SEATTLE (AP) — Beaten, battered and perhaps a little embarrassed on the Bayou, Washington would seem to have the perfect remedy coming to town.
But don’t tell Portland State it is supposed to be a sacrificial cure for the Huskies’ woes. They just need to point out the handful of victories teams from the Big Sky Conference, of the Football Championship Subdivision, already have over their upper-tier foes this season for proof they don’t plan to be any sort of pushover.
The Vikings will become just the second FCS opponent in Washington’s history when they venture to CenturyLink Field this afternoon. The Huskies are all too familiar with the type of scare a lower-division opponent can inflict after Eastern Washington nearly shocked the Huskies in the 2011 season opener. Washington needed a late end-zone interception to avoid the upset.
Portland State (1-1) hopes it can provide just as much of a scare and maybe join Eastern Washington, Sacramento State and Northern Arizona in knocking off FBS division foes this season.
“Well, the team that came in 6th or 7th in our conference last year has defeated Pac-12 schools two years in a row,” Portland State coach Nigel Burton said in reference to Sacramento State’s wins over Oregon State last year and Colorado last week. “They’re not even at the top of the conference, so I think that speaks to the competitiveness of our league.”
Washington (1-1) is seeking a bounce back after getting trounced at No. 3 LSU 41-3 last Saturday. The Huskies would also like to see their offense find the end zone after going the last seven quarters without an offensive touchdown. The Huskies’ last offensive TD came in the first quarter of their season-opening win over San Diego State when Kasen Williams took a screen pass and slipped 8 yards for the score.
By the time Game 3 arrived last season, quarterback Keith Price had already thrown for seven touchdowns on his way to a school-record 33. This season, he’s stuck on one.
“I think the natural thing is when the offense is not going the way I expect it to go is me trying to push too hard. I just need to let the offense work for me,” Price said.
Nothing worked offensively for the Huskies last week against LSU. Washington was held to 183 total yards and just 26 yards rushing as the lack of depth on the offensive line and inexperience with the Huskies ball carriers were exposed. It was the second-fewest total yards for the Huskies since Steve Sarkisian took over as head coach before the 2009 season. Going back to 1996, there were only six other games where Washington’s offense was more anemic.
Price went 17 of 36 for 157 yards and his passer rating of 78.3 was the lowest for any of his starts at Washington.
“We’ll find it. I’ve been doing this too long and believe in our system too much for us not to find it,” Sarkisian said of the offense. “We’ll find it. It’s a great challenge for us. We’re in a unique situation for us schematically, it’s a great challenge for us emotionally, and it’s a great challenge for our players to understand what those things are that we need to do, and to do well, to set our identity, and to do things off of that identity to create some big plays. We’ll get it done.”
There is a bit of turmoil with Portland State as well, after Burton decided to fire his defensive coordinator, Eric Jackson, just three days before facing the Huskies. The Vikings gave up 401 yards and six touchdowns passing last week in a 45-37 loss at North Dakota to open Big Sky play. The defensive lapse offset a night where freshman quarterback Kieran McDonagh passed for 301 yards and running back D.J. Adams rushed for 144 yards.
“We haven’t executed very well, especially on the defensive end of the ball. So we have to make sure we do that,” Burton said. “And in order to stay in the game, we’ll need to play well on special teams. If we get those two things done, I’d be willing to let the chips fall where they may come Saturday.”