Maybe it’s time for Washington’s opponents to consider avoiding Dante Pettis.
Rutgers made the mistake of kicking to him in the season-opener. Montana did the same Saturday. Both times, the star wide receiver and dynamic punt returner for No. 6 Washington found his way into the end zone.
“Coming into this year I didn’t think I was going to get that many return opportunities,” Pettis said. “Then after last game I was like ‘I’m probably not going to get anymore.’ Now after this game I’ll probably be like, ‘I’m not going to get anymore.’ But people keep surprising me and kicking to me and I’m thankful for that.”
What will Fresno State do? Tune in Saturday night when the Bulldogs play the Huskies in Seattle.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford didn’t let onto strategy at his weekly coach’s news conference, but called Pettis a “very dangerous guy.”
Pettis’ 67-yard punt return touchdown in a 63-7 rout of Montana was the seventh of his career, giving him the Pac-12 career record. He’s one shy of the NCAA record held by Wes Welker (Texas Tech) and Antonio Perkins (Oklahoma) with at least 10 games remaining in his college career.
Pettis’ success as a returner can be attributed to a mix of speed and agility. He’s not the fastest player on the field, but athletic enough that he also stars in the long jump for the Washington track and field team.
“Every time you’re out there, at least I’m out there, I think I’m going to return it for a touchdown. Every time I think, ‘This is about to be a touchdown right here,’” Pettis said. “Then it just depends on how the punter kicks it, if he kicks it high or short or a line drive. We know going into it generally how they’re going to punt because we watch film on them and everything, so we know if they like to kick it to the boundary or whatever it is. So normally we have a good idea what is going on.”
Fresno State has a weapon of its own in punter Blake Cusick, who is averaging 42.2 yards on nine punts. Three punts have gone inside the 20-yard line, two have been fair caught and three have gone 50-plus yards with a long of 66. Cusick averaged 38.3 yards per punt in 2016, when Fresno State ranked third in the Mountain West Conference allowing just 5.2 yards per return (with one TD).
Washington coach Chris Petersen specifically oversees the Huskies’ special teams. While he was quick to praise Pettis’ ability as a returner, he was just as concerned with the mistakes he saw from his punt return group.
“I’m much more into the subtle nuances of him catching balls that are tough to catch, they might even be a fair catch, they might be backed up in the red-zone area,” Petersen said. “Other than Dante’s touchdown I really wasn’t too happy with what was going on back there. I thought we let the ball hit the ground way too much and so we’ve got work to do, including him. … Everyone likes the flash plays and that’s great, they’re game-changing plays, but there is a lot of subtleties in the hidden game of special teams.”
After two years of prodding, Pettis received the OK from Petersen to participate in track and field last spring as a long jumper. Pettis competed in four meets and had a non-wind aided team-best jump of 24 feet 1 3/4 inches. He finished ninth in the Pac-12 championships.
“Long jump is a lot of control and explosiveness,” Pettis said. “Obviously that carries over a lot to wide receiver. Jumping in the air you have to be able to control your body and get up in the air. There is a lot of things that carry over from that.”
Like NFL success, predicted teammate Trey Adams: “He is really good and he’s going to make a lot of money someday.”
Fresno Bee Staff contributed to this report
On to Seattle
FRESNO STATE AT WASHINGTON
- Opening kickoff: 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Husky Stadium (capacity 70,138)
- Records: Bulldogs 1-1, Huskies 2-0
- TV: Pac-12 Network
- Season-opening results: Fresno State defeated Incarnate Word 66-0 at home and lost at No. 1 Alabama 41-10; No. 6 Washington won at Rutgers 30-14 and defeated Montana 63-7 at home
- Head-to-head: Fresno State and Washington meet for the fourth time, all in Seattle and all in September. Washington won 49-14 in 1979 and 21-20 in 2006. Fresno State won 35-16 in 2004.
- Local connection: Ricky McCoy is a Washington redshirt sophomore defensive lineman out of Roosevelt High. McCoy (6-2, 292) played in two games in 2016 but has yet to see time in 2017.
- More online: Check out Robert Kuwada’s updates and video at fresnobee.com/bulldogs or download the Bulldog Buzz mobile app