As another Washington Huskies blowout victory against an overmatched nonconference opponent reached intermission, a new Husky Stadium tradition continued.
That is: A bunch of people went home. Or to the parking lot. Or just somewhere else, content that no competitive football would be played for the rest of the night.
It provided a fitting backdrop for the brief question-and-answer session held by UW athletic director Jennifer Cohen with reporters in the back of the press box.
Early season beatings like the one UW applied to Portland State on Saturday evening — the final score was 41-3, and the Huskies led 28-0 at halftime — make for fine tuneups, sure. But people aren’t paying to watch them.
Announced attendance on Saturday was 57,151 — a fraction of whom were present for the second half — in a stadium that seats a little more than 70,000.
The Huskies drew a little more than 58,000 for their season opener against Rutgers, and not quite 61,000 last week against Idaho.
Which, Cohen said, is actually more than the athletic department expected.
“We’re trending ahead of what we had budgeted,” Cohen said at halftime of UW’s Saturday game against Portland State. “So while we’d love to see more people in the stands overall, these numbers are projected higher than what we had originally thought. Season tickets are actually up this year, which is a really encouraging sign, and we have a lot of games ahead of us in the Pac-12 that we want to see good crowds for.”
This, obviously, was not one of them.
The No. 8-ranked Huskies finally completed the scrimmage portion of their schedule. Like Rutgers and Idaho before it, Portland State came to Husky Stadium as a massive underdog and left thoroughly defeated, the Huskies scoring 28 points in the game’s first 17 minutes before essentially coasting thereafter.
The Huskies are 3-0 after a nonconference slate that featured precisely zero drama or intrigue. That’s not all bad. UW’s backups have played a bunch, and there’s something to be said for a power-conference team doing what it should against inferior opponents (just ask Washington State).
But nobody chooses to play for UW so they can face the kind of competition — or lack thereof — the Huskies saw in these first three weeks.
“I’m definitely looking for somebody to try to hit back,” said junior linebacker Keishawn Bierria, who had six tackles and a fumble recovery on Saturday. “That’s what we play for. We want them dog fights. We want them legendary moments. That’s what we’re looking for this season. We’re looking for someone to fight back.”
That someone was not Portland State. This was apparent early. Washington needed five plays to score the game’s first touchdown, a 43-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Jake Browning to sophomore receiver Chico McClatcher.
Portland State fumbled the ensuing kickoff. Four plays later, the Huskies scored again, Browning tossing an 11-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Darrell Daniels.
An 11-play PSU drive ended with a punt. A 12-play UW drive ended with Browning’s third touchdown pass, a 13-yard throw to McClatcher.
Myles Gaskin’s 4-yard run made it 28-0 with 13:52 left in the first half, a score set up by a batted lateral and fumble recovery by sophomore linebacker Tevis Bartlett. Gaskin later caught a 4-yard swing pass from Browning — who finished 12 for 19 passing for 163 yards — for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Gaskin finished with 93 yards rushing on 13 carries.
UW’s final touchdown came late in the fourth quarter on a 27-yard pass from backup quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels to tight end Will Dissly, a former defensive lineman.
The Vikings (1-2) managed 79 yards of total offense in the first half and minus-2 yards rushing. They finished with only 34 yards rushing on 42 attempts, and managed a meager 3.1 yards per offensive play.
“That’s a fast-ass defense,” PSU coach Bruce Barnum marveled, “and they strike hard.”
PSU had a chance to score late in the half, when quarterback Alex Kuresa completed a pass to tight end Maximo Espitia inside UW’s 20-yard line. But junior safety Ezekiel Turner hammered Espitia, jarred the ball loose, and Huskies linebacker Keishawn Bierria fell on it.
Kuresa threw an interception with PSU driving in the third quarter, a pass into the end zone that star cornerback Sidney Jones easily snagged for UW’s fourth forced turnover.
Washington begins Pac-12 play next weekend at Arizona. Then, on Friday, Sept. 30, the Huskies will at last play a worthy opponent at Husky Stadium: Seventh-ranked Stanford, the preseason favorite to win the conference title.
“We’ve been staring at this schedule for a long time,” UW coach Chris Petersen said, “going, ‘OK, we have our first three games, which have their own unique challenges, but then we start our league in a tough way.’ ”
Said Browning, who has thrown 12 touchdown passes in three games: “We’ve been able to get a lot of people in to play and all that, but here comes Pac-12, and we all know that every Pac-12 game is a big game and anybody can beat anybody.”
Cohen said ticket sales for the Stanford game are “trending pretty good,” though she stopped short of saying that a sellout is expected.
“It’s a matter of how many tickets we can move closer to the day,” Cohen said, noting that student attendance should be better with fall-quarter classes beginning Sept. 28.
“I think anything’s possible.”
Through three games, the Huskies have done nothing to make anyone believe the same can’t be said of the team itself.
And with the have-nots out of the way, they can more reasonably expect fans to be willing to see the team in person.