Washington comes to Columbus equipped with one of the top passing attacks in the country. The Huskies' running game left a lot to be desired last year, but even with a struggling ground game, they can put up points in bunches and will provide a stern test for Ohio State's defense.
Let's take a closer look at UW's offense and what it will try to do against the Buckeyes.
Quarterback Cody Pickett (6-4, 215, Sr.) is coming off a season in which he shattered the Pac-10 single-season passing record with 4,458 yards (Ryan Leaf previously held the mark with 3,637 yards). Pickett completed 59.6 percent of his passes (365-of-612) and had 28 touchdowns to go with 14 interceptions.
The Huskies say they will not throw the ball quite as much this season, but look for Pickett to be gunning all night against the Bucks. The fact that he has already broken passing records in a predominantly passing conference speaks volumes about Pickett's skills.
One thing to keep an eye on is how he reacts to being hit. If he can stand in there and take it, the Huskies will have a chance to do some damage. If he gets happy feet, or tries to get rid of the ball too early, it will be a long night for the visitors.
Tailback Rich Alexis (6-0, 220, Sr.) led the team with 688 rushing yards last year (3.4 yards per carry), despite making just eight starts due to injury. He also led the team in rushing as a freshman in 2000 with 816 yards (6.4 ypc). In 2001, he had just 397 yards (3.1 ypc) serving in a backup role. Alexis is not flashy, but is a solid back. He is better than his 2001-02 stats indicate. He will get more chances to carry the ball this year, but against Ohio State, expect the Huskies to abandon their running game by the second half.
According to Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, Washington won't use a fullback all that much.
"Gilby (UW head coach Keith Gilbertson) has been a one-back guy for most of his career, so we'll probably see Alexis back there by himself the majority of the time," Tressel said.
Receiver Reggie Williams (6-4, 220, Jr.) is one of the nation's best and posted 2002 numbers of 94 receptions, 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has drawn comparisons to Randy Moss and is obviously Pickett's go-to player. The Huskies will try and move Williams all over the field, forcing several different OSU defensive backs to go up against him.
"Williams lines up in different spots, so you can't get a bead on him," Tressel said.
Receiver Charles Frederick (6-0, 180, Jr.) was almost kicked off the team last season for off the field troubles, but still finished with 45 receptions, 651 yards and two scores. He provides the Huskies with another reliable target to take some of the pressure off Williams. If the Buckeyes decide to double team Williams, Frederick will see a lot of balls thrown his way.
The offensive line returns three starters (four including the tight end) and has excellent size across the board.
The returning starters are left tackle Khalif Barnes (6-5, 290, Jr.), center Dan Dicks (6-6, 315, Jr.) and right tackle Nick Newton (6-5, 330, Sr.). Barnes is the best player of the group. Dicks started at right guard last year, but is making the move to center.
The two new starters are left guard Clay Walker (6-4, 290, Fr.) and right guard Robin Meadow (6-6, 295, So.).
Tight end Joe Toledo (6-6, 285, So.) made five starts last year and finished with just three receptions.
Overall, this is a pretty good line with a decent amount of experience. It will have its hands full all night facing Ohio State's defensive line and the battle will come down to conditioning. If Washington's huge O-line is out of shape, it will be in some serious trouble late in the game.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Although Washington is attempting to stress its running game more this season, it will likely come out throwing against OSU. When you have arguably the nation's best QB-WR combo, you are going to utilize it. The Huskies might try and establish a running game early, but chances are they will come out, spread the field and let Pickett go to work.
"They have great team speed and outstanding athletes," Tressel said.
Washington has a new offensive coordinator (John Pettas), but the plays are still expected to be called by Gilbertson – who served as Rick Neuheisel's offensive coordinator and was also the OC of Washington's 1991 national championship team. Gilbertson was also the head coach at California (1992-95) and was an assistant with the Seattle Seahawks (96-98). He has a very good offensive mind and will come to Columbus with a solid game plan. Chances are that game plan will include a lot of four-wide sets, but Tressel is not exactly sure what to expect.
"We know they are going to pitch it and catch it and we know they are going to run Alexis," he said. "What we don't know is what the new staff will do differently than what we've seen on film. It will be important for our defense to handle the challenge of what we don't know."