Chris Petersen knows Jonathan Smith.
He knows — because of course he would — that Smith served as his quarterbacks coach at Boise State in 2012 and 2013, then took the reins as UW’s offensive coordinator from 2014 to 2017. He knows that Smith is “one of the most even-keeled, mellow guys that I’ve been around.” He knows that Smith returned to his alma mater, Oregon State, as head coach prior to the 2018 season, and he knows that Smith’s surprising 4-4 Beavers will host 5-4 UW on Friday night. He knows how he thinks. He knows his tendencies. He knows his background and his philosophy and his wife and his kids.
But will the things he knows actually help the Huskies?
“I thought it was interesting, if you really knew what was going on in the game last year, in terms of the things that were called that hadn’t been called all season,” Petersen said of the duel between he and Smith in a 42-23 UW win on Nov. 17, 2018.
Added Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake, who coached against Smith’s offenses in practice from 2012 to 2017: “It’ll be a chess match, back and forth. We’ve gone against each other for so many years now. We hit them on some things last year, and they hit us on a whole bunch of things as well. They hit us on some things where we were like, ‘Oh boy, we didn’t know that was coming,’ and he had it dialed up versus things that we thought he would do.”
That’s just it: the chess match can be maddening. You can try to think six moves ahead and outsmart yourself instead.
“There’s too many (tendencies to worry about),” Petersen said. “You start defending ghosts. ‘Oh, they might do this.’ ‘Oh, they know about that.’ You just have to play ball. You have to trust your rules and you’ve got to go. There’s too much football on tape by this time in the season. There’s too many things (Smith knows).
“Both sides are game planners, so there’s going to be some stuff that they haven’t seen, that we haven’t seen. So you have to do what you do.”
To this point, Smith’s Oregon State offense has been doing some pretty impressive things. Somehow, a team that finished 2-10 in 2018 ranks first in the Pac-12 in both red zone touchdown percentage (83.3%) and third down offense (49.06% conversions), second in yards per carry (5.01) and fourth in scoring offense (33.6 points per game). It features a pair of productive running backs in senior Artavis Pierce (696 rushing yards, 6.3 yards per carry, 6 TD) and sophomore Jermar Jefferson (401, 5.1, 4). Its top wide receiver, junior Isaiah Hodgins, currently leads the Pac-12 in receptions (63), receiving yards (895), receiving touchdowns (12), catches per game (7.9) and receiving yards per game (111.9).
And as for the quarterback? Redshirt senior Jake Luton has thrown 19 touchdown passes with just one interception. It’s the third consecutive week UW’s opposing QB has ranked in the top five nationally in touchdown-to-interception ratio.
“They’re doing a great job,” Lake said of the Oregon State offense. “They’re the No. 1 third down offense in the Pac-12. They run the ball extremely well with two good running backs. They’ve got an NFL quarterback that nobody is talking about. This guy will be playing on Sundays. He can make all the throws, and they have the leading wide receiver in yards, catches and touchdowns. So this offense is scoring a bunch of points.”
And, better yet, the Beavers aren’t turning it over. Their two total turnovers — via two interceptions and zero lost fumbles — leads the nation. On the other side, UW’s 15 turnovers gained is tied for 24th nationally. Lake’s defense has forced 13 turnovers in its five wins and two in its four losses.
If the Huskies can force Oregon State’s offense into uncharacteristic mistakes, they’ll escape Reser Stadium with a road win. But they won’t do it by defending ghosts.
Oh, and by the way, UW wide receivers coach Junior Adams is also plenty familiar with that stadium. When he lettered at OSU as a wide receiver in 1999 and 2000, Adams’ starting quarterback was — you guessed it — a former walk-on named Jonathan Smith.
“Besides this weekend,” Adams said with a grin on Tuesday, “I’m rooting for Jonathan Smith.”