University of Washington

Why preparing for Rutgers is a challenge for the Huskies

Huskies fans may see defensive back Budda Baker playing on the offensive side of the ball against Rutgers according to UW coach Chris Petersen.
Huskies fans may see defensive back Budda Baker playing on the offensive side of the ball against Rutgers according to UW coach Chris Petersen. phaley@thenewstribune.com

Just five days remain until the Washington Huskies begin their regular football season against Rutgers, the first in a string of three relatively uninteresting September non-conference games at Husky Stadium.

But at least the Scarlet Knights possess some intrigue, since they’re under new management. After a miserable, controversy-riddled 2015 season that resulted in a 4-8 record and the firing of coach Kyle Flood, Rutgers hired former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash as its new head coach. Ash hired Drew Mehringer, the former receivers coach at Houston, as his offensive coordinator, and Jay Niemann, formerly of Northern Illinois, as defensive coordinator.

Ash is a first-time head coach. Mehringer was co-offensive coordinator at James Madison in 2014 — and, as a descendant of the Tom Herman coaching tree, likely has a good bit of Houston in him — but this is his first D1 coordinator gig. So when it comes to parsing film in preparation for Saturday’s game, the Huskies don’t have a lot to look at.

“You’re watching tapes of where they came from, but then they are going to have their own ideas that are tailored to their personnel,” UW coach Chris Petersen said Monday. “So that’s probably the biggest challenge is, a team like this, we wish we didn’t have right out of the gate, (and) had a little bit of tape.

“… And I think the second thing is, they’ll have new energy. I know that staff has done a great job of changing culture and getting those guys going. The combination of those things make it uncertain.”

Rutgers does return 15 starters from last season’s team that finished tied for last in the Big Ten Conference’s East Division — including starting quarterback Chris Laviano. The Scarlet Knights were picked by media to finish last again.

Saturday will be the first meeting between the programs.

LENIUS SUSPENDED

The Huskies will be without one of their most experienced receivers on Saturday.

Brayden Lenius, a 6-foot-5 junior, has been suspended for the first three games of the season for an undisclosed violation of team rules, Petersen said. Lenius, who caught 33 passes for 363 yards and three touchdowns in his first two collegiate seasons, is not on UW’s depth chart.

A native of North Vancouver, B.C., Lenius is one of two returning receivers who caught more than 20 passes last season; junior Dante Pettis is the other.

BUDDA ON OFFENSE?

Petersen didn’t say that all-conference safety Budda Baker would play some offense on Saturday.

But he didn’t say that he wouldn’t.

“Not trying to be coy on that,” Petersen said. “We’ve worked Budda on some stuff (on offense), and we’ll see if the package calls for it. But Budda was quite a playmaker with the ball in his hands in high school. We’ll see if he can translate that.”

Baker has taken offensive repetitions in practice at certain times throughout his UW career, but has never appeared on that side of the ball during a game. He is already the Huskies’ most important defensive player, and a key special-teams contributor, too.

FRESHMEN IN THE MIX

Petersen named five true freshmen whom he expects to play Saturday: receiver Aaron Fuller; safety Taylor Rapp; offensive guard Nick Harris; outside linebacker Amandre Williams; and linebacker Brandon Wellington.

Other freshmen could eventually play, too, Petersen said, based on need.

Christian Caple: @ChristianCaple

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