Huskies hoping for fast start this season
Washington struggled in its season opener last year, holding on to beat Eastern Washington. This season, the Huskies open against a young San Diego State team.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The opening act, the Washington Huskies hope, goes a little better this time than it did a year ago.
Last season, the Huskies were slated to open the season with a perceived layup, a home game against Eastern Washington. The breather, though, instead turned into a breathtaker when the Eagles rallied late and were driving for a potential game-winner until a last-second Desmond Trufant interception saved the day.
"We don't want that to happen this year," said UW receiver Kasen Williams, looking ahead to Saturday's 7:30 p.m. opener against San Diego State at CenturyLink Field.
Not that the two opponents are necessarily comparable — the Aztecs are a member of the Mountain West Conference and went 8-5 in 2011, including a 42-24 win over Washington State.
Still, the Huskies are listed as 14 ½-point favorites, and they know the expectation is that they will win and take some momentum into a game Sept. 8 at LSU.
And UW coach Steve Sarkisian says that one big change from last year's opener is that this time he won't be putting any limitations on quarterback Keith Price.
The 30-27 win over Eastern was the second start for Price, but first as the acknowledged No. 1 quarterback. A desire to ease Price in, combined with an early knee injury, caused Sarkisian to reign in the playbook. UW managed just 250 yards against Eastern.
"I know that we won't be nearly as conservative the first game around as we were last year," Sarkisian said. "We'll do some things that will hopefully give us a chance to take some shots down the field."
That will work out better, though, if the Huskies can figure out a way to manage San Diego State's unusual 3-3-5 defense, which Sarkisian said will put pressure on UW's front to identify oncoming rushers.
"They have an aggressive nature when they rush the passer, they rush with a purpose, they really try to get to the quarterback and create errant throws and create turnovers," Sarkisian said.
San Diego State finished last year with a plus-12 turnover margin, ninth-best in the NCAA.
The Aztecs, though, return just five starters on defense and 11 starters overall. San Diego State is particularly young on both front lines, returning two starters on the offensive line and none among its listed three defensive-line starters.
The Huskies, meanwhile, are still on the young side but do have 14 players with significant starting experience listed as starters for the game.
"We're a more mature team, and they know the importance of this ballgame and that no games are easy," Sarkisian said.
Price said the formula for success this time isn't just about being more aggressive.
"I just know that we have to play better," he said. "It's not so much about opening up the playbook or whatever people were trying to say. It's just about us executing our game plan. That's the main thing. If we do our job, we have a pretty good chance of winning."
• Sarkisian listed six injured players as out — defensive end Hau'oli Jamora (knee), running back Deontae Cooper (knee), linebacker Nate Fellner (foot), receiver James Johnson (wrist), linebacker Jamaal Kearse (leg) and fullback Cooper Pelluer (shoulder). Cooper and Pelluer are out for the season while Fellner, Kearse and Johnson are expected back in the next few weeks. • Sarkisian said five true freshmen will definitely play this season — punter Korey Durkee, safety Shaq Thompson, defensive end Pio Vatuvei and receivers Jaydon Mickens and Kendyl Taylor.
• UW released its first depth chart of the fall and Mickens and Taylor were each listed as starters at receiver, due in part to injuries to Johnson and Kevin Smith, the latter still coming back from a knee injury suffered before the Alamo Bowl. Smith is listed as a backup to Mickens.
• Redshirt freshman Derrick Brown and true freshman Cyler Miles were listed as co-backups at quarterback to Price. True frosh Jeff Lindquist of Mercer Island was not listed on the depth chart.
• UW reported Monday that 48,700 tickets have been sold for the San Diego State game.
• The game will be telecast live on the new Pac-12 Network. Kevin Calabro will handle the play-by-play with Adam Archuleta doing the color and Yogi Roth on the sidelines.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com. On Twitter @bcondotta.