The Washington Huskies conclude their 2016 nonconference schedule with a 5 p.m. Saturday game against the Portland State Vikings at Husky Stadium.
Here are five things to keep in mind as you watch the game.
1. Can Jake Browning maintain his efficiency?
Thus far it has been somewhat staggering: through two games, Browning is completing 74.5 percent of his passes (seventh in the nation among quarterbacks with at least 15 pass attempts per game) and has a passer rating of 207.65, good for second in the country. He’s thrown eight touchdown passes and only one interception, and is averaging 10.6 yards per attempt, tied for eighth-best nationally.
Against Rutgers and Idaho, at least, Browning’s accuracy was far better than a year ago. UW coach Chris Petersen said there are still a few things Browning doesn’t see right away, and that he sometimes leaves the pocket when he could have stayed — even if he does eventually make a big play by doing so.
Still, it would be hard for him to be any better than he was last week, when he completed 23 of 28 for 294 yards and five touchdowns … in a little more than two quarters.
Don’t expect Browning to have to play long in this one, either. Portland State’s defense has not been great; the Vikings allowed 66 points and 642 yards of total offense to San Jose State and are allowing opponents to gain 9.6 yards per pass attempt. There is no reason to think the Huskies won’t score a lot of points, which will likely mean another early exit for Browning and more second-half snaps for backup quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels.
2. But UW should really be able to run the ball, too.
If there is one quibble to be had about a Washington offense that scored 107 points in its first two games, it’s that the Huskies could certainly run the ball better. So far, they’re averaging only 3.62 yards per carry, a figure that ranks 101st in the country.
Of course, neither of the Huskies’ first two opponents could stop the pass, so there was no reason for UW to commit to establishing the run. But if the Huskies choose to do that on Saturday, they should be able to.
Portland State is allowing opponents to gain 5.7 yards per carry, and gave up 409 yards rushing (and 7.2 yards per carry) to San Jose State last week.
So, the Huskies should be able to move the ball on the ground.
“You’ve got to run the ball to get into a rhythm, and sometimes the run game doesn’t take over until later in the game,” Petersen said Monday. “But that was probably one of the main things that jumped out (against Idaho), was we didn’t run it a whole bunch early on. We were throwing it more. So I think that might have had something to do with it, as well.”
3. A unique Portland State offense.
The Vikings run a version of the pistol offense popularized by coach Chris Ault and quarterback Colin Kaepernick at the University of Nevada. And while quarterback Alex Kuresa doesn’t quite run it like Kaepernick, he’s still a threat, totaling 755 yards rushing and seven touchdowns as a junior last season.
Paris Penn, a utility player who lines up at running back, receiver and quarterback, is the team’s leading rusher with 164 yards. PSU tailback Nate Tago has 159 yards and three touchdowns. Kuresa is right behind him with 152 yards rushing.
And yes, the Vikings are going to run it a lot. Last season, they rushed the ball 598 times and attempted only 241 passes.
But then they do throw, Kuresa is good enough to keep the play alive and find an open receiver.
“If it’s not there, he doesn’t like the look — when they’re throwing the ball — he’s going to scramble and he’s elusive and breaks tackles,” UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. “And the best compliment I can give him is the guy’s a competitor. He just keeps coming and fighting and clawing. He’s a good little player.”
4. More Nick Harris at right guard?
Harris, one of five true freshmen who have played for the Huskies this season, has seen time with the No. 1 offensive line at right guard in each of UW’s first two games.
So far, he’s earned positive reviews from the coaching staff, and appears to be competing for a starting job despite still being 17 years old.
And with another blowout expected this week, Harris and the rest of UW’s second-, third- and fourth-string players should continue to play a lot.
5. Empty seats.
School still isn’t in session, Portland State isn’t a big-name opponent and the forecast calls for light showers. As earnest as Petersen was earlier this week in his plea to fans to come to the game, there are a lot of factors working against his desire for a big crowd.
So don’t expect a particularly exciting atmosphere on Saturday. The good news, however, is that UW’s next home game should be a lot different. The Huskies host No. 7 Stanford on Friday, Sept. 30, a matchup that could have Pac-12 North title implications — featuring an opponent that won’t be a five-touchdown underdog.
NO. 8 WASHINGTON (2-0) VS. PORTLAND STATE (1-1)
5 p.m., Husky Stadium, Seattle
TV: Pac-12 Network. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM.
The series: Washington leads, 1-0.
The pick: Washington, 52-17.
8 — Dante Pettis, WR (6-1, 188, jr.): 6 catches, 88 yards, 2 TDs last week.
9 — Myles Gaskin, RB (5-10, 195, so.): Hasn’t cracked 100-yard mark yet.
32 — Budda Baker, FS (5-10, 192, jr.): When will Baker get to play more offense?
36 — Azeem Victor, LB (6-3, 230, jr.): Could have big game vs. run-heavy team
2 — Paris Penn, QB/WR/RB (6-1, 215, sr.): Team’s leading rusher lines up almost everywhere
7 — Alex Kuresa, QB (6-0, 190, sr.): 357 passing yards, 3 TDs this season.
15 — Tyler Foreman, S (6-1, 195, jr.): Second on team with 14 tackles.
54 — Anthony McNichols, LB (5-11, 235, sr.): 18 tackles, 2 sacks in 2 games.
Christian Caple: email@example.com