 27-20 triumph Saturday night (box) at Husky Stadium was vital.
Another loss to the Sun Devils, and especially to their 64-year-old college-rookie coach, Herm Edwards, and coach Chris Petersen would have heard whiners in the purple constituency pining for Steve Sarkisian.
“It was a little different game that how we thought it would go,” Petersen said, referring mostly to ASU’s surprising emphasis on the run — 164 yards after doing little on the ground in the Sun Devils first three games. It kept them in the game almost as much as Petersen’s goofy gadget play on UW’s opening possession.
QB Jake Browning threw a backward pass to WR Andre Baccellia, who lofted a 14-yard balloon into double coverage that was easily picked by CB Chase Lucas, who returned it 19 yards for a first down at the Washington 20.
It took ASU seven plays, but they gained a 7-0 lead on the road as Petersen dabbed the last of the omelette off his face.
“That was on me,” Petersen said. “I wish we didn’t call it. We put our defense in a bad situation.
“But we’re going to take our chances. We’re not going to back away from that. We’ve made a lot of good plays over the years doing that stuff.”
Petersen has won more than he lost with gadgets. But after a 21-7 win last week at Utah that showed offensive vulnerability, going off the high dive with the first play seemed reckless even for him.
But by the end of the first quarter, the Huskies had the lead for good at 14-10 and few among the sellout of 71,200 were dwelling on the early spit-up.
A good part of that was due an improved air game between Browning and his growing posse of reliable receivers, the object of most of the preseason questions surrounding the conference favorite. In 22 attempts, he spread 15 completions among eight receivers. None of them are John Ross or Dante Pettis, but no one made a better catch than TE Ty Jones.
The Huskies’ tallest target at 6-foot-4, the sophomore from Utah was falling back in end zone under tight coverage but glommed both mitts upon the ball. The 19-yard score with 57 seconds left in the opening period put matters back on the rails.
“I’ll It felt great,” he said. “I’m gonna get chewed out in film this week because I was supposed to get farther towards the back pylon. But at least I caught the ball, so it’s not as bad.
“I just had to watch the ball into my hands. Sometimes I forget. It’s a fundamental.”
His memory seems to be improving. The two catches for 43 yards Saturday has him tied for second with Baccellia among UW receivers with 10 catches, 12 behind leader Aaron Fuller. But his 20.2 yards per catch average leads the group, as do his four TDs.
“As long as I stay calm and confident, a catch like that will help,” he said. “There were question marks around us before the season, but we knew this for a long time. It’s awesome to see.”
All touchdowns, including 11 yards to Fuller and six yards to TE Cade Otton, were precision passes from Browning, who is taking heat this season for his occasional mistakes. Saturday he made no turnovers, had a lone sack, and made good decisions on his sprints from the pocket.
“He threw the ball well and found guys, and when guys weren’t open he was able to scramble out of the pocket a bit more,” Petersen said. “He placed the ball nicely.”
“We have the same conversation every week — he’s made a lot of good plays. We just need to make sure he doesn’t crush our offense (with a bad play).”
Matters still need work — the Huskies had 150 yards after one quarter and 223 the rest of the way, thanks to some red-zone misfires — but with RBs Myles Gaskin (97 yards in 21 carries and Salvon Ahmed (71 in 10) finally deliveredthe one-two punch promised in August, Washington’s offense is edging toward something more than competent.
Considering what Petersen was saying a year ago after the ASU loss — “I don’t know why; it’s probably one of the more frustrating nights I’ve had on offense in a long, long time” — reducing the embarrassments to a single play is a major milestone.