SEATTLE – Jeff Choate used the names of Jerry Rice and Walter Payton, football legends whose names are attached to a pair of significant trophies, to illustrate to his charges on the Washington Huskies’ defensive line that considerable talent can be found in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Kasen Williams, a senior receiver, used his own experience as a freshman in 2011 to remind his teammates earlier this week of just what can happen on Saturday if they aren’t locked in.
ESPN has the Huskies on upset alert this week. Such are the precautionary measures preceding a visit from the Eastern Washington Eagles, an FCS powerhouse whose name by now should inspire fear among the FBS teams who schedule them.
When the Huskies (1-0) host EWU (2-0) in their home opener (12 p.m., Pac-12 Networks), they will not be facing a lower-division squad ripe for a 30-point pummeling. Instead, the Eagles carry with them an All-American quarterback (Vernon Adams, who finished second in last year’s voting for the Walter Payton Award, given to the top FCS player), an ultra-productive receiver (Kooper Cupp, winner of last year’s Jerry Rice award, given to the top FCS freshman) and a No. 2 rational ranking.
But just in case that all doesn’t resonate well enough, Williams harkens back to 2011, when the Huskies hosted EWU in their second game of the season, just like this year, and needed a Desmond Trufant interception in the end zone with 29 seconds left to escape with a 30-27 victory.
UW was outgained 504-250 in that game. Its pass defense was picked apart by Eagles quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. On paper, the Huskies did not deserve to win.
“It’s necessary for me to spread the knowledge to the other guys that this is a team you can’t take lightly,” Williams said. “And we need to have a good game and we can’t go about it the way we went about Hawaii.”
It would be difficult to believe the Huskies could overlook anybody after the way they played – offensively, in particular – in a 17-16 victory last week over Hawaii in Honolulu. They’ve mad a quarterback change, inserting third-year sophomore Cyler Miles as the starter, and hope to run the ball better than their 3.6 yards-per-carry mark posted against Hawaii. For all the Eagles do well, their defense hasn’t been particularly salty in recent years, as they ranked 115th in passing defense a year ago and are breaking in three new starters in the secondary.
“I always wait and see until we play,” coach Chris Petersen said, asked if he senses an uptick within the offense this week. “It’s always going to come down to execution. I think Cyler’s done a good job this week preparing. I think he’s very much into football and spent a lot of time, not just this week, so it’s good for him to get a chance and see what he can do.”
Don’t expect the Eagles, with their spread passing attack and reputation as a thorn in the side of FBS opponents, to be intimidated by the environment.
“They’re an athletic team, there’s no doubt about it,” Kupp said earlier this week. “They have some great talent. At the end of the day, it’s football. I honestly believe we’re going into this game and we’re going to win. We believe we’re the better team coming into it, and we just have to take care of business and play up to our potential.”
Same for the home team, which should understand by now the challenge before it.
“I don’t see this as being a situation where our guys are going to overlook them,” Choate said. “It’s on film. They know what they’re getting themselves into. So we’ve got to come ready to play.”
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple