This much is certain about No. 9 Washington: It can beat up on lesser competition.
In cruising to a 3-0 start, the Huskies have done most things well. Quarterback Jake Browning leads the country in pass efficiency, the Huskies have scored 40 or more points in each game, and plenty of younger players have gotten valuable experience in a less-than-challenging nonconference schedule that featured Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State.
What Washington has yet to find out is how it will react to adversity. What happens when the Huskies are playing from behind or are in a competitive game into the fourth quarter? It’s a luxury Washington has yet to face but is a lingering question as the Huskies start Pacific-12 Conference play Saturday at Arizona.
“We’ll see if we’re ready,” coach Chris Petersen said. “That’s easier said than done. It certainly feels better and different when you’re in the fourth quarter and have a comfortable lead as opposed to fighting and clawing all the way down. We haven’t encountered that one yet, but we obviously talk about it every week because we anticipate that. It just hasn’t hap pened. But I suspect it will.”
The Huskies outscored their three nonconference opponents 148-30. They didn’t trail in any of the games, and dating to last season, they have not trailed since the first quarter of the Apple Cup last November against Washington State, a span of nearly five full games. The Huskies were tied for 21 seconds in the third quarter of the Heart of Dallas Bowl against Southern Mississippi before Myles Gaskin went 86 yards for a touchdown.
So it’s been awhile since Browning has had to make an important third-down throw to keep a drive going late in a game, or Washington’s stout defense has been asked to get a key stop and get the ball back to the offense. And while things get drilled constantly in practice, there’s no track record with this year’s group that it can transfer to a game.
“Seeing it live and having to go through the adversity in an actual game where it really, really counts is one thing. But we’ve been through spring ball, through fall camp; we have definitely faced adversity in practice,” Browning said after the win over Portland State on Saturday. “Now, can that transfer to the game? That’s the big thing. But I don’t have any doubt that we’ll handle it. But you never really know until you know.”
The Wildcats (2-1) will present Washington’s first true examination in a place where Petersen suffered one of his most painful defeats two years ago. The Huskies couldn’t run out the clock in the closing minutes, and a fumble led to Arizona kicking a field goal on the final play for a 27-26 win.