Times are great for the Washington Huskies. They’re still unbeaten and high atop the Pac-12, and their win at Utah on Saturday marked the passing of a serious test.
The tipping point in the game was Dante Pettis’ 58-yard punt return score with a bit more than three minutes to play. Pettis’ runback gave the Huskies a 31-24 lead, and their defense made it stand up for a huge league win.
Here’s the play:
On Pettis’ way from his own 42-yard line to the Utes’ end zone, he picked up a couple of really important blocks, as tends to happen on special-teams touchdowns.
A good deal of Utah fans cried foul online, thinking Washington had blocked some Utah coverage men in the back. In the photo at the top of this article, you can see Utes fans pointing back toward the field as Pettis steps into the end zone.
Blocking from the back, of course, is a foul. If Washington had been flagged for one, the Huskies would’ve had the ball on their own half of the field. There’d have been no touchdown, and the game could have finished differently.
Let’s look at each one.
The first block was fine.
A Washington player at Utah’s 43 is removing Utah’s Christian Drews from Pettis’ immediate vicinity. Going full-speed, this looks from-the-back-ish, but it’s really not. The block comes to the Ute’s right shoulder, and he’s driven cleanly off the ball. The UW blocker’s helmet is to the front of the defender’s shoulder.
Here’s another angle of that first block:
That’s a block to the side.
Here’s the second block, which definitely could’ve been flagged.
Washington’s Jake Wambaugh engages Utah’s long snapper, Chase Dominguez, from behind the shoulders, giving him a shove forward and to the side. Wambaugh’s helmet appears to be behind Dominguez.
Here it is a moment later, as circled by Fox’s Joel Klatt:
From that frame, it looks like Dominguez would’ve had a shot at impeding Pettis without that block.
The third block could’ve been flagged, but was borderline.
This one’s close. Watch it in real time or look at that image above, and it certainly looks like a foul.
But here’s another angle, right before initial contact, which is what matters most. As you can see, this block is from the side, at worst:
UW’s Myles Bryant squared up punter Mitch Wishnowsky and evidently didn’t intend to block in the back ...
... and the punter turning his shoulder appears to have altered the contact ...
... but we’ve seen similar blocks draw plenty of flags before. Especially ones that end like this:
Still, this third block was called within the bounds of reason.
Washington definitely came close to three penalties and probably committed at least one.
The Huskies lived on the edge, and a ref could’ve rung them up for any of the blocks above.
Pettis’ return was brilliant, and UW shouldn’t feel guilty about it, even if Utah fans have sufficient evidence to feel wronged.