Washington-Southern Cal Preview
Now it'll be the Huskies' turn to face a former coach when they travel to No. 17 USC (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) on Thursday night and a reunion with Steve Sarkisian. While the Huskies (2-2, 0-1) have an exceedingly young roster, relying heavily on freshmen and sophomores, there is still a large contingent that was recruited to Washington by Sarkisian and many of his assistants now working for the Trojans.
But from the head coach's perspective, the entire storyline of a team facing a former coach is completely overblown.
''We kind of went through it ourselves on the other side and when you go out there and play it's about blocking and tackling and catching,'' Petersen said. ''That's what it is. It has nothing to do with all that other stuff. I think a lot of times there is stuff made out of it. It's pre-game hype that really doesn't have a whole heck of a lot to do once the game is played.''
Sarkisian was Washington's coach from 2009-13 before returning to Los Angeles, where he was an assistant for the Trojans before landing the head job with the Huskies. Sarkisian helped turn around a Washington program that was coming off an 0-12 season when he arrived but has now played in five straight bowl games, four of those under Sarkisian.
With all that history, you would think there would be anticipation from his former Washington players to see Sarkisian. But since losing 30-24 to California on Sept. 26, the few Huskies players made available deflected talk about Sarkisian.
That might be because the entire program is busy trying to figure out a way to stop USC's offense. The Trojans are averaging 46.8 points and 532.0 yards, both of which rank among the top 10 in the FBS.
Sarkisian returned to Los Angeles as a new convert to the importance of tempo, pledging to have USC run 80 plays per game on offense. So far they've only averaged 66, but considering those are leading to a Pac-12-best 8.1 yards per play, that's hardly a concern.
''Would I love to run 80 plays? Of course, but I don't want to sacrifice the explosiveness of our team, which we have right now,'' Sarkisian said. ''We're getting yards in chunks, which going into this season was a huge goal that we wanted to get bigger plays and be a more explosive offense.''
Cody Kessler - who has 15 touchdowns, one interception and is averaging 10.63 yards per attempt - said the goal is for 20 percent of offensive snaps to become explosive plays, defined as runs of 10 yards or more and passes of 15 yards or more. USC had 12 such plays at Arizona State on Sept. 26, including its first two touchdowns in the 42-14 win.
Receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Steven Mitchell and three-way weapon Adoree Jackson accounted for six of the eight explosive pass plays, exploiting the Sun Devils' aggressive blitz tendencies either by getting down the field for Kessler or ripping off big gains after the catch.
''It's a special thing when you look up and it's JuJu, Adoree, and Steven on the field at once. That's a lot of speed on the field at one time,'' offensive coordinator Clay Helton said.
The Huskies figure to test USC's ability to more deliberately move the ball down the field. Washington is allowing a conference-low 4.3 yards per play and has surrendered an average of just under nine explosive plays per game despite losing three first-round draft picks to the NFL.
''They don't blow assignments,'' Helton said. ''They make you go the long way. It'll be a tough challenge for us.''
The trip to Los Angeles will be just the second road start for Huskies freshman quarterback Jake Browning. His first came in the season opener at Boise State when he threw for just 150 yards in a 16-13 loss. Since then there have been a few highs, like throwing for a Washington freshman record 368 yards and three TDs against Utah State. And some lows, like the two interceptions he threw in the loss to Cal.
Inconsistency is to be expected with a young quarterback, but Petersen believes Browning is better equipped to handle this road challenge than his first.
''I think there's certain things that he's pretty dialed in - certain plays, certain concepts that we run that he's probably more dialed into, feels good with,'' Petersen said. ''But as we go through this, we keep adding kind of more to his plate, so that's a process of this whole year.''
USC has won seven of the previous nine meetings heading into its first matchup with Washington since 2012.