During his five seasons as head coach of the Washington football team, Chris Petersen has turned the Huskies into the class of the Pac-12 and one of the elite programs in the country.
Entering his sixth season in Seattle, however, Petersen’s got a challenge in front him to retool his team. The defending Pac-12 champions lost their all-time leading passer, their all-time leading rusher, eight NFL draft choices and nine starters on defense.
This month, BuffZone.com is previewing each of Colorado’s opponents, with this installment focusing on Washington, which will visit the Buffaloes on Nov. 23.
Over the past three years, Washington is 32-9, including a Pac-12-best 22-5 in conference games. They’ve also got two Pac-12 titles in that stretch. Despite the massive changes in personnel, the Huskies’ expectations haven’t changed. National publications still project Washington to either win the North division or be in contention for the title all year.
Much of the credit goes to Petersen, who had Boise State rolling along for years and has cemented his place among the nation’s top coaches since coming to Washington in 2014.
“We think we have talent and we have good coaches, and that combination is always a great place to start,” Petersen told The Athletic this summer. “But then it’s all about getting these guys to take the next step – skill-wise, knowledge-wise, consistency-wise.”
Certainly, Washington lacks the experience it had a year ago, when most of its defense returned and the offense was led by four-year starting quarterback Jake Browning and four-time 1,000-yard rusher Myles Gaskin.
What the Huskies lack in experience, however, they make up for in talent.
Georgia transfer Jacob Eason is expected to take over at quarterback. A former five-star recruit and Gatorade National Player of the Year, he started 12 games as a true freshman at Georgia in 2016. He was injured in the 2017 season opener, however, and lost his starting job to Jake Fromm and elected to transfer.
Eason has not been named the starter yet, as sophomore Jake Haener and redshirt freshman Jacob Sirmon are both still competing for the job. Regardless, the Huskies will have plenty of talent behind center.
While Gaskin is gone, junior Salvon Ahmed takes over at running back. A 5-foot-11, 195-pound speedster, he has rushed for 996 yards and 10 touchdowns in a backup role the past two seasons, and his yards-per-carry average of 6.0 was better than Gaskin’s average.
The Huskies don’t have big-time playmakers at receiver, but they do have experience, led by Aaron Fuller and Andre Baccellia, who combined for 113 catches a year ago. The offensive line is one of the best in the Pac-12 and gets a major boost with the return of senior tackle Trey Adams, a former second-team All-American who missed most of last season with a back injury.
Defense has been Washington’s bread-and-butter the past few years. Loaded with experience last year, the Huskies were top 12 nationally in scoring defense (fifth) and total defense (12th).
Only two starters – lineman Benning Potoa’e and defensive back Myles Bryant – are back, but the Huskies have recruited big-time talent on defense the past few years. They’ll lean on a host of young players to step up. The defensive line and secondary are expected to be strengths of the defense.
Washington’s spot at the top of the North will be heavily challenged by Oregon, Stanford and perhaps even Washington State. But, with Petersen and his staff leading the way, the Huskies should once again be in contention.
Date with CU: Saturday, Nov. 23, time TBA, at Folsom Field
Head coach: Chris Petersen, 6th season (47-21; 139-33 career)
Series: Washington leads 12-5-1
Huskies in 2018: 10-4, 7-2 in Pac-12; defeated Utah, 10-3, in Pac-12 title game; lost to Ohio State, 28-23, in Rose bowl
Returning starters: 9 – 7 on offense, 2 on defense
5 offensive players to watch (2018 statistics):
LT Trey Adams, Sr. (32 career starts; returning from injury)
RB Salvon Ahmed, Jr. (104 att., 608 yards, 7 TD; 21 catches, 170 yards)
TE Hunter Bryant, Jr. (11 catches, 238 yards, 1 TD)
QB Jacob Eason, Jr. (Transfer from Georgia)
WR Aaron Fuller, Sr. (58 catches, 874 yards, 4 TD)
5 defensive players to watch:
DB Miles Bryant, Sr. (61 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 6 PBU)
CB Kyler Gordon, Fr. (Redshirted last year)
DT Levi Onwuzurike, Jr. (34 tackles, 3 sacks, 6.5 TFL)
DL Benning Potoa’e, Sr. (41 tackles, 1 sack, 6.5 TFL)
ILB Brandon Wellington, Sr. (28 tackles, 2 TFL)
Notable: Washington comes into the season with a nine-year streak of playing in bowl games. In the Pac-12, only Stanford (10) has a longer current streak and no other team has a streak longer than five years. … Washington has yielded 18.8 points or less in four consecutive seasons. … Last year, the Huskies ranked first or second in the conference in scoring defense and total defense, as well as against the run and the pass. … The Huskies are 15-4 against conference foes the past two years, with the four losses coming by a combined 19 points (all on the road). … Junior receiver Ty Jones led the Huskies with six touchdown receptions last year, with 31 catches for 491 yards overall. … Sophomore Peyton Henry returns as kicker after making 16-of-22 field goals and 43-of-44 extra points. … Punter Joel Whitford is also back. He averaged 41.3 yards per kick a year ago. … Washington has won 14 consecutive home games. … The Huskies have a bye – their second in four weeks – before visiting Colorado on Nov. 23.