After examining the Rutgers football program’s offensive and defensive players earlier this week, and after talking with our counterparts at On The Banks, our writers are ready to make their predictions for tomorrow’s game. The #14 Huskies are 27-point favorites at home against the Scarlet Knights, who feature Chris Ash in his first game as head coach following last year’s disappointing 4-8 season. But does everyone expect the Dawgs to win big?
After a long, long offseason in which we've had nothing but hype to sustain us, we're about to watch the Washington Huskies play a real, live, actual football game. It's been 252 days since the Huskies took on Southern Miss in the 2015 Heart of Dallas Bowl; in that time, the Huskies have gone from failing to collect a single vote in the AP's 2015 postseason poll to being recognized as the nation's 14th best team. For those Washington fans who are too young to remember the glory days when Don James was the team's head coach, these are the highest expectations the program has had in living memory.
For good or for ill, we likely won't learn much of value about Washington's ability to meet those expectations tomorrow. Bovada favored UW to win Saturday's contest by 27 points as of this morning; in other words, if you're a fan of thrilling fourth-quarter finishes, Husky Stadium doesn’t look like it will be your venue of choice this weekend.
The reason why the smart money expects Washington to dominate this game is because its defense projects extremely well against what is expected to be a struggling Rutgers offense. Last year, Rutgers quarterback Chris Laviano threw an interception on 3.9 percent of his attempts (for comparison, Oregon backup Jeff Lockie threw a pick on 4.0 percent of his dropbacks). Meanwhile, Washington's defense secured interceptions on 3.4 percent of opponent attempts, ranked 18th among Power 5 teams and third in the Pac-12. And in the running game, Rutgers' 149.4 rushing yards per game against Power 5 opponents (67th in the country) doesn't match particularly well with Washington's 147.6 rushing yards yielded to Power 5 teams per game (35th in the nation).
When Washington's offense takes the field, the team’s foremost priority will be neutralizing Rutgers’ senior defensive tackle Darius Hamilton, who racked up 11.5 tackles for loss and 6.0 sacks in 2014 before missing all of 2015 due to injury. Hamilton is just one of two Scarlet Knight defenders — the other being senior safety Anthony Cioffi (41.5 tackles, four interceptions and three pass breakups in 2015) — who should legitimately concern Washington fans. If Washington's offensive line can shut down Hamilton, and quarterback Jake Browning can find success in the passing game by not allowing Cioffi opportunities to block passes and create turnovers, they will go a long way toward opening running lanes for Myles Gaskin. Doing so will allow the offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith to rely on the balanced offensive attack that is a staple of Chris Petersen-coached teams.
Despite the decisive money line, Rutgers has enough defensive talent to potentially keep this game close, and first games always have the potential to make fluky swings. Nonetheless, I expect Washington to overcome some early offensive struggles by leaning on that elite defense, and secure a comfortable victory in the second half. Washington 31, Rutgers 13.
Finally, the hype train has reached the station. Time for everyone to disembark so that we can see what Chris Petersen really has in store for us. On the surface, it looks pretty good. Even with a new coaching staff and a new offense, I'm having a hard time seeing how Rutgers is going to move the ball on a revved-up and frothing UW defense. In fact, I don't think that they'll be able to pass the ball at all against that Husky secondary. Expect Rutgers to convert less than 35 percent of third downs.
I do think that UW will have a chance to do some damage offensively, but I think it will come together sluggishly as Jake Browning tries to find his rhythm with his receiving corps. I doubt that Rutgers will have an answer for Myles Gaskin, which I think is the difference in the outcome. Rutgers 6, UW 27.
56-10. UW fans will get acclimated to the new rules regarding the Zone as this game will be over by the second quarter.
It's always hard to predict the first game of the season, especially against an opponent with a brand new coaching staff. But a couple things about the Huskies are certain: we have a top-25 defense, and the offense should be much better. To what degree will they be better is the big question and should determine the course of this game (and season). Washington's offensive line will be up against a better-than-you-think Rutgers defensive line, which will provide a nice litmus test for how the line has progressed since last season. Plus, new Rutgers coach Chris Ash is a defensive-minded coach who put together some elite units at Ohio State. But, they'll still have to stop Myles Gaskin and a likely much-improved Jake Browning with a defense that still isn't that great.
Their offense should struggle against a pretty salty Husky defense, but a few big returns from Janarion Grant leading to short fields might keep things close. Heck, it might even be close or tied at halftime — Rutgers will be playing with a ton of emotion for their new coach. Ultimately, however, the Huskies are deeper and more talented across the board, entering their third season with Chris Petersen, and playing at home. Washington 31, Rutgers 10.
I think both teams are gonna come out with a lot of good energy but I wouldn’t be surprised if it took about a quarter for Washington to really hit their stride. I think Jake Browning (provided he gets the protection he needs from Rutgers’ potentially fearsome defensive line) should end up looking like a stronger and smarter version of what we saw against Southern Miss, especially at diverting defensive backs with his eyes which is a nuance that can elevate the passing game tremendously. That being said, I still don’t expect him to wow us with anything spectacular, just solid decisionmaking that can keep the offense comfortable but it probably won’t be particularly sexy or exciting. I could see a couple minor beginning-of-the-season bumps on defense too, though any of that probably will be benign since Rutgers’ offense should have more than a couple beginning-of-the-season bumps that the defense can pounce on, especially with Rutgers' offense implementing a new scheme and a quarterback who doesn’t fit said scheme too well. For Washington, I’m most apprehensive about the offensive line, especially the interior, going against Rutgers’ defensive line in the pass protection. Though on Rutgers' side, I think quarterback Chris Laviano will eventually succumb to a few too many poor decisions when the presence of Qualls and Vea and GFG becomes too much; I’m not prepared to say they’ll force him to throw a bunch of interceptions, but I think he’ll end up pressured to throw into traffic a lot, which could make fourth down come a lot faster than he’d like. Though if that ends up being a constant threat, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an interception or two. Oh, and Gaskin scores whenever he so chooses. Final: Huskies win, 31-13.
Rutgers will be playing hard for their new coach, and the defensive line is good enough that the Huskies won't just be able to line up and run down their throats. I expect the UW defense to dominate this game, while the offense will be working some things out.
What stands out to me from a matchup standpoint is that Rutgers QB Chris Laviano is an average quarterback by Pac-12 and Big Ten standards, and the UW defense absolutely feasts on average QBs.
I could see a little bit of a sluggish start for the Dawgs' offense in the first half and a game closer than anyone in purple and gold is comfortable with. In the second half, the depth of the Husky defense will begin to wear the Scarlet Knights down and Laviano will make some mistakes which will be too much for Rutgers to overcome.
If the UW offense is clicking, I see this one covering the spread and then some, but I have a feeling that this will be one of those games that is closer than it should be, with UW pulling away in the second half.
Call it 34-13 Huskies.