DANNY ONEIL

Hard to not get carried away after Huskies’ dominant win in opener

Sep 7, 2016, 11:53 AM
Six of Jake Browning's first eight passes against Rutgers were completed, and three went for touchd...
Six of Jake Browning's first eight passes against Rutgers were completed, and three went for touchdowns. (AP)
(AP)

If Husky Stadium had a roof, the ball would have scraped it.

At least it seemed that way as Jake Browning arced his first-quarter throw in the direction of John Ross, who was at a dead sprint toward the open end of Husky Stadium.

And in that moment, in the first quarter of the first game, Browning’s impossibly high throw seemed the perfect metaphor for the hopes that Husky fans carried into this season.

Well, at least it was perfectly symbolic if you’re either an overly dramatic Husky fan or a sucker for ham-handed descriptions. I’m guilty on both counts, but you’ll have to indulge me for a second.

See, I’m part of a lost generation of Huskies. One who didn’t arrive on campus until the probation-prompted sunset of the Don James era.

I arrived in 1993 to a two-year bowl ban, but what followed was even worse: the purple-helmet farce when the head coach thought it would be a great idea to have his players resemble the grapes from Fruit of the Loom ads.

Rick Neuheisel brought back the gold helmets. He brought Washington to the Rose Bowl, too, largely with Jim Lambright’s players. Then after Neuheisel turned Washington into a punchline came the dark years of Keith Gilbertson and the home loss to Nevada-Reno and then Tyrone Willingham, who was even worse.

In the 23 years since I enrolled at Washington, the Cougs have twice as many trips to the Rose Bowl as the Huskies, and we haven’t beaten Oregon since George W. Bush’s first term in office, so you’re going to have to pardon me for getting a little carried away with the start of this Husky season.

But that’s how great Saturday felt. To have this Washington team that improved so much over the course of last season go out and lay an abject whupping on an overmatched opponent.

Browning completed six of his first eight passes. Three went for touchdowns, each one scored on a pass of more than 35 yards. The defense was as tough as advertised, and about the only flaw that you could find was the fact that Washington wasn’t able to run the ball as effectively as the Huskies hoped – though the reason for that probably had something to do with Rutgers leaving the back end of its defense so exposed.

It was enough to stop my complaints about this year’s absolutely awful non-conference schedule for at least a week. Washington used to host teams like fourth-ranked Miami in 2000 or 11th-ranked Michigan in 2001, two games the Huskies won.

Subsequent games against Oklahoma and LSU didn’t turn out nearly so well, and over the past five years, Washington’s strength of schedule has been very deliberately dialed down.

Michigan is looming two years into the future, and while the Wolverines play in the same conference as Rutgers thanks to the twin factors of college-football politics and geographic ignorance, there’s no doubt that Michigan is a whole different cut of meat.

That’s down the road, though. On Saturday, it was enough to watch this Washington team that had improved so much over the course of 2015 season to begin the season at a full sprint. The Huskies were as dominant as anyone could have hoped.

Yes, it was just Rutgers. Of course, this is going to be a long season. But as that pass from Browning hung up in the air in the first quarter of this first game, it was possible to see this program taking off again as Ross ran away from an overmatched defender.

It was absolutely beautiful, and hopefully a sign of things to come.

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