SEATTLE (AP) — For at least this season opener, there is much less hoopla focused on Washington coach Chris Petersen.
This time, all the hype surrounds his team.
“I’m not really worried about that at this point. That’s been going on forever,” Petersen said of the attention. “Our kids have worked hard, practiced hard. No matter how this game turns out, that just doesn’t matter. It’s going to be a hard-fought, tough game; there’s just a lot of uncertainty. It’s one game and one game at a time and one play at a time — all that corny coaching stuff is true.”
No. 14 Washington opens the season on Saturday hosting Rutgers burdened with the label of being the “it” team in the Pac-12 this year that could jump into contention for a conference crown. Those projections don’t come without justification — the Huskies return one of the strongest defenses in the country, not to mention sophomore offensive standouts in quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin.
The preseason ranking for Washington was its highest since 2002 and came after a rocky 7-6 season last year. The hype is something that Petersen despises and he’s tried to temper throughout the Huskies’ fall camp.
Saturday brings Washington’s first opportunity to try to justify those lofty expectations against a Rutgers team that has far more questions surrounding it than Petersen would like to see in an opening opponent.
“Had a long offseason to work on some things, but then you couple that with a brand-new staff across the board … you’re watching tapes of where they came from, but then they are going to have their own ideas that are tailored to their personnel,” Petersen said. “So that’s probably the biggest challenge is, a team like this we wish we didn’t have right out of the gate, had a little bit of tape.”
For Petersen, this opener is different from his previous two at Washington. Two years ago was his highly anticipated debut at Hawaii after he was finally lured away from Boise State. A year ago, Petersen was in the spotlight throughout the offseason as he prepared the Huskies to open the season back on the blue turf at Boise State that he helped make famous.
Now, it’s his team that will face the most scrutiny.
“It certainly feels different than (Boise). That’s a good one to have behind us,” Petersen said. “But not really. I think there’s a lot of, for everybody, the uncertainty of getting back into it, the intensity of game week and then the first game, making sure everyone’s calmed down. Those first games, there’s a lot of emotion . and part of the trick is calming down and keeping it all in perspective so we can play and coach at a high level.”
Washington will be without wide receiver Brayden Lenius for the first three games of the season due to a suspension for violating team rules. Lenius had been slowed by injuries during fall camp but was noticeably absent from the depth chart released Monday. Lenius had 26 catches for 307 yards and three touchdowns last season as a sophomore.
“We’ll see where he goes from there after those first three games,” Petersen said.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.