Chris Petersen speaks after fall camp
Chris Petersen glanced at his watch as he jokingly admonished a reporter for taking all of three minutes to go negative.
But, came a reminder, you won the game.
Then Petersen grinned. He couldn’t argue with that.
The game in question? The most recent matchup between UW and Eastern Washington in September 2014. A total of 111 points were scored, but the Huskies did, in fact, win. They just won 59-52.
After jumping out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, UW spent the rest of the game just trying to hold on. Eastern Washington even took the lead twice in the third quarter before the Huskies used two touchdowns in the fourth to seal the victory.
“I remember we had some really good players on defense and what (Eastern Washington) did was spectacular,” Petersen said during his meeting with the media on Thursday. “They made plays. Some of the stuff was self-inflicted wounds on our part but a lot of it was like, they made plays.
“I just think that’s how Eastern is. That’s how they’ve been. You watch them last year, it’s the same kind of wide-open system (but) certainly different than it was five, six years ago. It’s improved. … They do a great job creating conflict on defense and they’re really smart.”
On Saturday, Eastern Washington will return to Husky Stadium hoping to push UW to — or maybe over — the brink again. The Eagles, who lost to North Dakota in the 2018 FCS championship game, are expected to contend again. They were ranked No. 3 in the preseason FCS coaches poll.
Last season, seven FCS teams beat FBS opponents. There were eight upsets in 2017. And in 2016, there were 10, including North Dakota State’s stunning victory over No. 13 Iowa. Point being: the upsets happen. Petersen knows it.
“I know the problems (Eastern Washington) can cause,” Petersen said. “I think their schemes are good and those guys do a great job of playing fast and free. You can feel that. You can see that. I think the history of their program and they standards that they have over there are really impressive.”
And with the amount of players on both rosters from the state of Washington, there’s plenty of familiarity, too.
“We know almost all those guys over there,” Petersen said. “We know them, watched them play in high school. They are good players. I think that’s why Eastern has always done so well. We know the guys they’re getting. And then there is a chip on their shoulder — there’s no question about it — to come over and play us.
Redshirt sophomore Jake Haener left UW’s program last week, just a day after Petersen announced that Georgia-transfer Jacob Eason had won the starting quarterback competition. His departure not only derailed Petersen’s plans for both quarterbacks to play in the opener, it also left the Huskies with a gap in the quarterback room.
During the summer, redshirt freshman Colson Yankoff also left UW and transferred to UCLA. After Haener’s departure, the Huskies were down to just three quarterbacks: Eason, redshirt freshman Jacob Sirmon and freshman Dylan Morris.
They needed another arm, and there just happened to be one nearby. Early this week, UW quietly added Blake Gregory to the roster. On the team in 2016, Gregory didn’t play football the last two seasons but still remained at the university.
“Whether a guy helps throw balls to the defense, those types of things, or splits some of the scout team reps because Dylan needs to be more involved a little bit with the offense,” Petersen said. “It’s nice having (Blake) around. We know what type of kid he is. Great person. Helped out the last couple of years upstairs in recruiting and was an intern and all those things. It was kind of a natural fit.”
As for Sirmon, he’s suddenly become the backup quarterback. Asked how he was adjusting, Petersen laughed.
“I think really good in his opinion: he got a lot more reps,” he said. “That’s why he came here. He’s getting more reps and more dialed in and he understands the situation. So that’s a positive.”
True freshmen in the secondary
There are three true freshmen defensive backs listed on UW’s depth chart. On Thursday, Petersen offered his thoughts on two of them.
The first was Asa Turner, a four-star recruit out of Carlsbad, California. Turner didn’t enroll early, but has shown enough promise in his short time at UW to be listed as senior Elijah Molden’s backup at nickelback.
“He’s a really good athlete, tall and rangy,” Petersen said. “He’s one of those guys that was not here early and then there’s not a ton of learning going on in the summer even. It’s just really school and a little bit of lifting and running. So for him to come and in 20-some days really get this into his bloodstream. It’s good and it’s only going to continue to improve.”
Next was Cameron Williams, a three-star prospect out of Bakersfield, California, who enrolled early and will start at safety alongside senior Myles Bryant on Saturday. Williams earned high praise throughout the spring and fall from both Petersen and defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake.
But it wasn’t defense where Williams made his biggest impression on Petersen.
“It’s his attention to detail on special teams that really kind of grabbed my attention,” Petersen said. “That’s a hard thing for a new guy. They got so much on their plate. They came here to play offense or defense and now we’re throwing in this special teams thing.
“So it takes them a while to figure out the importance we put on it. He got that right away so I kind of knew, this guy is going to be dialed in rather quickly.”