SEATTLE — Jermaine Kearse took a short pass 57 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the second half, one of his career-high three touchdown catches, and Washington raced past Syracuse for a 41-20 victory on Saturday.
Kearse grabbed TD receptions of 5, 57 and 28 yards, doing most of the work himself on the final two receptions, to become the first Washington receiver with three touchdown catches in a game since Reggie Williams during the 2002 season.
Jake Locker threw for 289 yards and tied his career high with four TD passes, and the Huskies (1-1) showed the expected offensive potency that was missing a week ago in a 23-17 loss at Brigham Young.
Syracuse (1-1), trying for its first 2-0 start in 11 seasons, got a 28-yard touchdown run from quarterback Ryan Nassib in the first quarter but couldn’t hold an early 10-0 lead.
Nassib added a 19-yard TD pass to Alec Lemon in the fourth quarter. He was 15 of 31 for 190 yards and an interception. Delone Carter rushed for 91 yards on 18 carries.
But the Orange defense simply couldn’t find a way to slow down Kearse. He caught nine passes for 179 yards, both career bests. His 5-yard TD catch late in the first half gave the Huskies a 13-10 lead at the break.
His catch-and-run to start the second half broke the game open. On a simple out pattern, Kearse slipped behind a block, shed the tackle of linebacker Marquis Spruill, then outran the rest of the Orange defense to give Washington a 20-10 lead.
His 28-yard TD catch was much the same and gave Washington a 27-13 lead. Kearse took a quick screen from Locker, broke a pair of tackles and dashed to his third score.
Syracuse became so concerned it started double-covering Kearse as the third quarter wore on. By then Locker was looking to his other options, including Devin Aguilar, who caught a 14-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter.
Locker completed 22 of 33 passes and hit seven different receivers, while Chris Polk added 117 yards rushing and a 52-yard touchdown run.
Washington’s offense was expected to be among the best in the Pac-10 before the season. But after their first drive against BYU, the Huskies managed just 10 points the final three quarters.
The struggles rolled over into Saturday until a Syracuse special teams mistake. Washington drove 62 yards in 13 plays for a 24-yard Erik Folk field goal to cut Syracuse’s lead to 10-6 early in the second quarter. On the ensuing kickoff, Orange returner Prince-Tyson Gulley was hit from behind by Nate Fellner as he was going down and fumbled. Folk ended up in the scrum and came away with the ball.
Six plays later, Locker found Kearse near the front pylon for a 5-yard TD strike and a 13-10 Washington lead.
Syracuse had a chance to pull even twice late in the half. Ross Krautman, who hit a 29-yard field goal in the first quarter, hooked a 43-yard attempt. The Orange then failed to get a tying field-goal attempt at the end of the half, trying to run one more play with 7 seconds left. Nassib was hit and fumbled and the clock expired, causing Syracuse coach Doug Marrone to throw his headset to the turf in anger.