Washington has yet to have a letdown game against an inferior opponent, a testament to their ability to keep their attention on the field and not the hype.
After yet another inferior opponent was clinically disposed of by the Huskies on Saturday, linebacker Keishawn Bierria barely allowed himself a moment to savor the latest Washington romp.
“I’m not going to lie,’’ Bierria said. “I’m about to go out and watch all the Utah games tonight.”
When that statement was relayed to receiver Dante Pettis, he smiled and said, “I mean, if he’s doing it tonight, I’ll do it right after this.”
The Huskies have known all along that tougher games were coming, and stern tests lay ahead. The gauntlet was supposed to begin with Stanford and Oregon, but they were less than their reputation implied.
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And the Huskies handled them both, with aplomb and panache — as they’ve handled every step down this gilded road. Now a new challenge lies ahead against Utah, with the all the attendant hoopla.
One of the great strengths of this Husky team — maybe its calling card, in the end — is the single-mindedness with which it has approached every opponent, no matter how touted. Or underwhelming.
“You see it every year,’’ said Pettis. “Teams start off the season and think, ‘We’re big time’ and all that stuff. They come out and overlook a team. They don’t win a game, and it kicks them out of the top whatever. Coach Pete does a good job making sure we never do that.”
These Huskies don’t have trap games. They don’t have letdowns. Their first road game of the season, at Arizona, came close, but they escaped with an overtime victory, and perhaps a wakeup call.
Any chance Oregon State had of replicating their Beaver brethren from 1985, when they stunned the Huskies as a 37-point underdog, evaporated in the wake of Washington’s customary first-quarter explosion. They jumped ahead 21-0, giving them a 100-7 advantage in the opening period for the season.
“I’m not sure what the magic formula is there, but that certainly helps things,’’ Petersen said.
En route to their 41-17 victory at Husky Stadium, the magic formula was explosive pass plays. It started with a 51 yarder from Jake Browning to John Ross, who later caught a 44-yard flea-flicker.
The intensity and execution from the outset was exactly where it needed to be, stifling any upset thoughts the Beavers might have harbored.
“We do really have faceless opponents,’’ Ross said. “Oregon State has been playing well the last few weeks. Coming off a bye week, you never know what to expect. We take every team serious.
“We didn’t know we were favored by 37 points, Coach Pete never once said that. He makes us feel like we’re supposed to lose. That’s even better for us.”
As usual, the thorniest issue for the Huskies turned out to be playing with a big lead. They are only human, after all. Ahead 31-0 at halftime and 38-3 midway through the third quarter, they allowed Oregon State to score twice, once on a 75-yard fly sweep by Victor Bolden Jr.
“I thought the energy changed a little at halftime coming back out,’’ Petersen said. “In the whole stadium, and our guys a little bit, though I still think the guys were playing hard. I’d like to see that intensity how it is that first quarter throughout the whole game.”
That’s nitpicking, however. There’s an art to playing when the expectations are high, and so far the Huskies have mastered it. It starts with understanding the repercussions for a lack of focus, which is where the constant hammering by Petersen and his staff has paid dividends.
“We don’t ever want to feel that pain of going out and not being ready. Not being ready to execute,’’ Bierria said. “Guys just focus on being ready and doing their job.”
Mind you, Washington’s players are not oblivious to the stature they’ve risen to in the college football landscape. The presence of ESPN’s “College GameDay” crew in Salt Lake City this Saturday will further drive that home, and the chatter that comes with being a top-five team is impossible to block out completely.
It’s one thing to hear it. It’s another to revel in it, at the expense of the preparation that ensures the clamor just keeps building. That has been the Huskies’ special genius this year — not getting too full of themselves when, all around them, the accolades are growing.
“When you’re in this position, you kind of have to sit back and just take it in,’’ Pettis said. “So many people would kill to be in this position, you don’t really want to downplay it. But at the same time, you don’t want to get too caught up in it.”
Petersen marvels at his team’s ability to maintain its focus — but fully understands that letdowns will appear the moment they aren’t vigilant. So he’ll continue to preach his message of consistency despite the opponent, just as valuable for stout foes as lesser ones.
“We’ve been telling them all along — we’re going to need that to continue to progress, certainly with the teams we have coming on our schedule,’’ he said.
Including one this coming Saturday that sent Husky players scurrying to the film room with the latest victory still fresh in mind.