SEATTLE – Jake Browning threw for 313 yards and two touchdowns, Ty Jones had two touchdown receptions, and No. 9 Washington finally pulled away in the second half for a 45-3 victory over North Dakota on Saturday.
The home opener was a chance to regroup after the letdown of last week’s season-opening loss to No. 7 Auburn. That was a game Washington believed it should have won, and the hangover from the buildup surrounding the opener showed up against the Fighting Hawks (1-1) with a shaky performance on offense.
Browning was sharp at times, but also had stretches of missing open receivers and threw two poor interceptions. Washington’s run game was spotty at best against the FCS opponent. Washington picked up just one first down between the middle of the second quarter and the 5-minute mark of the third quarter, and it came the on a meaningless final play of the first half.
“I don’t feel like we really dominated at any point. I think we have a standard that we play to, and I don’t feel like we played to it. I don’t feel I played to my standard of how I want to play,” Browning said. “Obviously, happy that we won but not really happy with how I played.”
Browning was 23 of 37 passing with short TD passes to Jones and Cade Otton. Backup QB Jake Haener added a 12-yard TD pass to Jones in the fourth quarter.
Perhaps most concerning for Washington was the lack of a run game. The Huskies finished with 195 yards rushing on 34 carries, but had just 79 yards through three quarters. Myles Gaskin had a 2-yard TD run in the first half and Sean McGrew added a 23-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
“We expected a quicker start, and to be honest I’m very confused why it was that way. It was such a slow and difficult start,” Washington right tackle Kaleb McGary said. “It is what it is at this point. We got the win, as ugly as it may or may not be.”
John Santiago had 18 carries for 139 yards for North Dakota, putting together a performance better than what Saquan Barkley did against Washington last year in the Fiesta Bowl. Santiago’s 69-yard dash in the third quarter set up North Dakota’s only points on Brady Leach’s 20-yard field goal.
Browning was wearing a brace on his right knee, which he appeared to injure on Washington’s final offensive play of the loss to Auburn. His mobility didn’t appear to be affected, though he was forced to move from the pocket more than the Huskies would have preferred. But his inconsistency seemed to flummox even Washington coach Chris Petersen, who dropped his head in frustration in the third quarter when Browning overthrew an open receiver in the end zone. Browning capped that drive with a 1-yard TD pass to Otton, but made a poor throw on Washington’s next possession and was intercepted by Hayden Blubaugh.
Washington’s issues on offense aren’t isolated to Browning.
The Huskies had 30 yards rushing on 15 carries before Gaskin ripped off a 24-yard scamper on the meaningless final play of the first half. Washington turned the ball over on downs at the North Dakota 20 early in the second quarter when it couldn’t convert third- or fourth-and-1 on running attempts by Gaskin and Browning.
Ultimately, the inconsistency of the run game didn’t matter against the Fighting Hawks. But it could be an issue next Saturday in Salt Lake City against Utah.