SEATTLE (AP) — Whether it was the inability to get the run going or the mistakes a four-year starter like Jake Browning should not be making, No. 10 Washington could not have looked more unimpressive in what turned out to be a 42-point victory.
Not playing well and beating an FCS school is one thing. Not playing well on Saturday at Utah in the Huskies' Pac-12 Conference opener could lead to trouble.
"They're a good team, a good program. This defense is as good as I've seen and they're always known for defense in terms of what they're doing," Washington coach Chris Petersen said Monday. "They've got some really good players that have played for them for a long time. They're extremely aggressive. This is one of the best defenses in our league, for sure, if not the best."
Petersen knows Washington's 45-3 win over North Dakota looks better on paper than it did on the field. The Huskies made plays when they should have, but it was far from the crisp domination expected from a top-10 program facing an FCS opponent.
Most galling was the lack of a running game, at least until the fourth quarter.
Washington managed just 79 yards rushing through three quarters. Myles Gaskin averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. Salvon Ahmed continued to be used only sparingly with four carries. Only the combo of backups Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant seemed to find success and that was in the fourth quarter when North Dakota's defense was worn down.
Petersen said the blocking needs to be better, especially going against a Utah defense that allowed 117 yards rushing to Northern Illinois last week, but only 2.7 yards per attempt.
Washington is familiar with early struggles running the ball. A year ago, the Huskies stumbled early, getting held under 100 yards rushing as a team in two of their first three games. It wasn't until the Pac-12 opener a year ago at Colorado that the Huskies discovered their ground game, rushing for 260 yards as a team. Washington topped 100 yards as a team in nine of its final 10 games.
Petersen seemed to understand the early problems, noting the reduced amount of contact during training camps now can lead to blocking issues.
"It makes sense, because how do you practice the run game in the offseason? You can't," he said. "You practice the pass game all the time. You can throw all the time. But to practice really the running game and put pads on and have those five guys getting real reps, it takes a while to get into that rhythm. So, yeah. But we better get it figured out, because this is a significantly different, better run defense than we've seen."
Browning threw for 313 yards and a pair of touchdowns against North Dakota, but it was his two interceptions and several missed open receivers that drew his own blunt criticism and the ire of fans. It probably didn't help Browning that backup Jake Haener was 7 of 7 for 110 yards and a touchdown in a mop-up role in the fourth quarter.
Browning called his performance "subpar" after the game.
"I thought Jake, it's always different on tape," Petersen said. "I thought he did some really nice things in the pocket and there's probably three or four throws he'd probably like to have back."
NOTES: Petersen said he had not met with doctors yet about LT Trey Adams' back surgery and did not have a prognosis. "I'll talk about it later," he said. ... Washington has won both games against Utah in Salt Lake City since the Utes joined the Pac-12.
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