Honolulu, HI (SportsNetwork.com) - A new era of football is set to begin at the University of Washington, as Chris Petersen makes his debut as the new head coach when the 25th-ranked Huskies visit the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at Aloha Stadium on Saturday.
Petersen is quite familiar with the Rainbow Warriors, having played against them while head coach at conference foe (Western Athletic and Mountain West) Boise State where he produced a record of 92-12 between 2006-2013. The only two-time winner of the Paul "Bear" Bryant Award (2006 and 2009) as the national coach of the year, Petersen takes over a Washington squad that went 9-4 a season ago and defeated BYU (31-16) in the Fight Hunger Bowl in order to finish with the most victories for the program since 2000.
"I'm excited about this opportunity, about this challenge", Petersen said when being introduced as the new head coach. "We are going to play smart, fast, physical and unified football, there's no doubt about it ... We are going to recruit just awesome kids here. We talk about taking young men and turning them into real men ... That's a passion of mine, to really get some guys straight on what a real man is and what a real man looks like and how he plays and how he conducts himself."
While Petersen brings new energy to Washington, the Rainbow Warriors are hoping to produce some spirited play this year under third-year head coach Norm Chow. Taking over the Hawaii program in 2012 Chow, who has some experience facing the Huskies after being on the coaching staff at USC during the glory days, put up three wins in 12 chances that season.
Last year was a much different story for Chow and the Warriors as they won just a single game, a 49-42 decision against Army in the regular-season finale. Hawaii, which has hinted at the fact that the football program is a drain on the finances of the school, failed to win a single Mountain West Conference game and finished a dismal 1-11.
"I think there's a little sense of relief that these people know that they are capable of winning games and that they are willing to ... sacrifice what it takes to win games," Chow said after the triumph over the Black Knights.
Washington posted a 40-32 victory in the most recent meeting back in 2011, tying up the all-time series in the process at 2-2.
There are several adjustments coach Petersen has to make now that he has finally taken the reins of a Pac-12 program, with finding a new starting quarterback and running back chief among them.
Last season, the Huskies had the luxury of putting Keith Price under center and Bishop Sankey lining up behind him ready and willing to take the ball as he ran for 1,870 yards and 20 touchdowns. Unfortunately, both players are now gone, and the depth charts show Jeff Lindquist as the likely candidate to handle the passing duties for the time being.
Lindquist saw action in three games last season, which is actually less than Cyler Miles who appeared in eight games and made one start. Knowing how coach Petersen handled the quarterback position at Boise State the last few years, don't be surprised to see him pull the trigger and switch signal callers in the middle of a game. At least for this weekend you can be assured that Miles will not be in the lineup, due to disciplinary action.
No matter who is throwing the ball down the field, they're first option will likely be Jaydon Mickens who led the program with 65 catches, leading to 688 yards and five touchdowns in 2013. The Huskies are also hoping Kasen Williams can return to form after suffering a season-ending injury against Cal. Williams is currently sixth on the school's all-time receptions list with 142 catches.
Dwayne Washington figures to take over for Sankey, after the running back produced 332 yards on a mere 47 carries as a freshman last season.
On of the leaders on the defensive side of the ball for Washington will be lineman Hau'oli Kikaha, named to the preseason Bednarik and Nagurski Award watch lists. Kikaha was a First-Team All-Pac-12 selection a year ago as he registered 13 sacks, the second-highest single-season total in program history. Kikaha also led the program with 15.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.
Another key figure who is expected to make a major impact again for the Huskies is defensive back Marcus Peters. Last season Peters was a Second-Team All-Pac-12 performer thanks to his team-high five interceptions. Peters, who also had a pair of fumble recoveries and a team-high 14 passes defended, begins 2014 on the watch lists for the Nagurski and Thorpe awards.
Like the Huskies, Hawaii will also be going with a relatively new quarterback in Ikaika Woolsey who started two games for the team a season ago and appeared in 11 contests overall, although it is difficult to get excited about a signal caller who completed a mere 37.9 percent of his attempts and was picked off three times without the benefit of a single touchdown through the air.
Receivers Scott Harding and Keith Kirkwood will do their best to make the transition at quarterback as seamless as possible, but you can be sure there will still be several bumps in the road. Harding returns after delivering 56 receptions for 631 yards and a score, and Kirkwood used his five starts to turn 12 catches into 250 yards and four TDs.
Rarely a strong point for the Rainbow Warriors, the running attack seems to be solid with both Joey Iosefa and Steven Lakalaka back for 2014. Iosefa appeared in just five games yet still finished with a team-best 590 yards and five TDs on the ground, while Lakalaka accounted for 468 yards and four scores. Still, Hawaii ranked 12th in the conference and 113th nationally with only 114.6 ypg on the ground.
Stretched beyond the limits a year ago, the defense for the Rainbow Warriors takes a major hit in 2014 since the top four tacklers from a year ago have departed. Brenden Daley was first in total tackles (90) and forced fumbles (three) and second in tackles for loss (13.0), behind only Art Laurel (77 stops) who made 14.5 TFL.
Defensive lineman Beau Yap will do his best to fill some of the void, but there is only so much more he can do after pacing the unit in sacks (5.5) and quarterback hurries (six). Beau posted 12 of his 37 total tackles behind the line of scrimmage, so already he has come close to hitting his ceiling.
The lone returning starter at linebacker is Jerrol Garcia-Williams, who is also the top returning tackler after notching 67 stops in his 12 appearances. Yap and Garcia-Williams will need a lot of help attacking the line of scrimmage again, particularly since the team ranked 104th in the country in run defense a year ago when Daley and Laurel were clogging up the trenches.
Back in the secondary, Marrell Jackson, Dee Maggitt, and Ne'Quan Phillips bring back a level of experience that the Warriors desperately need if they hope to keep from being blown out on a regular basis again. Unfortunately, the trio had a total of just three interceptions between them and were seen more as the last tacklers on the field rather than players competing for ball security.