Washington returner eyes record against Fresno State (Sep 16, 2017)

BY AP • September 14, 2017

Dante Pettis tied the Pac-12 record for punt return touchdowns in the season opener and broke it in the second game.

The senior now has his sights on the NCAA mark.

Pettis has returned seven punts for scores during his standout career and looks to match the all-time record shared by Texas Tech's Wes Welker and Oklahoma's Antonio Perkins when the No. 6 Huskies host Fresno State on Saturday.

Pettis returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown against Rutgers and followed up with a 67-yard score last Saturday against Montana.

"Every time you're out there, at least I'm out there, I think I'm going to return it for a touchdown," Pettis told reporters. "Every time I think, 'This is about to be a touchdown right here.'"

Pettis has fielded three punts this season and returned two for scores. The touchdown against the Grizzlies snapped a tie with California's DeSean Jackson (2005-07) for the Pac-12 mark.

Washington coach Chris Petersen said Pettis is receiving a lot of help. The punt return blockers are aware they have a game-breaker fielding punts and aim to provide an opening or two for Pettis to sail through.

"He is good," Petersen said of Pettis. "I think the guys blocked for him really hard up front because they truly understand that if they give him a little space he has a good chance to make something happen.

"Even if he doesn't score, that field position is really important and big to us. Dante has that unique feel and knack as a lead punt returner. The guys work really hard for him up front."

While Pettis aims to do more damage against the Bulldogs, the Huskies (2-0) are feeling better about their offensive prowess after producing a 63-7 victory over Montana.

Washington was lethargic in a 30-14 season-opening win over Rutgers and possessed the ball fewer than 22 minutes.

But junior quarterback Jake Browning was an efficient 22-of-26 passing in the follow-up game as the Huskies rolled to the easy victory.

Fresno State (1-1) might be hard-pressed to slow the Washington attack after struggling defensively in last Saturday's 41-10 loss to top-ranked Alabama.

The Bulldogs were ravaged for 497 yards by the Crimson Tide, including 305 on the ground.

Fresno State was powerless to slow Alabama despite sophomore middle linebacker Jeffrey Allison posting a career-high 14 tackles.

"I couldn't say what the most difficult thing was, because everything they really did, they did well," Allison said.

While the Bulldogs might not be able to match the Huskies in talent, they do have inside knowledge of the players and how Washington operates.

That is because first-year coach Jeff Tedford -- the former head man at Cal -- served as a consultant for the Huskies last season.

Petersen said he isn't overly concerned about the situation or what kind of intel Tedford possesses, but did indicate there was a mad scramble to locate Tedford once he accepted the Fresno State gig.

"I didn't even know we were playing those guys until he got the job and everybody said, 'Take his playbook,'" Petersen said. "I was chuckling until someone told me we actually played them and I'm like, 'Yeah, you'd better get his playbook.' But by then it was probably too late."

Tedford certainly isn't divulging if he knows any secrets. But he enjoyed spending time around Petersen, who was on the same Oregon coaching staff with Tedford for three seasons (1998-2000) earlier in their respective careers.

"Discipline is something that doesn't just happen on a field, it happens in everything you do in a program," Tedford said during a press conference. "Be it academics, to being on time for things, all the little things. Coach Pete does a great job there with that. I was able to see that last year firsthand."

Tedford is trying to put his stamp on the offense with players he inherited.

Sophomore quarterback Chason Vigil has passed for 426 yards and two touchdowns while being intercepted once. Junior receiver KeeSean Johnson is picking up the system well and already has 15 receptions for 175 yards.

Washington is receiving solid play on defense from inside linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven. The junior has a team-best 21 tackles and has been in double digits in back-to-back games after never previously registering 10 or more stops.

Senior inside linebacker Kieshawn Bierria continues to be a turnover producer. He forced a fumble on a sack against Montana and recovered the ball for his seventh career recovery, one off the school mark shared by three players.

Fresno State will be without junior outside linebacker Kesomi Mafi, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Alabama.

The game is the fourth overall meeting between the schools. Washington holds a 2-1 edge, posting a 21-20 victory in 2006 in the most recent meeting.

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