Fresno State is off to a 1-1 start, beating Incarnate Word in Week One, and losing to No. 1 Alabama in Week Two. Although the ‘Dogs lost 41-10, they showed an improved toughness over last year. Fresno State is in the middle of arguably the toughest two-game stretch in college football this year. After playing in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the ‘Dogs hit the road again to play No. 6 Washington. The Collegian spoke with Josh Kirshenbaum, the sports editor at Washington’s student-run newspaper, The Daily.
DG: Washington opened the season beating Rutgers (0-2) and then beat lower-tier FCS opponent Montana (1-1) in Week Two – two easy opponents. How is the team shaping up so far?
JK: We’re two weeks in, and there’s still a fair amount of unknowns at this point. I think a lot of people overreacted initially to the Rutgers game when Washington had some trouble, but I don’t think you should overreact to the dominance the UW showed against Montana either. One game was on the road, across the country, against a team that held the ball as long as possible, which is a pretty good explanation for the slow start and the lack of offensive rhythm. The other was against an FCS team, which explains the score. The important thing to remember is that this was the case last year; after an easy nonconference slate, there were a lot of questions left to be answered. I’d say the biggest take-away so far is that there’s little to no dropoff in the secondary, with Byron Murphy stepping up at cornerback and putting in two very good games. On offense, it took three or four games last year to completely get it going, so people aren’t too worried about the same thing happening this year.
DG: Washington made the College Football Playoff last season and lost to Alabama in the semifinals. How much of an impact does last year have on this year?
JK: It’s definitely raised some expectations, but to be fair, Washington completely overachieved last year. After the semifinal last year, the UW fanbase was perhaps the most content I’ve ever seen fans be after a loss, because: A) it was the best season the Huskies have had in a long time, and B) a whole lot of talent was returning.
DG: Do you expect Washington to repeat as Pac-12 champions?
JK: Let’s take it one game at a time. Washington got a bit of a lucky draw in not having to play the University of Southern California in the regular season, and Stanford’s loss to the Trojans last week could give the Huskies a bit more wiggle room. But there are nine conference games to go to get to the conference championship game, and then probably a very good USC team waiting in Santa Clara.
DG: If Washington makes it to the playoff again and faces Alabama, do you think there will be a different outcome?
JK: Remember what I said about taking it one game at a time? If they played this weekend, I’d say the outcome would be the same, if not worse. Give the offense a little more time to gel, and maybe things could be different. I’d be totally fine playing someone else in the semifinals, though.
DG: These two teams last played in 2004 and 2006, with the Bulldogs winning in 2004, and the Huskies in 2006. Does Fresno State have a reputation in Washington given the matchup history?
JK: Not really. The main talking point up here about the matchup is the relationship Jeff Tedford has with the UW program after working for a year as an offensive consultant. In him and Kirby Moore, you have two guys who are pretty familiar with Chris Petersen’s offense, so that could be a little interesting.
DG: UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, USC quarterback Sam Darnold and Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen are talked about as the potential No. 1 NFL draft pick. Does Jake Browning deserve to be in that conversation?
JK: Jake Browning has come a long way in his development since he started his first game as a true freshman, but he still has a long way to go. While he’s shown in the past couple of games that he does have athletic ability, he’s still making his hay primarily with the mental side of things and his preparedness, and he can still get better on the field. Unless he completely goes wild this season, I’d guess he comes back for his senior campaign, but who knows?
DG: Besides Browning, who are the impact players on the team?
JK: So far, the guy that jumps out at you is Dante Pettis. He probably would have been the primary receiver on any team that didn’t have John Ross III last season, and this year with Ross gone, he’s the main target on offense. That being said, he’s made his biggest mark these past two games on special teams, with a punt return for a touchdown each week. His one last Saturday actually broke DeSean Jackson’s Pac-12 record for career return touchdowns, and he’s one away from the NCAA mark. On defense, the Huskies have two stud inside linebackers in Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria, but Ben Burr-Kirven has forced his way into the starting lineup and led the Dawgs in tackles both games so far.
DG: Chris Petersen is a very successful coach at Washington and when he was at Boise State, but he doesn’t receive the national recognition as the other top coaches around the country. Where does he fit with the best coaches in the country such as Nick Saban, Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer?
JK: In terms of everything on the field, the results speak for themselves. He really shines in what goes on off the field, though. With his “Built for Life” program, I’d take him over any other coach at developing 18-year-olds into adults and preparing them to lead and live once their football career is over. When you cover Washington football, you here a lot about “OKGs,” or “Our Kind of Guys.” He has to be one of the best at finding and creating OKGs.
DG: What is your prediction for the game?
JK: I am truly awful at predictions, but I’d guess Washington gets out to a very fast start before focusing on establishing the run game for most of the second half. Put me down for 45-17 Huskies.