Washington beat reporter Christian Caple of Tacoma News Tribune answered these three questions ahead of Saturday’s game between Georgia State (1-2) and the Huskies (3-0). Kickoff is 6 p.m.
Q: What are expectations in Washington coach Chris Petersen’s first year?
A: After winning nine games in Steve Sarkisian’s final season and returning all of their best defensive players — including four potential NFL draft picks in DT Danny Shelton, CB Marcus Peters, LB Shaq Thompson and DE Hau’oli Kikaha — the expectations from many prior to the season were that new coach Chris Petersen should be able to win at least nine games in his first season. I do think some offensive struggles were anticipated, given the fact that the Huskies are trying to replace their starting quarterback (Keith Price), a record-setting tailback (Bishop Sankey) and a strong, reliable tight end (Austin Seferian-Jenkins). Expectations were probably tempered a little bit by lackluster performances in victories over Hawaii (good defense, bad offense) and Eastern Washington (plenty of offense, not much defense). Cyler Miles has established himself as the obvious No. 1 quarterback after returning from suspension, and the offense is pretty clearly a lot better with him in there than it was with Jeff Lindquist in the season opener. So I think that has improved their outlook at least a little.
Q: What is team’s biggest weakness?
A: The secondary is by far the team’s biggest weakness, and that has surprised approximately nobody. The Huskies start a true freshman at free safety (Budda Baker), a sophomore at strong safety (Kevin King), a true freshman at one cornerback spot (Sidney Jones, who is replacing redshirt freshman Jermaine Kelly, who is likely out for the season with a broken ankle), plus Peters at the other corner spot (and he was suspended last week against Illinois). They had a much better day against the Illini than they did against Eastern Washington and quarterback Vernon Adams, who threw for 475 yards and seven touchdowns. The pass rush has been solid — they have 15 sacks through three games, with Shelton and Kikaha accounting for 11 of those — and last week scored two defensive touchdowns (both by Thompson). Petersen describes every aspect of his team as a “work in progress,” and that definitely applies to the secondary. UW’s defensive success this season will depend a lot on how quickly those young guys improve.
Q: What are the expectations for this game?
A: The coaches and players will tell you that their expectation is the same as always — improve upon their weaknesses and continue progressing. But the expectation from the fanbase is certainly a blowout victory, something approximating the 36-point spread, especially after the Huskies won pretty handily last week against a Big Ten team. With Stanford visiting next week for the Pac-12 opener, I think the ideal scenario for Washington would be to simply play well in all three phases, win big enough to get some second and third-string players some substantial playing time, and keep everyone healthy heading into conference play.