As much as Chris Petersen preaches process, as much as he demands the Washington Huskies prepare for each opponent with equal focus, even he knows the season feels a little different now.
Washington is 3-0 and ranked No. 9 in both major polls, and unlike many other Pac-12 teams, the Huskies did nothing during their nonconference schedule to relinquish the shine they gained during a most optimistic offseason.
But that’s mostly because they played inferior competition — Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State — and for that reason, Saturday’s Pac-12 opener at Arizona (7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) inspires a more rigorous vibe.
“The guys answered the call and played extremely hard, extremely focused,” Petersen said. “Now it’s different. I think the league is just different. When you get into your league … I don’t want to say it means more, but it means more.”
Significantly more for the Huskies, who outscored their three nonconference opponents by a score of 148-30 and have yet to play a competitive second half. Arizona, while not a Pac-12 heavyweight, is at least capable of beating them. The Huskies also have to travel for the first time, and to a place where they have not won since 2006, though they opened on Monday as 10-point favorites.
As junior linebacker Keishawn Bierria said after Saturday’s 41-3 pasting of Portland State, the Huskies are looking for a team that will “hit back.” Arizona can do that, at least.
“When everybody plays in their league, that’s who you need to be gauged on,” Petersen said. “I think everybody plays pretty hard anyway, but everybody plays a little bit harder and all those type of things.”
The Huskies throttled Arizona last season at Husky Stadium, a 49-3 rout on a rainy Halloween night. The Wildcats lost their season opener to BYU, 18-16, in Glendale, and were less than impressive in a 31-21 victory over Grambling State and a 47-28 win last week over Hawaii. The status of starting quarterback Anu Solomon, who hurt his knee and missed Arizona’s past two games, is unknown.
But a Pac-12 road game is a Pac-12 road game, and this one presents the first possibility of meaningful crunch time.
“That,” Petersen said, “we haven’t experienced. We’ll see if we’re ready. That’s easier said than done.
“It certainly feels better and different when in the fourth quarter you have a comfortable lead, as opposed to fighting and clawing all the way down. That does change things. … We haven’t encountered that one yet, but we obviously talk about it every week, because we anticipate that. It just hasn’t happened. I suspect it will.”
Petersen said junior receiver Brayden Lenius, who was suspended for UW’s first three games for violating team rules, is eligible to play this week, though Petersen isn’t sure if Lenius will make the trip. … Defensive lineman Jaylen Johnson, who missed each of UW’s first three games due to injury, is practicing and is close to returning. “We just don’t want to put him at risk until he is full speed, ready to go,” Petersen said. “He’s very, very close.” … UW quarterback Jake Browning currently leads the nation in passing efficiency with a rating of 206.88, but Petersen doesn’t seem to care. “Only stat I care about this time of the year is turnovers,” he said.
UW Huskies opponent this week
ARIZONA WILDCATS (2-1, 0-0 in Pac-12)
7:30 P.M. SATURDAY, ARIZONA STADIUM, PAC-12 NETWORKS, 1000-AM/97.7-FM
COACH: Rich Rodriguez (110-69 in 15th year overall; 35-21 in fifth year at Arizona)
AGAINST THE HUSKIES: Washington leads the series 20-11-1.
SCOUTING REPORT: The chief storyline at Arizona this week is who will start at quarterback. Anu Solomon started the season opener against BYU but later sustained a knee injury and missed each of the past two games. Brandon Dawkins, a third-year sophomore, started both of those games and completed 31-of-50 for 458 yards and two touchdowns. … The status of starting tailback Nick Wilson is also in question after he left Saturday’s game against Hawaii with an undisclosed injury. … Wilson leads the team in rushing with 257 yards, though Dawkins isn’t far behind at 215 yards and five touchdowns (and an average of 6.9 yards per carry). Solomon can run, too, but Dawkins, with 31 rushing attempts in two games, is the bigger running threat of the two. … Arizona ranks 23rd nationally in yards per play at 6.67, though the Wildcats managed only 16 points in a season-opening loss to BYU. … After the Wildcats ranked 93rd last season in yards per play allowed (5.94), Rodriguez fired defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel and hired Marcel Yates from Boise State to replace him. So far, Arizona has allowed 5.51 yards per play, a figure that ranks 78th nationally.
DID YOU KNOW: Trey Griffey, son of Mariners Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., is Arizona’s leading receiver with 153 yards and a touchdown on nine catches.
Christian Caple: @ChristianCaple