After a season-opening loss at Boise State that was discouraging (for the offense) and encouraging (for the defense) all at once, it’s still hard to know just what to expect from this Washington Huskies football team.
Except for this week, anyway.
The surest thing on Washington’s schedule arrives at 11 a.m. Saturday in the form of the Huskies’ home opener against Sacramento State, a member of the Football Championship Subdivision and the Big Sky conference.
Of course, the Big Sky has proven itself recently as something more than a collection of doormats — Portland State, anyone? — and the Hornets themselves have claimed a pair of victories over Pac-12 foes as recently as 2012 (at Colorado) and 2011 (at Oregon State).
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Huskies coach Chris Petersen might do well, then, to remind his young, inexperienced team of upsets past. But there isn’t another game on UW’s schedule as winnable as this one.
Petersen, of course, said victory won’t be assured unless the Huskies “play as a team” and “get some things going.” Their offense did not achieve the latter in that 16-13 defeat at Boise State, totaling just 179 yards from scrimmage and rushing for just 29 yards on 22 attempts.
“I know what Sac State’s going to bring,” Petersen said. “They’re going to bring tremendous focus, energy, effort — they’re going to play well, they’re going to play inspired. I mean, you can see it, what’s gone on the first week or so. So it’s really clear what they’re going to bring. What we need to do is match all that.”
Platitudes aside, Petersen insists this week must be more about the Huskies than about their opponent. But the opponent could have a lot to do with how much better UW is able to run the ball.
Boise State is a top-25 team with an experienced, talented defensive front, and they played like it. Sacramento State (1-0), on the other hand, allowed 36.1 points per game last season. If the Huskies can’t run the ball against the smaller Hornets, permission should be granted for widespread panic.
UW’s offensive line should also be able to better protect true freshman quarterback Jake Browning, whose skills as a passer surely extend beyond his lackluster stat line — 20 for 34, 150 yards, an interception — he posted at Boise State.
“I think it’s going to be whatever we can do to move the ball,” Petersen said. “We didn’t throw the ball very well. We didn’t run the ball very well. So it’s whatever we can do to score points.”
The Hornets, meanwhile, relish the challenge of trying to topple another Pac-12 program. They rolled to a 41-20 victory over Eastern Oregon — an overmatched NAIA squad — in their season opener.
“We’re really excited. We always love playing the Pac-12 teams,” Sacramento State quarterback Daniel Kniffin said this week. “It’s always good to see what we’re made of. We’re coming really confident off last week. We’re going to come up there and put up a fight.”
Kniffin said the Hornets run different schemes than Boise State, so he doesn’t know how much to take from the film of UW’s season opener.
But, he said, “their defense looked like they were flying around, and we’re excited to come out and compete with them.”
The Huskies (0-1) know that much is possible, even if fans likely expect a comfortable victory.
“This isn’t lip service. They have good coaches, they have good players, they have good teams,” Petersen said of the Big Sky. “They really do. And so again, I go back — it’s never about the opponent. It’s about us. It’s just playing to the highest level that we’re capable of playing. I know sometimes that’s a hard concept for everybody to get, but that’s how we try to look at it.”
Sacramento State (1-0) at WASHINGTON (0-1)
11 a.m., Husky Stadium, Seattle
TV: Pac-12 Network. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM.
The series: The teams have never played.
What to watch: The Huskies’ biggest priority against the Hornets should be simple: run the ball. Washington didn’t do that with any kind of success in its season-opening loss at Boise State — 22 attempts for 29 yards — but it seems the Huskies should be able to establish that part of their offense against a Big Sky team in their home opener. If they can’t, that would be a major concern. … After an up-and-down collegiate debut, true freshman Jake Browning will make his first appearance at Husky Stadium. He completed 20 of his 34 pass attempts for 150 yards and an interception against a veteran Boise State defense, but better numbers will be expected against Sacramento State. … The Hornets won their season opener, 41-20, over Eastern Oregon of the NAIA. They finished last season 7-5 and 4-4 in Big Sky play, good for seventh place in the conference standings (out of 13 teams). Third-year sophomore Daniel Kniffin takes over at quarterback after the graduation of Garrett Safron, who threw for 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns last season. Kniffin was mentored for a time in high school by Folsom High School coach Troy Taylor, who coached Browning during his highly successful three-year high school career. … Sacramento State returns its leading rusher (Jordan Robinson) and one of its two 1,000-yard receivers from last season (Nnamdi Agude). … The Hornets allowed 36.1 points per game in 2014, which ranked 12th out of 13 teams in the Big Sky.
The pick: Washington, 38-10.
Former walk-on won starting job this season.
Led team with 862 yards rushing last season.
Had 99 tackles last season despite missing three games.
Coming off strong 2014 season: 70 catches, 1,156 yards, 10 TDs.
Should have more opportunities to throw against this defense.
Is another punt-return TD in the cards?
If UW’s offense is to get going, Washington must lead the charge.
Had a huge game at Boise State in his first career start.