CFB Preview: No. 8 Washington-Idaho

BY foxsports • September 7, 2016

Washington's relatively easy schedule to start the season is allowing coach Chris Petersen to tinker with his lineups and fine-tune both sides of the ball before beginning Pac-12 play.

The Huskies rolled in their debut on Saturday, routing Rutgers 48-13 and improving from No. 14 to No. No. 8 in the AP poll. This is the highest Washington has been ranked since the first full week of November 2001.

The team's second game this season shouldn't be much different than the first. Washington is favored by about five touchdowns in advance of Saturday's matchup against Idaho at Husky Stadium in Seattle at 5 p.m. ET.

Idaho opened with a 20-17 home victory over Montana State of the Football Championship Subdivision. The Vandals will move down to the FCS level, starting in 2018.

Overall, Washington used 71 players against Rutgers, including 16 making their college debuts. The Huskies were happy to see the return of wide receiver John Ross, who missed last season because of an ACL injury.

The junior speedster caught five passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns, also returning a kickoff 92 yards for a score. Ross has 10 career touchdowns of 50 yards or longer. He adds "quite a bit" to the attack, said offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith.

"If we find him isolated at any time, you feel like you've got a winner there," Smith said. "That adds a big dimension."

Washington had the best defense in the Pac-12 last season (allowing 18.8 points per game) while the offense found its footing behind a pair of true freshmen -- quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin.

The Huskies have averaged 47.25 points in their last four games -- Oregon State, Washington State, Southern Miss and Rutgers. But Washington ran for just 91 yards against the Scarlet Knights, averaging 3.0 per carry. Gaskins finished with 57 yards on 15 carries.

"We've got some work to do there," Petersen said.

"That's the style of our offense. If people are going to load up and bring those safeties downhill and try to stop the run, then hopefully we can throw the ball a little bit over their heads. It's a cat-and-mouse game. But I think we can run the ball better. I would hope so."

Browning completed 18 of 27 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception. He connected with Ross on scoring throws of 38 and 50 yards in the first quarter as Washington took a 24-0 lead. Being more productive on deep passes was an offseason emphasis.

"Jake made some good throws on deep passes early, so we were pleased with that," Smith said.

By the end of the third quarter, the Huskies were using mostly second- and third-stringers, giving them valuable experience for later in the season. Sophomore K.J. Carta-Samuels relieved Browning late in the third quarter, throwing a 4-yard touchdown pass on his first play.

Junior receiver Dante Pettis, the son of former major-leaguer Gary Pettis, scored on a punt return against Rutgers. That was his fourth punt return score of his career.

Idaho rushed for 225 yards in its opener, led by junior running back Aaron Duckworth, who 108 yards on 14 carries, scoring twice. Quarterback Matt Linehan ran for 41 yards, but he completed just 8 of 22 passes for 128 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception. He'll go against a secondary that features a pair of returning All-Pac-12 players -- safety Budda Baker and cornerback Sidney Jones.

The Vandals held Montana State to 110 yards on the ground.

"That's the best defense we've played since I've been here," coach Paul Petrino said after the victory. "Our defense really stepped up. Offensively, we rushed for 225 yards. We found two ways to win. That's the most important thing."

Washington has won 18 consecutive games against Idaho, dating to a tie in 1938.

Washington wraps up its nonconference schedule against Portland State, an FCS program, on Sept. 17 -- another game that likely means more playing time for the reserves. The Huskies begin Pac-12 play at Arizona on Sept. 24.