SEATTLE — When Chris Petersen looked back at the reasons No. 9 Washington dropped its season opener, he noted a lot of areas where the Huskies made mistakes.
There may be no better way to work on those little details before the start of Pac-12 Conference play than facing an FCS program.
Washington will open the home portion of its schedule on Saturday against North Dakota. After a week of smarting because of all the missed opportunities in the 21-16 loss to No. 7 Auburn in Atlanta, the Huskies (0-1) get a chance to get on course before facing Utah, their first conference opponent, next week.
“When you’re playing a high-level team like that, all those mistakes are going to be excruciatingly obvious. They are hard to overcome,” Petersen said. “You just look at the majority of matchups the first game of the year. You can overcome those things. You’re going to get another chance. You only get so many chances in certain situations against a team like that. So those obvious mistakes come back to get you, whether it’s in the red zone or third down. So they show up.”
The most egregious mistakes Washington made came deep in Auburn’s territory when the Huskies were unable to convert numerous scoring chances into touchdowns. Washington had just one touchdown — on a one-handed catch by Quinten Pounds — on six drives inside the Auburn 20. New offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan took responsibility for the shaky play calling on those red zone possessions.
The visit from North Dakota should provide an opportunity for the Huskies to simplify the play calling and focus on execution.
The Fighting Hawks (1-0) opened the season with a convincing 35-7 win over Mississippi Valley State. The trip to Seattle means they’ll receive a nice payday and a chance to play against an elite program, but they understand the challenge awaiting them.
“It’s going to be a real fight for us, and a real challenge, but we want to get better as a football team,” North Dakota head coach Bubba Schweigert said. “That’s what we want to do each and every week and then we live with the results of the game. But, we’re really concerned on our preparation this week. Can we prepare better and really have a good week of preparation to go out and play the most talented team probably our school has ever played.”
Here are other things to watch in the Huskies’ home opener:
BROWNING BOUNCEBACK: Washington quarterback Jake Browning threw for nearly 300 yards in the opener but he made a handful of costly mistakes and wasn’t at his best on the Huskies’ final possession. He’s unlikely to play the entire game against North Dakota, but the Huskies would like to see Browning continue to develop his relationship with a new batch of receivers that showed promise in the opener, including Aaron Fuller and Ty Jones.
ON THE GROUND: North Dakota had great success last week keeping the ball on the ground. Brady Oliveira led the Fighting Hawks with 108 yards rushing, and North Dakota finished with 293 yards rushing as a team. If the Fighting Hawks want to keep the game close — at least early on — finding similar success on the ground will be important.
TURN IT OVER: Washington’s defense was especially stingy in the opener when Auburn got inside the Huskies’ 20-yard line. But Washington allowed too many yards in the middle of the field for the liking of Petersen and co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake, and the Huskies were unable to force any turnovers. It was just the fifth time in the past 28 games that Washington did not force a turnover. The Huskies are 1-4 in those games.
“They did a nice job, especially in the red zone. They made them earn those things. Maybe a little too forgiving in the middle of the field part of things to let them get down there but we’ll look at that,” Petersen said.
TRANSITION TIME: The trip to Seattle is part of an odd transition period the Fighting Hawks are in. North Dakota is moving from the Big Sky to the Missouri Valley Conference, but won’t join the Missouri Valley as a full member until 2020. The Fighting Hawks will play the next two seasons as an independent, although they are playing a schedule of mostly Big Sky opponents.
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