Brock Huard’s keys for No. 6 UW Huskies’ huge opener vs No. 9 Auburn
The sixth-ranked Washington Huskies will begin their season with a bang on Saturday, taking on No. 9 Auburn in Atlanta in the Chik-fil-A Kickoff Game.
There’s a lot at stake right out of the gate for Chris Petersen’s Huskies, especially since they will represent the Pac-12 in a marquee game against a highly-ranked SEC opponent and the conference as a whole is coming off a disappointing 2017.
We sat down with our resident expert, former UW quarterback and current ESPN college football analyst Brock Huard, to break down what will be the keys for the Huskies in a monumental game on Saturday.
1. Be ready for an epic defensive battle.
Both teams are led by their defense, but in different ways.
Auburn has two NFL-ready defensive tackles that would make 53-man rosters right now on any team in the league in Derrick Brown and Dontavius Russell. Its veteran linebackers are nasty and feisty and play right off the strength of their defensive line group, too. In Week 1, the Tigers are totally healthy and will be getting off the ball a half-tick faster with the home crowd behind them.
As for the Huskies, they are built from the back end of their D forward. While Ben Burr-Kirven and Greg Gaines are seniors who will play at a high level upfront, it’s the eight deep in the secondary that makes them as good as any in the country.
2. Limit the big play.
A great defense can be the best offense, and we’ve seen that in Seattle with both the Seahawks and Huskies. UW will have to limit the big play defensively – it will be the most relevant stat of any in this game, and if the Huskies do that, this score will be very tight in the final 10 minutes on Saturday.
3. Draw from Washington’s last experience in Atlanta.
The noise and the chaos will be a big factor in this marquee matchup in the same city that hosted the Peach Bowl that the Huskies played in two seasons ago.
It helps immensely that most of this Husky group played Alabama at the Georgia Dome in that game with the stakes even higher. It helps that the Huskies played in the Fiesta Bowl last year after a significant layoff and had to ramp up to that game. It helps that Petersen has done this for years and years and has multiple victories at Boise State in these environments to lean into and believe in.
I’ve said this team is built for this road trip and this season overall. Now the Huskies just have to prove it.
4. The passing game will have to win its one-on-one battles.
Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steels is as patient and veteran of a play-caller as there is on that side of the ball in college football, and Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn loves this defensive group. They will put enough bodies around the line of scrimmage to contain the run by numbers count, so that means Huskies quarterback Jake Browning and crew will have to execute in their one-on-one battles. Wide receivers Aaron Fuller and Ty Jones, along with Browning, know there will be such opportunities, and a month practicing against the best secondary in the country should have them sharpened to execute.
5. Prove the critics wrong.
Chris Petersen is going to be the story of the game if it’s a Huskies win – because he had his team ready to play and carried the Pac-12 to a national victory that the conference so desperately needs. And right behind Petersen will be Browning, the fourth-year starting QB that most doubt can get it done on the biggest stage, much like the perception of the conference.
Can we just kick this thing off already?