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UW’s preparation for road environments starts in offseason

You can hear it every time the Washington football team practices, the sound of crowd noise being pumped through the speakers.

That means the roar that echoed down from the field and into the tunnels underneath Husky Stadium this week wasn’t unusual. Head coach Chris Petersen pointed out as much during his meeting with the media on Thursday.

The Huskies might be getting ready to play in Oregon’s Autzen Stadium — the most hostile environment they’ve faced so far this season — but everything about the preparation was routine. It’s a process that started during fall camp.

“You deal with the crowd noise,” said offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan. “You deal with the communication, but it’s something you always factor in.”

UW doesn’t just use the artificial noise to get ready for away games, Petersen said. When the Huskies are at home, it’s the defense that might have trouble hearing.

But when the Huskies face Oregon on Saturday, it’ll be the other way around. Or, in linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven’s words, UW’s offense and special teams have to prepare “not to be able to hear a thing.”

The Huskies’ started the year with a similar challenge. And they had some issues dealing with the noise from the Auburn-heavy crowd during the season opener, especially late in the game.

There were times when the offensive line either misheard or didn’t hear the snap count. That played a role when quarterback Jake Browning was sacked three times in the fourth quarter, including twice on UW’s final, unsuccessful drive. The Huskies also had a false start penalty during that series.

Senior tight end Drew Sample said it’s important for the Huskies to stay dialed in on the snap count.

“Just all on the line,” he said. “Just making sure everyone knows where they’re supposed to be going, what play we’re running. I think it’s just communicating the best we can and practicing the best we can. Utah was a good kind of practice for that, but I think it’s going to be a different level this week.”

Hamdan acknowledged the issues UW had with the silent count against Auburn. He didn’t go into detail, but he said UW has addressed them.

“We’ve made some adjustments there with certain silent stuff,” he said, “and we go from there.”

There are constantly details to clean up and change, Sample said.

“We always want to do that,” he said. “Bush has been doing a good job of that kind of all season, just tweaking things, making sure that he’s putting us in the best spot to be successful.”

When it comes to learning how to handle loud environments, Fuller said there was no better way to start the season than playing Auburn in Atlanta. That’s especially true for the younger players on UW’s roster.

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“It’s supposed to be a neutral environment but you go down (to Atlanta) and 90 percent of them are (Auburn) fans,” Fuller said. “And then after that, going on to Utah, which was a very loud environment, very compact. So that prepares you all season long when you get to playing those types of games. It’ll be fun.”

Across the board — from Petersen to Hamdan to Fuller and Sample — the Huskies agreed the biggest keys to succeeding in Autzen Stadium are attention to detail and communication.

Over-communication, Sample specified. Just to make sure.

“We try to simulate here in practice but as you know, it’s always going to be that next level of noise and hostility,” Sample said. “We try as best we can to prepare. Like I said, we’ve had a few games that have been close to that (noise level) so hopefully we can bank on that.”

“Just accounting for that loud noise,” Fuller said, “especially so you’re not messing that snap count up.”

UW’s experience, particularly on offense, helps.

The Huskies are led by a senior quarterback in Browning and senior running back in Myles Gaskin. And despite some new faces on the offensive line, they are anchored by junior center Nick Harris and senior tackle Kaleb McGary.

“It’s good,” Sample said. “We got a good mix of older guys and young guys. Being able to kind of let these guys know what it’s going to be like, trying to give them an idea of what we’re walking into. I think that’s been good to have that mix.”

The core group of veteran players gives the Huskies a boost of confidence as they prepare to walk into a difficult environment, Fuller said.

“It’s always great to have veterans on your team that know how to play in those types of games, especially if you have connections like receiver and quarterback and O-lineman,” Fuller said. “Things like that, they need to be on the same page.”

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