To be honest, coach Chris Petersen’s first season was a disappointment. And with the sudden departure of QB Cyler Miles, his second looks like a rebuilding year. Which is why the opener at Boise State, where Petersen made his name, has the feel of a make-or-break tone setter.
How the Huskies beat you: Washington was a run-first offense in ’14: 57.5 percent of plays were on the ground, and the Huskies’ 188.6 ypg was No. 4 in the Pac-12. The two-headed backfield of junior Dwayne Washington (127.7 ypg and 4 TDs of 50-plus yards over the final three games) and soph Lavon Coleman returns, but Miles, a dual-threat QB, left the team for personal reasons, setting up a competition among junior Jeff Lindquist, redshirt frosh K.J. Carta-Samuels and early enrollee Jake Browning (No. 5 pocket-passer QB; Folsom, California). The latter two have better wheels, but with three of their top four targets back, including Jaydon Mickens (60 catches, 617 yards) and Dante Pettis (15.2 ypc), Petersen could go for the surer arm.
How you beat the Huskies: In eight wins last year, the Huskies averaged 4.9 yards per rush and threw only 1 INT to 15 TDs. In six losses, they averaged 3.6 yards per rush, threw 5 picks and tossed just 4 scores. Facing a new signal-caller and three new starters on the O-line, teams will stack the box and put on the blitz against the Pac-12’s second-worst pass offense (200.1 ypg) in ’14. In pressure passing situations, U-Dub tends not to deliver, as only 48.6 percent of throws went for a first down or TD (No. 113 in the FBS).
How the Huskies beat you: Thanks to NT Danny Shelton and LBs Hau’oli Kikaha and Shaq Thompson, a trio of All-Americans, the Huskies had the second-best rushing D (124.1 ypg, 3.3 ypc) in the Pac-12 and the second-most sacks in the FBS (52) last season. Unfortunately, LB Travis Feeney is the only returning starter from that front seven. On the bright side: A secondary that was young and vulnerable last year (286.6 pass ypg, No. 120) returns mostly intact, led by sophomore budding stars in CB Sidney Jones (2 INTs) and SS Budda Baker, who was fourth on the team in tackles. The backfield will need to step up big with five of the top 20 FBS pass offenses from ’14 on the schedule.
How you beat the Huskies: U-Dub had an FBS-high 41 sacks when sending four or fewer pass rushers in ’14, but that kind of efficiency seems unlikely from an inexperienced front seven. D-coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski will be forced to pack the box against the run, which means the Huskies will have to blitz more on passing downs, leaving the secondary susceptible to deep balls. Last season the Huskies allowed 162 throws of 10-plus yards and 55 of 20-plus, both second most in the Pac-12. While Jones and Baker have a ton of talent, it’s not enough to make up for the lack of a stout pass rush.