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Final Tuneup For No. 8 Washington Hosting Portland State

Tim Booth, AP Sports Writer

SEATTLE (AP) — Chris Petersen is always recruiting, although his pitch so far this season has been focused on a different group.

It’s been directed at the fans of No. 8 Washington in the hopes of getting people to show up for a non-conference schedule that’s less than appealing despite the Huskies (2-0) having their highest ranking in 15 years.

“I’m excited about this team and I know our students aren’t here yet, but I just really hope that the fans, that they come out for this game and they see this,” Petersen said. “It’s an awesome group to coach. It’s going to be an interesting season, I really think that. That’s what I hope.”

The conclusion to Washington’s uninspired non-conference slate comes Saturday when the Huskies host FCS Portland State. On the heels of wins over Rutgers and Idaho , the Vikings aren’t exactly the most appealing appetizer before Washington begins conference play.

Of course, there is a beacon on the horizon: the Huskies host No. 7 Stanford on Sept. 30 in a game that could be significant in determining the Pac-12 North champion and the first game after classes are back in session at Washington. That game likely will be a sellout, but for this week, Petersen is still being a promoter.

“Back when this thing was really rolling, it was irrelevant for the most part who was on the schedule; people just came to watch them play,” Petersen said. “And I think that’s so much of the storied history of this program when you talk about the greatest setting. All these fans come and enjoy this.”

Portland State (1-1) is closing out two straight weeks facing FBS competition. The Vikings were routed 66-33 at San Jose State last week. But if Petersen has any concern the Huskies may be looking ahead, he just needs to remind his team of what Portland State did last year winning at Washington State and at North Texas.

Portland State coach Bruce Barnum holds the Huskies in high regard .

“We’ll be able to play a team that I bet you will be in the national championship game at the end of the year,” Barnum said.

Here’s what else to watch in the non-conference finale for both teams:

JAKE IS GREAT: Washington QB Jake Browning has taken a significant step forward from last year — at least for two games. Browning is leading the Pac-12 in pass efficiency rating and has thrown eight touchdowns with just one interception. With Browning’s growth, the big play has returned to Washington’s offense. The Huskies already have six offensive touchdowns of 20 or more yards.

DUAL THREAT: Portland State quarterback Alex Kuresa is a dual threat in the backfield. Kuresa rushed for 123 yards in the Week 1 win over Division II Central Washington, but struggled last week against San Jose State. Kuresa was held to 29 yards rushing and was just 10 of 22 passing for 135 yards and three interceptions.

But he’s not the only option in the Portland State backfield that can run and throw. Paris Penn is listed as a quarterback but is more of a multipurpose player for the Vikings. Penn rushed for 137 yards against San Jose State and is the Vikings leading rusher on the season but has not thrown a pass.

RUNNING NOWHERE: Washington’s run game has sputtered to begin the season. That hasn’t been a problem because of Browning and the passing game, but it’s an aspect the Huskies offense needs to improve. Myles Gaskin has just 124 yards rushing in two games and the Huskies are averaging 108.5 yards on the ground. Last year, the Huskies averaged 164 yards.

Portland State could be the perfect remedy. The Vikings gave up 409 yards rushing to San Jose State last week.

CREATE CHAOS: When Portland State pulled its upset of Washington State last year, it forced a pair of key turnovers, part of the 28 takeaways the Vikings had for the season. Through two games this year, the Vikings have yet to force a turnover. Creating takeaways may be the only way Portland State can hang around with the Huskies.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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