Washington’s first three games were enticing, but Saturday’s Pac-12 opener against California will tell the Huskies and their fans a lot more.
Great trailer, don’t you think?
It introduced some intriguing characters, teased some thrilling action sequences, and may have even nudged some folks toward that oft-neglected ticket booth. But don’t go thinking that the Huskies’ three-game preview offered real insight as to how the season will turn out.
You ready for the actual movie? Good. Because the lights are dimming … now.
Saturday afternoon, when Washington kicks off Pac-12 play vs. Cal, we’ll get to see if this is a real team. Fans can squawk all they want about having the conference’s top-ranked defense and a star-in-training quarterback, but they can’t say that results have veered from expectations.
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But with the undefeated Bears in town, we’ll finally get some answers. With the Bears, we’ll find out if …
Jake Browning’s last game was a fluke. There is no doubt that UW’s freshman quarterback is teeming with natural talent. Dubbed “The Rifleman” by a few fans (get it? Browning — a gun manufacturer — it’s pretty good, actually), the kid has flashed play-on-Sunday potential through his first three games.
Browning set a Huskies freshman record by passing for 368 yards against Utah State last week, all the while prancing and pirouetting his way out of trouble like another Seattle-based QB. But can we really ignore the fact that he did this against the third-best team from Utah?
No. The last time the Huskies played a game as an underdog, Browning posted a passer rating of 40.9 in a blue-turfed defeat. Granted, it was his first college game, but a signature win still awaits.
In order to get that win, however, the true freshman will need some Himalayan-sized help on the other side of the ball. Will he get it? Tough to say. Because we’re about to find out if …
Washington’s defense can live up to the hype.Through the first three weeks, the Huskies rank first in the Pac-12 in points allowed per game (11.0), yards allowed per game (267.7) and rushing yards allowed per game (93.0). The Huskies’ D also has given up just 10 points over the past 10 quarters, and are one of three teams in the nation to have not allowed a touchdown pass.
But given UW’s competition to this point, these stats are not significant. What would be significant? Slowing down Cal quarterback Jared Goff.
In addition to powering the Bears to 153 points through three games, Goff is projected by Mel Kiper Jr. as the No. 3 overall pick in next year’s NFL draft. He has stockpiled 898 passing yards and nine touchdown throws this season — and is about to face a defense that produced four of the top 44 picks from last May’s draft.
Huskies coach Chris Petersen described the Bears’ offense as a “humongous challenge.” UW offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith was a bit more direct, saying “this game isn’t going to be 10-7.”
But if Washington does manage to take down Cal, and if the defense is as stifling as the offense is stimulating, we’re also about to find out if …
Husky Stadium can put some butts in the seats. The attendance figure of 59,464 last week wasn’t particularly flattering. The gaptoothed look of an otherwise majestic venue certainly lacked some allure. No, school had not yet started, and no, conference play had not yet begun, but still — in terms of personal space, Huskies games should feel a lot more like coach than first class.
Asked Thursday about his hopes for fan support, Petersen noted that “this thing is marketed as the Greatest Setting in College Football, and it’s not just because of where it sits. It’s when the place is packed and out there watching a great college football game.” Fair comment, except that this team hasn’t warranted a stuffed stadium, and still has a long way to go to convince some of its more stubborn fans.
A win vs. Cal would help. A lot.
Obviously, Washington is the furthest thing from a Rose Bowl favorite. The players are young, the running game is a mess and the achievements have been minimal. But Saturday marks an opportunity to show that fans won’t have to wait another year to feel some excitement on Montlake.
So what’s it going to be, Huskies? Does this season have blockbuster potential, or is it going straight to DVD?