By Tim Booth
The Associated Press
Arizona at Oregon
When: Nov. 18 Time/TV: TBA
SEATTLE — After five games without a spectacular moment on special teams, it was time for Dante Pettis to stand alone in the NCAA record book.
Pettis became the NCAA’s career leader in punt return touchdowns and had a 47-yard TD reception, leading No. 12 Washington past Oregon 38-3 on Saturday night.
“If he makes the first guy miss, it’s usually a touchdown,” Washington quarterback Jake Browning said.
A year after breaking a 12-game losing streak to the Ducks, Washington (8-1 overall, 5-1 Pac-12) kept alive its hopes for a return to the College Football Playoff by thumping its rival to the south.
The blowout was sparked by Pettis on a frigid, wet night along the shore of Lake Washington. After a sluggish start, Pettis’ ninth career punt return touchdown early in the second quarter started an avalanche of Washington points.
“Punt returns for touchdowns are rare … and I already had three this year so it wasn’t like, ‘I haven’t got a punt return in a long time,’” Pettis said. “Each week I was going into it and just trying to get the best return that I could.”
Pettis caught the line drive from Oregon’s Adam Stack, made the initial defenders miss, hurdled an attempted tackle from Stack at the Oregon 40 and found open space as he sprinted to the end zone. The 64-yard play was the fourth punt return for a score this season by Pettis, tying a Pac-12 record. He had punt return touchdowns in three straight games in September to pull even with Antonio Perkins (Oklahoma) and Wes Welker (Texas Tech) on the NCAA list.
“We didn’t get enough hang time on it to get our guys down there,” Oregon coach Willie Taggart said. “That’s like Football 101. When you punt the ball you’ve got to allow your guys to get down there and we didn’t do a good job with that kick.”
It was just the start of a big night for the senior. He finished with four catches for 87 yards and put the game out of reach on the first drive of the second half, getting behind the Oregon defense for his seventh touchdown reception of the season and a 24-3 lead.
“He’s just got a knack,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “He’s a really deceptive guy even as a receiver. He’s a long strider that has tremendous suddenness to him.”
Brandon Burmeister started at quarterback for Oregon as the Ducks (5-5, 2-5) kept Justin Herbert out for one more game due to a collarbone injury. Herbert has not played since being injured in late September.
Royce Freeman rushed for 122 yards, but the Ducks had almost no passing attack. After gaining 116 yards on its first two possessions, Oregon gained just 73 total yards on its next eight possessions.
“I think we can run the ball better if we can throw it better,” Taggart said. “It’s good to see that our guys are able to run the football when everyone knows we’re going to run.”