SEATTLE — Chris Petersen insists the opener for No. 25 Washington against Hawaii on Saturday carries no greater importance than any other season opener in his coaching career.
Except that for the first time as a head coach, Petersen will be leading a team other than Boise State.
“They’re all big. Just like I told you guys way back, when I started coaching in front of 300 fans I had the same exact feelings. That doesn’t change,” Petersen said Monday. “You’re competitive, you want to do best for your guys. It doesn’t matter what stage you are on, where you’re at. My focus never changes on that.”
Petersen, one of the biggest names to change programs during the offseason, said the feeling when the Huskies begin their season at Aloha Stadium will not be any different than in his first game as a head coach in 2006, when he led Boise State against Sacramento State.
But now there is an expectation of success that Petersen created while at Boise State, where he went 92-12, won a pair of BCS bowl games and raised the Broncos’ national profile. It is a level he’s expected to meet at Washington from the start.
“It’s going to be interesting just because we haven’t been in any real games with these guys to see who is going to respond, who is going to step up, if somebody makes a big play on us, if things don’t go right on offense, how do we respond?” Petersen said. “Curious, excited, and ready to go.”
Petersen’s tenure with the Huskies will begin with a question at quarterback, where sophomore Jeff Lindquist will get his first collegiate start. Lindquist beat out redshirt freshman Troy Williams for the starting nod against Hawaii, but there is uncertainly beyond that. Sophomore Cyler Miles was the presumed starter when Petersen arrived last December, but he was suspended for spring practice and the season opener after his involvement in an off-field incident in February.
The job could be Miles’ beginning Sept. 6 against Eastern Washington. But Lindquist will get a chance to make it a competition.
“I think the understanding of the offense got a lot better for me. I think it helped that our team, too, kind of grew with it. It was not just me, but everyone got together so the fluidity increased with the offense,” Lindquist said. “That made it a lot easier to operate. I think my accuracy has gotten a lot better. Again, I’m still working on that but I think from where it was in the spring I made good strides.”
Lindquist redshirted in 2012 and spent last season backing up both starter Keith Price and Miles. His only action came in mop-up duty during blowouts, and he has yet to attempt a college pass.
His decision-making won him the starting job against Hawaii.
Petersen cautioned that the Huskies do not need Lindquist to try to go beyond what he showed in practice. Making solid, simple decisions is all Lindquist needs to do.
“Just stay within yourself. You don’t need to go out and win this game by yourself. We don’t need a bunch of critical errors,” Petersen said. “Everybody’s not going to play perfect; we get that. But we’ve got to minimize the critical errors and I think there’s enough guys around him to make plays.”
Another anticipated debut will come from highly touted freshman Budda Baker, who won the job at safety and will start against Hawaii. Baker was the top prospect in Petersen’s first recruiting class and his focus and effort made an impression on coaches during fall camp.
“If it’s wind sprints, he tries to win them. Seven-on-7, it looks like a game rep. During meetings, you can see his focus, he’s paying attention to everything,” Petersen said. “Very, very mature for a young guy in terms of those aspects of his game.”