No. 8 Washington 'rebuilding' for opener (Sep 01, 2017)
Washington coach Chris Petersen is making repeated attempts to reduce the high expectations for his club.
That is a losing battle after the Huskies went 12-2 and reached the College Football Playoff last season.
The No. 8 Huskies begin their fourth season under Peterson on Friday when they visit Rutgers, and there is no getting away from the hype, even when Petersen asserts the Huskies are a brand-new team.
Petersen insists the talented squad isn't reloading but is instead rebuilding.
"Because you start from scratch," Petersen said Monday. "This is not even kind of the same team it was last year. The program is similar in the things we believe in. But this is a new team, so we rebuild the team every year. We rebuild a new team every week, because you're different week-to-week.
"You win, it feels different. You lose, it feels different. And so there's a different mindset and psychology with that. So we don't reload, we rebuild week-to-week. People can say whatever they want to say, but I know what our mindset is, and I know what I want it to be."
The Huskies will be without one of their stars against the Scarlet Knights, who lost their final nine outings while finishing 2-10 last season.
Washington senior All-Pac-12 linebacker Azeem Victor will miss the game against Rutgers due to a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules.
"Guys make mistakes, nobody's perfect. It's a mistake," Petersen said. "The hard thing is, you're in the public eye, so it's tough. Azeem's a good guy -- he is. But guys make mistakes, and we have team standards, and we live by them."
The player the Huskies count on the most is junior quarterback Jake Browning, who looks to build on a season in which he tied the Pac-12 record of 43 touchdown passes and helped the Huskies roll up a school-record 585 points.
Browning underwent offseason surgery on his passing shoulder but has fully recovered.
But just as pleasing to Petersen is the growth Browning is displaying as a team leader.
"Jake is doing a great job (at) the most detailed, the most meticulous position," Petersen said. "He's done a great job -- he's able to branch out from his own assignments and make sure he and the receivers are on the same page, and he's doing a great job there."
Rutgers is breaking in a new quarterback in fifth-year senior Kyle Bolin, a graduate transfer from Louisville.
Bolin will be making his seventh career start. He has passed for 2,104 yards in 17 career games.
"We're excited to watch him go play and I'm really glad he's here," second-year coach Chris Ash told reporters. "He's created a great competition at the quarterback position. I think he's elevated the play of others around him and just the leadership and the ethic the kid has demonstrated and brought to our offense has been outstanding so far."
Seniors Robert Martin and Gus Edwards will share the ball-carrying duties. Martin has 1,822 career rushing yards and Edwards (977) is a transfer from Miami.
Former Minnesota coach Jerry Kill is the Scarlet Knights' new offensive coordinator.
Perhaps even more exciting than Kill's presence will be the sight of receiver/return specialist Janarion Grant, who shares the NCAA record of eight career return touchdowns (five kickoffs, three punts). He was granted a medical redshirt last season after suffering a broken ankle early in the season.
Junior linebackers Trevor Morris (102 tackles) and Deonte Roberts (95) headline the Scarlet Knights' defense. Junior cornerback Blessuan Austin (14 passes defended) leads the secondary, which allowed just 186.5 passing yards per game last season.
Rutgers couldn't stop Browning last season as he passed for 287 yards and three touchdowns in a 48-13 victory in the first meeting between the schools. The Scarlet Knights aim to compete better this time.
"Washington (is) not going to determine the success or failures of our overall season," said Ash, "but to go out there in game one and play them again and measure your football team, the improvement hopefully that you see, that's a motivating factor for everybody."
Washington senior inside linebacker Kieshawn Bierria had a team-best 12 tackles in the trouncing of the Scarlet Knights, and he will be the focal point of the defense with Victor home in Seattle.
Bierria led the nation with five fumble recoveries last season.
Junior defensive tackle Vita Vea is rising up the list of NFL talent evaluators and primed to build on his five-sack campaign of last season.
Huskies sophomore free safety Taylor Rapp had a team-best four interceptions last season en route to being named Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and earning Freshman All-American honors.
Washington has its own standout returner in senior Dante Pettis, who has five career punt return touchdowns, one off the Pac-12 record held by California's DeSean Jackson.
In addition to Victor, Huskies sophomore cornerback Austin Joyner will also be missing after getting a two-game suspension for violating team rules.