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Three games into the 2017 season, Washington (3-0) has risen to No. 6 in the weekly Coaches poll and No. 7 in the Associated Press Top 25 ranking entering Saturday night’s Pac-12 championship game rematch against Colorado (3-0) at Folsom Field (8 p.m. MT, FS1).
Yet, the Huskies are somewhat of an unknown (and perhaps unappreciated) commodity nationally largely because of their uninspiring nonconference schedule.
Victories over Rutgers (arguably the worst team in Big Ten), Montana (FCS) and Fresno State (once proud program has fallen on hard times) have accomplished little in terms of boosting Washington’s resume.
Washington coach Chris Peterson acknowledges the Huskies must prepare to raise their level of play two or three notches in order to beat Colorado on the road in the first full week Pac-12 play
“Now we start the hard part of our season,” Peterson said Monday during his weekly press conference. “Everybody realizes the league has started now. The intensity of the games feels different. We all know how competitive this league is that we play in. Anybody in this league can beat anybody else on a given day. We have good teams. It’s going to be an interesting year in this league.”
Watching video of last year’s Pac-12 championship game and the first three games of this season, Peterson doesn’t see anything radically different schematically from the Buffs’ defense even with the personnel changes.
“It’s not dramatically different,” Peterson said. “They’re playing really well on both sides of the ball, but especially on defense considering how many guys they graduated, That’s a tribute to (MacIntyre) and his influence. That’s probably where he spends most of his time.”
Saturday’s marquee matchup is between two guys who won’t spend a second on the field at the same time. Colorado quarterback Steven Montez and Washington’s Jake Browning promise to deliver plenty of offensive fireworks as they duel.
Peterson sees a lot of Sefo Liufau in Montez, who ranks seventh among Pac-12 quarterbacks in in passing yards per game (286.0) and passing efficiency (153.3 rating).
“He’s similar to Liufau. We saw it last year when both of them played (against us),” Peterson said. “They’re big, strong, physical, tough guys. They’re not afraid to run the ball. That’s part of their game. They like to run them as a running back. And they can also scramble around and find open receivers. They have experienced receivers and a running back. It’s a group that has seen a lot.”
Buffs running back Phillip Lindsay (126.0 ypg), third in the Pac-12 in rushing yards per game behind Stanford’s Bryce Love and Oregon’s Royce Freeman, should be a handful for the Washington defense to stop, Peterson said.
“He’s a unique back,” Peterson said. “I’ve been watching him a lot on film. He’s one of those backs that plays with a great base. He’s very quick and very sudden and really tough. But he doesn’t cross his feet over much. He can plant. He’s north-south runner. He’s a hard-nosed and tough running back with good vision. Even if there’s not a lot there, he’ll find a crease and get positive yardage.”
Defensively, Peterson is impressed by how smoothly and efficiently the Buffs are playing so far this season given the significant turnover in personnel. CU leads the Pac-12 in scoring defense (9.0 ppg) and ranks fifth in total defense (317.7 ypg) and third in rushing defense (105.0 ypg).
“It seems like their kids are very dialed in to what they’re doing,” Peterson said. “There are not many assignment mistakes. Sometimes early in the season when you have some new guys, you’ll see guys misplaced or get out of a gap. But I haven’t seen any of that from those guys, They are playing at a high level. Considering all the guys who left, it’s a credit to those guys.”
Unlike the Buffs, who have yet to leave the state of Colorado, Washington has already played one road game this season at Rutgers in Week 1. However, Peterson expects the environment inside Folsom Field will be a lot more hostile Saturday night.
“I think it’s going to be a much different environment,” Peterson said. “We got on a plane and then got on a bus to go to the stadium. That’s probably going to be the only similarities in terms of the energy and the environment we’re going into. We know it’s going to be a hostile environment and they’re a good football team. They’re the best team we’ve played so far this year.”
-- Buffs junior LB Drew Lewis, a Sammamish, Wash. native, signed with Washington in 2014 and redshirted that season. At the end of the year, he transferred to Coffeyville Junior College, where he played in 2015. Lewis signed with Colorado in February 2016 and appeared in 13 games last season. “I know he’s doing well over there. I’m happy for him,” Peterson said.
-- Washington's most dangerous all-around player might be Dante Pettis, who has a punt return for a touchdown in each of UW's three games: 61 yards at Rutgers, 67 yards vs. Montana and 77 yards vs. Fresno State. He has 8 career TDs on punt returns, tying the career NCAA record, while also tying the NCAA mark for consecutive games with a punt return TD. In the Fresno State win, Pettis also caught three TD passes and threw a 39-yard pass.
-- Three games into his junior season, Huskies quarterback Jake Browning currently sits fourth on the UW career passing yards (7,183) and career completions (534) charts. Additionally, his 67 career TD passes remain second on the list behind Keith Price's 75.
-- The Washington-Colorado game will be nationally televised on FOX Sports 1 with Tim Brando (play-by-play), Spencer Tillman (color) and Holly Sonders (sidelines) providing the commentary.