Huskies Insider Blog

Picking the Washington-Sacramento State game

Sacramento State (1-0, 0-0 in Big Sky) at Washington (0-1, 0-0 in Pac-12)

11 a.m. Saturday, Husky Stadium

The line: N/A

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Radio: 1000 AM/97.7 FM

After a season opener in which few really knew what to expect from this young Washington Huskies team, they return home for what most expect to be the surest thing on the schedule.

Most casinos don’t post betting lines for games between FBS and FCS schools, so I won’t use one here. But I did see a spread somewhere that installed the Huskies as 32-point favorites, which seems about right for a Pac-12 team playing at home against a Big Sky team that finished 7-5 last year -- smack dab in the middle of the conference standings, too, at 4-4 -- and is projected to do the same again this year.

Sacramento State has claimed a few big-school victims recently. The Hornets beat Colorado 30-28 in 2012, and one year prior stunned Oregon State 29-28 in Corvallis. And with Portland State claiming a shocking victory over Washington State last week -- to say nothing of what Eastern Washington has done against FBS opponents in the Beau Baldwin era -- respect for the Big Sky conference is maybe at an all-time, modern-era high.

All that said: Washington is in major, major trouble if it struggles to win this game.

The Huskies didn’t run the ball, as coach Chris Petersen said, “worth anything” in that season-opening, 16-13 loss at Boise State, finishing with just 29 yards rushing on 22 attempts. But Sacramento State doesn’t have the experience or athletic ability up front that Boise State does -- in fact, the Hornets allowed more points per game last season (36.1) than every Big Sky team except UC-Davis -- so there probably isn’t another opponent on the Huskies’ schedule against whom they should have more success running the ball.

Expect better and more consistent play from true freshman quarterback Jake Browning, too, as well as a few more opportunities to actually throw the ball down the field a little bit. That’s something that will happen with more frequency once the Huskies establish the run, but both Petersen and offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said they simply need to call more of those plays, period. Have to imagine Browning will have more time to throw this week than he did last.

Defensively, I don’t see the Huskies having much trouble limiting Sacramento State’s running game, and the Hornets are still trying to establish an identity of their own after the graduation of start quarterback Garrett Safron. UW’s secondary wasn’t really tested against Boise State, so I’m hesitant to anoint that group just yet, even if it is comprised mostly of players who did some good things a year ago. But I think they should hold up well against the Hornets, and I think the Huskies’ defense in general has an obvious talent edge that should be pretty apparent from the start.

UW still has to show up and play, of course. A team with four NFL draft picks on its defense trailed Georgia State 14-0 at halftime last season, after all. But I get the feeling that the Huskies are eager to put a quality performance on tape after a pretty disappointing showing (offensively, anyway) at Boise State, so I don’t envision a particularly close game.

The pick: Washington 38, Sacramento State 10.

Christian Caple can be reached at christian.caple@thenewstribune.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple

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