No. 8 Washington regrouping after another sluggish opener
SEATTLE (AP) Perhaps it’s just the nature of playing the first game on the road, but those games have not come easily for No. 8 Washington in the four seasons under Chris Petersen.
The latest example was last Friday’s 30-14 win at Rutgers to open the 2017 campaign. What was expected to be a romp for the Huskies in their first game since losing to Alabama in the national semifinals was instead far closer than expected for a half before Washington pulled away in the final 30 minutes.
It was the fourth time under Petersen that the road opener has been more of a slog than scintillating. His first game at Washington four seasons ago was a 17-16 win at Hawaii. A year later, the Huskies opened the season at Boise State and lost 16-13 in Petersen’s return to where his head coaching career started.
And last year, even after a 3-0 start at home, Washington needed overtime to outlast Arizona 35-28 in the desert.
”I don’t know if there is a common thread,” Petersen said Monday. ”You are away from home, for one. Hawaii is always an awkward place. And then you couple that with it being our first year, that was it as much as anything. And then the next year at Boise, we had a lot of young guys playing in that game against a good team. And then go back to Rutgers, like you said, there was a lot of good football played. There really was. I think the strategy, they did a good job of keeping it close.”
If nothing else, the tighter game against Rutgers provides Petersen plenty to work on, with consecutive home games upcoming that should be more of what’s become the expectation for the Pac-12 North favorites. The Huskies host Montana on Saturday and face Fresno State on Sept. 16 before opening Pac-12 play on Sept. 23 at Colorado.
The biggest concern to come out of the win over Rutgers was Washington’s struggle to run the ball. The Huskies finished with just 84 yards rushing, partly a result of time of possession. Rutgers held the ball for more than 38 minutes and Washington ran just 54 total plays. Last season Washington ran fewer than 60 plays only twice. It was the fewest offensive plays runs by Washington since getting just 45 offensive snaps in a 31-14 loss at Stanford in 2015.
Petersen attributed both the run game issues and the lack of plays to getting just one first down on its first two possessions and having three three-and-outs in the first half.
”We’ll win close, low-scoring games, but from our side of it we’ve got to be more efficient on offense – start faster,” Petersen said.
Even though he was limited to just seven carries, running back Myles Gaskin was vital as a receiver. Gaskin had five receptions for 79 yards and an 18-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter that gave Washington a 27-7 lead. Gaskin also had five receptions in the Peach Bowl against Alabama.
”I think Myles is just a playmaker. You can ask him to do a lot of things and he can get it done,” Petersen said.
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