TUCSON, Ariz. — Washington survived its first real test after rolling through an easy nonconference schedule.
To keep their run going, the Huskies know they’ll have to play better than this.
Jake Browning hit Dante Pettis on a 4-yard touchdown in overtime and No. 9 Washington overcame a slew of missed opportunities to hold off Arizona 35-28 Saturday night in both teams’ Pac-12 opener.
“We can do better than that,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said.
The Huskies (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) dominated their first three games behind Browning’s prolific passing and a first-team defense that did not allow a touchdown.
Those wins came against Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State, so Arizona represented a huge uptick in competition.
Despite the Wildcats (2-2, 0-1) being down to their fourth-string running back, Washington had a hard time shaking them, plagued by missed chances on Arizona’s side of the field.
The Huskies failed on a fourth-and-1 in the third quarter and Cameron Van Winkle missed his second field goal of the game in the fourth — from 40 yards — to allow the Wildcats to hang around.
Lavon Coleman did his part, running for 181 yards and a 55-yard touchdown while Browning was mostly limited to short throws underneath. Browning hit a few big passes in the second half and found Pettis, who made a tough grab on the first possession of overtime.
Washington’s defense was unable to contain Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins most of the night, but came through when it needed to, forcing a turnover on downs in overtime to eke out the victory.
“There were a lot of mistakes we made, we had opportunities on both sides of the ball, but that’s how this game is,” Petersen said. “You just have to keep fighting.”
Dawkins kept the Wildcats in it with a dazzling display, finishing with 176 yards and two touchdowns rushing, 167 yards and another score passing. He escaped what appeared to be a sack to hit Shun Brown on a 54-yard pass, then found Josh Kern on a 3-yard TD pass with 17 seconds left to tie the game at 28.
Dawkins couldn’t come through in overtime, though, unable to find a receiver on the final play after scrambling to grab a bad snap.
“I don’t exactly know where the snap was and I don’t know if I could have gotten it,” Dawkins said. “The ball was on the ground and I had to pick it up and make a play with it, take a last chance.”
The worst news for Arizona was that it lost another running back. Freshman J.J. Taylor, playing in place of injured starter Nick Wilson, broke his left ankle in the third quarter, leaving Arizona even thinner at running back.
“Extremely frustrating,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said of the injuries. “This guy is lights out, will be again when he comes back. Unbelievable.”
Washington: The Huskies faced adversity for the first time after three easy wins to open the season and survived. Washington failed to capitalize after manhandling the smaller Wildcats to start the second half — a 171-12 advantage in total yards — yet made the plays when it needed to down the stretch.
Arizona: The Wildcats’ quick-tempo offense went into a slumber for a long stretch of the second half and its defense was manhandled at times by the Huskies. Arizona had a shot at the end and failed, but the bigger concern is depth after seeing another running back go down.
Dawkins did most of the work on a 79-yard TD run in the second quarter, turning what appeared to be a tackle in the backfield into an electrifying run.
Receiver Trey Griffey provided a last-second boost, racing from the opposite side of the field to block Washington’s Jojo McIntosh just before he reached Dawkins around the 10-yard line. Griffey closed fast and got in front of McIntosh, allowing Dawkins to score.
BROWNING’S CRACK BACK
Griffey wasn’t the only one making big blocks. Browning had one of his own and it was a big one.
With John Ross taking the handoff on a reverse, Browning turned back and bore down on Arizona’s Calvin Allen. The 281-pound defensive end didn’t see Browning coming and Washington’s quarterback leveled him with a crack-back block , nearly spinning Allen all the way around.
Washington: The Huskies host No. 7 Stanford next Friday in what should be just the fourth game ever between top-10 teams at Husky Stadium.
Arizona: The Wildcats play at UCLA next Saturday.