UW coach Chris Petersen has tackled the attention and pressure head-on with his players in hopes of keeping them insulated.
The first half of the season could not have gone any better for the Washington Huskies.
Off to their best start in 24 years, the fifth-ranked Huskies (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12) kick off the second half of the season as a 36.5-point favorite against Oregon State (2-4, 1-2) entering Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. kickoff at Husky Stadium. It’s Washington’s largest spread against a conference opponent since it hosted the Beavers in 1985 — a game OSU won in one of the biggest upsets in college football history.
The Huskies, idle last week, are also the overwhelming favorite to win their first conference championship since 2000, and they’re a front-runner to make the College Football Playoff for the first time.
With so much at stake, Chris Petersen has taken a direct approach with his players on how he wants them to manage their success — and the pressure that comes with it.
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“There’s just so many outside influences. As much as you know, you probably still don’t know how much is coming at these kids from all different directions with everybody,” UW’s third-year coach said. “Human nature is what it is. We’re foolish to think that doesn’t have an effect on our team and our mindset. That’s one of the big battles that we have as a team, as a coaching staff, is to keep these guys focused on being focused.”
It’s a conversation they have often, so much so that Petersen joked players probably get annoyed with him.
“This is the first time for a lot of these guys to experience this type of stuff,” he said. “Let’s be honest, it’s kind of fun to have somebody write really cool things about you and tell you how great you are. That’s just human nature, so how can that not affect you? So to just kind of stay insulated, and spend your time on the things that you need to.
“I think one of the things that’s been so great about these guys is how they’ve competed with an edge. So how do you keep doing that and just really compete at your best? And you always have to have an edge when you compete at your best. Everything on the outside kind of works against that right now.”
Players say that message has resonated. Complacency? No, not this team, they say.
“I don’t think it’s a concern for us,” running back Lavon Coleman said. “At the end of the day, we’re really focused. Everybody wants to win — everybody in the nation wants to win. But when you look at our team and you listen to our conversations and the things we talk about, no matter what’s said it’s molded around us wanting to win.”
“Complacency, it’s always lingering around, but we’re locked in and we’re ready to go. Every week, week in and week out, day in and day out, we’re focused — no matter how it looks from the outside. On the inside, we’re focused.”
That approach, the Huskies hope, will help them finish off what was a near-flawless first half.
“We’re not surprised by the success we’re having up to this point because we work like that,” senior cornerback Kevin King said. “We’ve just got to continue to work like that, and I think we can continue to have this type of success.”