First Game, New System, On the Road, What to Expect?

   When the Washington Huskies depart for Hawaii to open their 2014 season there will be a lot of new faces making their first road trip. Their game against the Warriors will also mark the beginning of the Chris Peterson era as the coach of the Huskies. Although Coach Peterson has played Hawaii before as the coach of Boise State, this is his first trip with his new team. A new team, a new system, a new set of road procedures and an overall new way of doing things will finally be battle tested plus first games are always somewhat unpredictable.

   Based on Hawaii’s 1-11 record from last season it would be expected that the Huskies have a good chance of winning this game.  Duh! However, first games are always a crap shoot and the Huskies will also be starting a new and untested quarterback, be it Jeff Lindquist or Troy Williams, as well as over 20 other players who have never taken a snap of college football.  More importantly, they will also be learning a new way of doing things on the road, which may be the greatest lesson of the trip. 

   The Huskies road record has not been very good over the previous five years under ex-coach, Steve Sarkisian. (The Purple and Gold have only won 8 games while losing 21 and I’m not counting their last bowl game as a Sark didn’t coach that one).  Additionally, the last time the Huskies visited Hawaii they lost the game 35-28 in 2007(under Tyrone Willingham). Washington was only 4-9 that year and Hawaii, led by Colt Brennan, entered the game ranked #10 in the nation. It was probably the best Hawaii team in the history of their school and the game served as a preview to what was to become the worst team in Husky history as the next year the Dogs went 0-12. Yikes.

   Just last week the Athletic Director at Hawaii shocked even his own team when he suggested that the school may be dropping football soon because it simply costs too much to commute to the mainland much less recruit good enough players to stay competitive. Goodness, and this announcement coming right before their opening game, it certainly can’t be good for the psychic of an already losing program.

   Expect the Huskies to win but also “expect the unexpected” which is always a great way to prepare for first games. Hawaii has had a whole camp and spring to put in “new” wrinkles and plays. Just as important in first games, is to not hurt yourself with turnovers or mistakes especially in the kicking game.  When you’re on the road and out of conference you also know you get “their officials” especially in Hawaii. The Warriors struggled vs Pac-12 teams last year losing to both USC (30-13) and Oregon State (33-14) but then they have also struggled in their own league going 1-15 over the past two years. Right now the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors are not a very good major college football program.

   It would not be surprising to see the Huskies try to establish the run so as not to put the game on the shoulders of their first time starter at quarterback.  What could prove really interesting as well is that Hawaii likewise will also be going with an unproven quarterback.    It would appear Washington will employ a running- back- by-committee with Dwayne Washington, Deontae Cooper, Lavon Coleman, and Jesse Callier all ready to play.(probably in that order) Don’t expect to see linebacker, Shaq Thompson, at running back for this game simply because it would be hard to imagine not using the other 4 so as to get a live game evaluation on each.

    Because Coach Peterson closes practices nobody knows for sure who will be starting must less playing but that also applies to Hawaii where Coach Norm Chow has to be changing things up from last year because it is obvious that what they were doing wasn’t working. Hence “expect the unexpected,” even though they have a pretty good book on Coach Norm Chow’s pro-style offense, which he has run for years. Defensively, Hawaii is also converting to a 3-4 defensive front, which is different from what they ran last year.

    But basically, expect Washington to attack and create something with their kicking game, run the ball on offense mixing it with a lot of quick throws, and adjust with their defense as the game develops.  

   The Hawaii Warriors are relying heavily on transfer players. They have close to two dozen transfers including 15 former JC players as well as 8 transfers from 4 year schools including a quarterback, Taylor Graham, who came from The Ohio State University. Getting all those transfers on the same page by the first game is always a challenge.  It is also interesting that Hawaii has kids from 15 different states including 28 players from California, 6 from far off Florida, and 4 from America-Samoa, 5 from Utah, in addition to 40 from their home state. Hawaii still suffers from home grown kids regularly choosing to go to the mainland for college and to play at a higher level of football, like at Washigton. There are four Huskies from the Islands and two of them are starters in Micah Hatchie and Hau’oli Kakaha who both are amongst the best linemen on the team.

    For years we used to have as many as 8-10 Hawaiians on the Husky roster but Coach Sarkisian chose to recruit more heavily in southern California and hence the reduced number. Regardless, Coach Chow regularly sees the very best Hawaiian players leave in order to play stateside.

   Winning is the bottom line in this game but learning how to do it is just as critical.  Even though Washington is only 2 and 2 vs the Warriors all time, they should win this game, get playing time for a lot of rookies, and come home for four in a row. Early season non-conference games are about getting looks at your own players, developing your depth, establishing your base packages on both sides of the ball and finally and most importantly getting a win.