After back to back 7-6 seasons, Washington has become a trendy pick to contend for the North division title and Pac-12 conference championship this season. They have starting quarterback Jake Browning and starting running back Myles Gaskin returning after sterling freshman debuts. Their defense is expected to be one of the best in the country, as they reloaded after having four starters drafted in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft in 2015.
During the Pac-12 media days last week, Washington head coach Chris Petersen was asked a variety of questions ahead of his highly anticipated third season with the Huskies. The one that caught my eye was specific to Rutgers, as Petersen was asked about the challenge of facing a team with a new head coach for the first game of the season. Here is the full question and Petersen’s answer during his interview, which can be read in its entirety here:
Question: The opening game versus Rutgers, new coach, he’s never been a head coach, but he’s been at Ohio State and been at Arkansas, but there’s nothing really to go on in terms of head coach. It’s only an opening game, but how do you prepare for a team with a totally new coaching staff?
PETERSEN: Yeah, that’s hard. I wish we played them the second game or third game, but it is what it is. That will be a big advantage for Rutgers without question. You know, I think on defense, I think one of the things that a good defense has to be built is to be able to defend a bunch of different type schemes because you see it all in college football. It’s different than pro football. I mean, everybody kind of runs the same stuff in pro football. But whether it’s going to be a spread offense or more of a power offense or a power spread or they run the quarterback, we see it all, and so everything has to be built around being very adjustable and have answers to all these things. And I think the defense, our hats off to those kids and our coaches. You know, they created a system that is like–it’s good, and they can defend a lot of things.Now, you know, we’re going to have to play fundamental, solid rule football because who knows what they’re going to throw at us, and adjust on the fly. I mean, that’s what that game is going to be all about. It’s going to be a hard, tough first game.
Washington is currently three touchdown plus favorites against Rutgers and they return 9 starters on offense and 7 starters on defense. Entering their third season in Petersen’s system, Washington has many advantages against Rutgers on paper. However, the one advantage Rutgers has, which Petersen harped on, is the great unknown. While Rutgers has the majority of their starters returning on both sides of the ball as well, there is no game tape of them playing in Ash’s system.
Of course, Petersen and his staff will study tendencies, as well as formations, that Chris Ash ran with his defense at Ohio State, and probably at Arkansas and Wisconsin too. The same goes for the offense, as their staff are certainly studying the Houston offense from last season, where Rutgers offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer coached the wide receivers under mentor Tom Herman. However, Washington will be the first opponent that will face Mehringer as an offensive coordinator on the FBS level, so there is even more of an unknown on that side of the ball. Rutgers ran a completely different system a year ago and there is no clear starting quarterback at the moment. There is no footage other than the spring game of how Ash will utilize his personnel at Rutgers, and even that featured vanilla play calling. And potential starting quarterback Zach Allen wasn’t even on campus yet.
Don’t get me wrong, Washington are big favorites for a reason. They have continuity in their system and personnel, and could be on the precipice of taking the next step into becoming an elite college football team. They will likely be ranked to start the season and are playing at home against a team with a brand new coaching staff that will travel across the country for this game.
As Petersen said, a major key to this contest will be in game adjustments, as there is only so much they can prepare for with the limited information they have. The Washington game will be the first chance we see the new coaching staff of Rutgers in action and their systems in place. The good news is it will be the first time Petersen and his coaching staff see them as well, giving Rutgers one key advantage on September 3rd.