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So Where Is UW Football, Exactly?

Another blowout, another easy win for the Washington Huskies. But I get the sense there are some bored UW fans out there right now after the Dawgs waxed Portland State 41-3 Saturday night at Husky Stadium. 

Sure, there were some fireworks, some moments of brilliance. But they were largely drowned out by the way the Vikings ground the game to a halt in the third quarter. Things never really picked up after Bruce Barnum intentionally took the air out of the ball to keep the game from becoming the runaway train it already was. 

Lots of fans want to call the win over PSU the 'end of the preseason'. Okay. But before everyone moves on to Pac-12 play, let's quickly recap what took place:

We saw a Washington team go undefeated in non-conference play for the third time in the last four years. Before 2013, you had to go all the way back to 2000 to find a Huskies team without a blemish heading into the league (I will put a slight asterisk for the 2001 season, as 9/11 put a halt to Washington's game at Miami, postponing it until November 24th - a time the Huskies didn't want to travel back to Florida. It showed in a 65-7 pasting.)

We saw a Washington team start fast - a lot. They scored on their first possession in the first game of the season - something it took them 11 games to do in 2015. 

We saw a Washington team score 40 or more points in all three non-conference games, the first time that's happened in 30 years. 

We saw a Washington team continue a streak of scoring more than 40 points a game - currently now at six. That's never happened before. 

We saw a team average more than three takeaways a game during non-conference play, 10 total. They had half that many through three games last year. 

We saw a team run for over 100 yards more (430) through three games than they did at the same point last season (321). 

We saw a team that passed for 839 yards in three games, basically the same as last year (844). But sophomore quarterback Jake Browning had also thrown for five touchdowns and two interceptions during that span in 2015. Today? Browning's touchdown to interception ratio is slightly better - 12/1. Browning's efficiency rating heading into the California game last season was 160. This year as the Huskies prepare to travel to the desert to play Arizona Browning's passing efficiency is at 207 - good enough to currently be the most efficient passer in FCS Football by nearly seven points. 

We saw Myles Gaskin run for 193 yards through three games in 2015, his true freshman season. In 2016, Gaskin has 217 yards. Last year at this time, another true freshman - Chico McClatcher - was second in rushing with 47 yards. Then came Lavon Coleman with 42. Dwayne Washington, now in the NFL, was averaging 1.7 yards an attempt. 

Fast forward to this year and Jomon Dotson has 95 yards and Coleman 80 yards to complement Gaskin. McClatcher has 59 rush yards to go with his team-high 197 receiving yards. 

Speaking of the receivers, we saw a maligned corps catch basically the same number of yards but triple the number of touchdowns (15) compared to this time last season (5). 

We also saw a team with nearly twice as many 'explosives' - runs of over 20 yards, passes of over 25 yards, and any other 'sudden change' play like a kickoff or punt return - than last year. Through three games Washington has 19 'explosives' compared to 10 at this same point in 2015. 

We saw a defense that was dominant in 2015 stay dominant through 2016 non-conference play. They have held teams to just three first-half points. That's ridiculous. They've forced 14 three-and-out drives. And as good as last year's defense was, they had only forced three sacks in non-conference play. This year? Eleven. And a 26-19 edge in tackles for loss, and a 7-1 edge in fumbles forced. The only meaningful defensive statistic they are lagging compared to last season is interceptions (4-3). 

"This team, you look at all three phases, they have some special kids," Portland State Head Coach Bruce Barnum said after the game Saturday night. "Usually you say, 'oh, they've got a special guy on offense or they have these two guys, the quarterback and this guy'. You go through special teams, offense, defense on that team and they have them. From Budda (Baker) to (Elijah) Qualls, to (Jake) Browning, it doesn't stop."

And the statistics all bear that out. But what do we really know about this Washington team, a team ranked No. 8 in the country? What can we infer from the non-conference results as the Huskies prepare for Arizona?

That's the big question, isn't it?  

There's no question Washington is a good football team, and they have improved from last season. Chris Petersen had created a culture where sound football is played. Certainly they are going to have moments where things need to be cleaned up, but that's no different than any other team in the country. 

"They pay attention to what we're trying to get done," Petersen would say after the Portland State win. 

Washington has it in them to start fast, dominate a half and then coast. They played over 70 players in each of the first three games, so Petersen and his staff have been able to spread the wealth and get turns for players they expect to count on down the stretch. 

And after successfully containing a slippery quarterback like PSU's Alex Kuresa, the same quarterback that led Portland State to wins over FBS teams Washington State and North Texas in 2015, there could be some carryover to trying to defend Arizona's stable of athletic signal-callers.  

There's no doubt the Huskies have seen plenty of spread and read option and all the variants through the first three games to be fully up to speed on what Arizona's spread attack will bring. 

But when looking at the non-conference results as a whole, has those three games set up the Huskies adequately? Are they as dialed in and as hardened as they need to be to go to Tucson as Road Dawgs and pull out the win, especially when they are faced with adversity for the first time all season? 

It's been 10 years since Washington has left UA victors, the 2014 one-point loss a bitter reminder of just how long it's been since the days of Isaiah Stanback showing the Wildcats how it's done. So it's easy to assume UW will go through some rough stretches as they attempt to get that coveted first conference win. 

And that's why the 'Prove It' mantra tattooed on the t-shirts the Huskies wear under their uniforms becomes the appropriate phrase. They know they haven't accomplished anything yet, other than match expectations. They were supposed to win the first three games, put their opponents out of reach quickly, and do it in style. 

That job was accomplished. 

But you don't have to tell Petersen that the second quarter of the 2016 Washington Football season is now upon them. With all the talk about one play at a time, one series at a time, one game at a time - it's clear the Arizona game has occupied some space in the back of Petersen's head for a while. 

"We have been staring at this schedule for a long time, going 'okay, we have our first three game, which have their own unique challenges', but then we start our league in a tough way. To go to Arizona in a night game to open the league, that is going to be a challenge. Then we go home for a short week against Stanford, then go to Eugene. 

"We will find out, we will find out quickly, what we have. But it's the next step in our progression. We need to go and we have been paying attention to it for a long time. 

"The time is now."

So to answer the question - where is UW Football, exactly? It's certainly not a question of geography. It's not something that can solved by looking up Google Maps on your phone. An app can't solve something this complicated. 

But in my experience, the simple answers work the best: they are back to where they started. And if you believe Petersen's comments about the Huskies' collective mindset, they won't be doing anything different for Arizona than they did devouring their non-conference cupcakes. 

There is nothing mysterious about preparation. You're either ready for the challenge in front of you or you aren't, and there's only one thing you can count on: how prepared you are will reveal itself in the game. And by that measure, Washington has been more than prepared so far in 2016. 

"I think (the non-conference games) just kind of proved we’re not looking past anything, we’re focused on the game, which I’m sure you guys have heard millions of times from everybody on our team and coach Petersen and all the coaches," said Browning. "We’re just going to continue that approach and get ready for Arizona.”

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