If you want to go undefeated, chances are you need a few breaks along the way.
Washington needed one in a bad way in Salt Lake City and got one from Dante Pettis on a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to escape with a 31-24 win over Utah on Saturday afternoon.
The two teams had gone back-and-forth over four quarters in a great battle between two of the best in their respective Pac-12 divisions. Washington had jumped out to an early lead and appeared poised to take control of the game but Utah responded in the third quarter with an interception that led to a touchdown and a late field goal just before halftime to cut it to a four point game. Eventually they took the lead as a result of a 17 point run.
Huskies quarterback Jake Browning would not be denied however, leading back-to-back scoring drives in the third quarter to re-take the lead. The Heisman candidate wasn’t the sharpest he’s been all season — throwing an interception for the first UW turnover in over a month — but did toss two touchdowns and converted several times on third down thanks to his ability to escape the pocket and make a clutch play.
Tailback Myles Gaskin also found it tough to get going against a stingy Utah defense but wound up with 151 yards and a score to extend his lead in the Pac-12 rushing standings. Counterpart Joe Williams looked much better on the ground and chipped in 172 yards and a score thanks to some tough running for the home team.
Utes signal-caller Troy Williams couldn’t quite complete the rally against his old school but it wasn’t for lack of trying after a dreadful start. His numbers didn’t wind up looking all that great (14-of-31, 163 yards, two touchdowns) but he was much better in the second half and came up with some big throws down the stretch to even get the team in position to make it a game.
Surprisingly it was the Utah special teams who made the key mistake in the fourth quarter however on a play that ultimately proved to be the deciding score. Pettis took a deep punt, ran backwards a bit to avoid a pair of gunners and hit the edge to race up the sideline for the game-winning touchdown. It was a lucky break for the Huskies but one they had to have in order to win the game.
The victory moves Washington to 8-0 for the first time since 1992 and keeps them atop the Pac-12 North standings. While it was the second time the team has struggled in a Pac-12 road game this season, it does keep their record unblemished ahead of the very first College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday.
While many expected the conference to be left out of the final four this season, thanks in part to Washington surviving their big test at Utah, the Pac-12 will be in prime position to land a team in the playoff as a pretty clear path has opened up for the undefeated Huskies.