Washington Huskies

Young Huskies remain a mystery heading into opener at Boise State

University of Washington coach Chris Petersen, right, returns to Boise on Friday where he won 92 games as coach of the Boise State Broncos from 2006-13. The Huskies and Broncos play at 7:15 p.m. Friday.
University of Washington coach Chris Petersen, right, returns to Boise on Friday where he won 92 games as coach of the Boise State Broncos from 2006-13. The Huskies and Broncos play at 7:15 p.m. Friday. The Associated Press

It’s true that Washington Huskies coach Chris Petersen might know the Boise State Broncos better than anyone outside of their own locker room.

Petersen was the coach of the Broncos from 2006-13, and he recruited most of the roster.

But these Broncos, who ended last season with a 38-30 victory over Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl, shouldn’t be much of a mystery to anyone who follows college football. They won 12 games in Bryan Harsin’s first season as coach after 92 wins in eight years under Petersen.

They’re breaking in a new starting quarterback, sure. But they also return 17 starters, including their entire offensive line, their best defensive back and their top tackler from last year’s Fiesta Bowl championship team.

In other words, the Huskies should know what they’re getting into when they take the blue turf at Albertsons Stadium for the season opener at 7:15 p.m. Friday.

What the Huskies might look like, however, is harder to discern.

They’ll be starting a new quarterback, whether it’s true freshman Jake Browning (the most interesting candidate), fourth-year junior Jeff Lindquist (the oldest candidate) or redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels (the most mysterious candidate).

They’re starting an entirely rebuilt offensive line composed of players with just 15 combined career starts. None of the three defensive linemen listed atop the depth chart have started a game before, either, and the Huskies are also replacing four defensive players who were selected in the first 44 picks of this year’s NFL draft.

So it figures that Boise State, ranked No. 23 in The Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll, enters as a 12-point favorite in this rare home game against a power-conference team.

And after a 2014 season in which the Huskies finished 8-6 despite all that defensive talent, it’s worth wondering if a belief exists around the UW program that this season, with so many young players now thrust into significant action, could possibly yield more victories.

“I think we can be a good team, I really do,” Petersen said. “I know what we have in that room and I think, like I’ve said before, if our kids will keep playing for each other and keep getting better — we all get so hung up on winning and losing, and that’s the beauty of sports. At the end of that contest, you’ve got the scoreboard right there, and most of the time it tells us we’re great people or a bunch of big losers.

“If we can stay away from that mentality and say, ‘Hey, we’re competing to what we’re truly capable of, and where do we need to go from here? What do we need to do to make this process bigger and better?’ We’ll get some things done.”

The Huskies’ defense, while relatively inexperienced, does include a number of players who were well-regarded as recruits but simply haven’t played all that much (though the secondary, led by sophomores Budda Baker and Sidney Jones, features young players who actually saw the field plenty last season out of necessity).

One promising youngster is Elijah Qualls, a third-year sophomore nose tackle who backed up All-America lineman Danny Shelton last season.

“I’m honestly a little nervous,” Qualls said Monday. “Just first time ever starting, going to get a lot of playing time. I’ve got some big shoes to fill. At the same time, I’m trying to also make a name for myself and just be dependable for my team.”

The Huskies also are likely to play, at some point, a trio of true freshmen receivers — Chico McClatcher, Isaiah Renfro and Quinten Pounds — in addition to two true sophomores and two seniors.

“Obviously, when there’s a lot of young guys, people don’t really know what to expect,” said Dante Pettis, a sophomore who played last year as a true freshman. “But I feel like we have so much trust in each other. We’ve built up a lot of trust during fall camp with the freshmen, so I don’t think there’s that much uncertainty.”

The Huskies’ youth, Petersen said, reminds him somewhat of the last team he had at Boise State in 2013.

“So many of those kids played as young guys, and now they’re juniors and seniors,” Petersen said. “We played a bunch of those guys, which was a little bit uncommon for us over there at that time.”

That youth movement bore fruit: the Broncos relied upon many of those players while winning the Fiesta Bowl last season. But there were growing pains along the way, such as the 2013 season opener against Washington at Husky Stadium.

Boise State looked considerably different in that game than it had in the 2012 finale, a 28-26 victory over UW in the Las Vegas Bowl. Eight months later, the Huskies still had their primary playmakers, the Broncos had to re-stock with inexperience, and the Huskies won the rematch, 38-6.

Does this opener, with Petersen now on the opposite sideline, feel similar to 2013?

“It’s hard to know,” the coach said Wednesday. “I think every team is different. I think we have some good players. I really do. We’ve got some good talent, and I’m just excited to watch these guys grow. I know they’re going to as the season goes on. I think we’re going to be a much different team in a couple weeks, but I think we’re going to do some good things in two days.”

christian.caple@thenewstribune.com

blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports

@ChristianCaple

HUSKIES GAMEDAY

WASHINGTON at No. 23 Boise State

7:15 P.M. (PDT), ALBERTSONS STADIUM, BOISE

TV: ESPN. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM.

The series: Washington leads, 2-1.

What to watch: What kind of reception will Huskies coach Chris Petersen receive in his first game against his former team? Petersen left Boise in December 2013 to become the Huskies’ coach after leading the Broncos to a 92-12 record over eight seasons. … BSU has a new starting quarterback (Ryan Finley) and lost star tailback Jay Ajayi to the NFL, but the Broncos are otherwise pretty experienced. They return their entire starting offensive line from last year’s team that beat Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl, and they also return eight defensive starters. No surprise: the Broncos were picked by media to repeat as Mountain West champions. … Boise State is 92-4 at home on its blue turf since 2000, the best home winning percentage of any team in the country. BSU has never lost a Friday night home game (12-0). … The Huskies know who their starting quarterback will be, but Petersen won’t announce it publicly until game time. Most speculation has centered around true freshman Jake Browning, who would be the first such player to start a season opener for UW, and the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Petersen. Jeff Lindquist and K.J. Carta-Samuels are also in the mix, and it’s possible all three could play. … This is the return game of a home-and-home series that began in 2013, when the Huskies beat the Petersen-coached Broncos, 38-6, in the first game at the renovated Husky Stadium. Boise State defeated Washington in the 2012 Las Vegas Bowl, and the Huskies beat Boise State at Husky Stadium in 2007.

The pick: Boise State, 31-21.

PRIME NUMBERS

WASHINGTON

No.

Name

Pos.

Ht.

Wt.

Year

3

Jake Browning

QB

6-2

206

Fr.

Quickly becomes this season’s most compelling story line … if

he starts opener.

12

Dwayne Washington

TB

6-2

226

Jr.

Big-play back (five TD runs of 51 yards or more in 2014) looking

for consistency.

32

Budda Baker

FS

5-10

178

So.

Huskies’ most important defensive player will return kicks, could

play some offense.

41

Travis Feeney

LB

6-4

226

Sr.

UW’s most experienced defensive player is trying his hand at the

Buck position.

BOISE STATE

No.

Name

Pos.

Ht.

Wt.

Year

4

Darian Thompson

S

6-2

212

Sr.

Had seven interceptions and 71 tackles in 2014.

8

Kamalei Correa

LB

6-3

248

Jr.

Had 19 tackles for loss, including 12 sacks, last season.

15

Ryan Finley

QB

6-4

200

So.

Backed up Grant Hedrick last season, then won the starting job

in camp.

82

Thomas Sperbeck

WR

6-0

175

Jr.

Led BSU with 877 receiving yards as a sophomore.

christian.caple@thenewstribune.com

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