LAS VEGAS — Chris Petersen brought Boise State into the national consciousness with trick plays and toughness.
He returned Washington to the top of the Pac-12 with his kind of guys.
Now, as Petersen is set to step away after six seasons leading the Huskies and 14 consecutive years of the “frustration and anxiety and stress” that come with being a head coach, his final game for the time being will fittingly match the Huskies against the No. 18 Broncos in the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday.
Petersen initially expressed hesitation about having his Huskies (7-5) play the Broncos (12-1), who are led by his former offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. But Washington players have embraced everything around the matchup.
“There is motivation, 100%,” defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike said. “We all know the history, (Petersen) has been at Boise State and is here now. We want to win a bowl game and send him out with a win.”
Petersen, 55, caught college football by surprise when Washington announced on Dec. 2 that he would step down, with defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake taking over as the next coach of the Huskies following the bowl. It was typical Petersen, unexpected but carefully measured.
Petersen has led Washington to two Pac-12 titles and three New Year’s Six bowls, including a berth in the College Football Playoff in 2016. But he was feeling the need to recharge, and Washington already had Lake ready to provide both continuity and a fresh perspective.
The ability to identify talent and build relationships has always been at the heart of Petersen’s success. Harsin has tried to emulate that model, and with five seasons of at least 10 wins in his six years with the Broncos, it seems to have carried through.
“If you’re smart, you want to try to figure out the formula and how do you incorporate that into what you do,” Harsin said. “You do it your way, but when people are doing things the way that he does it, you need to utilize that and pay attention to it and try to make it part of who you are and what you do.”
MOVING ON UP
The Las Vegas Bowl will relocate from Sam Boyd Stadium to the new Allegiant Stadium just off the Las Vegas Strip in 2020, bringing with it upgraded conference tie-ins. The game moves up the Pac-12 pecking order against Southeastern Conference or Big Ten foes on a rotating basis. The Mountain West champion will still face a Pac-12 opponent but in a new bowl game to be held at the stadium the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers will share in Inglewood, California.
The Broncos needed three different quarterbacks to win the Mountain West, and they will have a different play caller after offensive coordinator Zak Hill took the same position at Arizona State. Harsin will take a bigger role but joked he will “just put it on autopilot. Yeah, it’s already prerecorded, so we’re good that way.”
After his first two seasons at Washington saw him used as a change of pace rusher capable of providing big plays, Huskies running back Salvon Ahmed showed he could handle a full workload as a junior. Ahmed had four games with at least 20 carries, including a career-high 25 attempts for 174 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon State, en route to rushing for 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns.
Boise State is 12-6 against the Conference of Champions since 2004, including a 4-1 record in bowl games with wins over Arizona State, Washington and Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Washington will be without two of its top offensive players as tight end Hunter Bryant and left tackle Trey Adams will not play in the Las Vegas Bowl. Bryant is entering the NFL draft after he led the Huskies in receiving yards (825), was second in receptions (52) and tied for second in touchdown receptions (3) as a junior. Adams started 44 games in five seasons with the Huskies, but he missed time in 2017-18 because of knee and back injuries.
LAS VEGAS BOWL AT A GLANCE
No. 18 Boise State (12-1 Mountain West) vs. Washington (7-5 Pac-12), Dec. 21, 4:30 p.m. PT (ABC, Channel 2)
Line: Washington by 3 1/2.
Series Record: Tied 2-2.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Washington’s Chris Petersen will end his six-year coaching tenure with the Huskies by facing the Broncos, the program he was in charge of for eight seasons from 2006-13. Washington is out to show it is the team that had Pac-12 title game participants Oregon and Utah on the ropes and not the one that lost to conference stragglers Stanford and Colorado. A win over Boise State would not only send Petersen out on a positive note but give defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake a lift as he takes over as the next head coach. The Broncos returned to the top of the Mountain West despite starting three quarterbacks and should end the season ranked for the fourth time in six seasons under Bryan Harsin. Bookending the year by beating Power 5 opponents would give Boise State its ninth season with one loss or fewer since 2002.
Boise State RB George Holani vs. Washington’s run defense. It didn’t take long for Holani to announce himself as the next great Broncos runner, collecting 979 yards and seven rushing touchdowns as a freshman. Given the uncertainty at quarterback, it was the consistency of Holani that gave Boise State’s offense a reliable platform to build on, averaging 16.6 carries for 87.6 yards over the final seven games. The Huskies were 5-1 when allowing under four yards per carry, so stopping the run and forcing Boise State to challenge a stellar group of defensive backs that allowed 12 passing touchdowns, fewest in the Pac-12, is paramount.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Boise State: DE Curtis Weaver led the Mountain West with 13 1/2 sacks, one of seven FBS players to average one sack per game this season. The redshirt junior could be playing his final game before entering the NFL draft. Weaver is regarded as a possible first-round pick. He will go up against a Washington offensive line that will be without left tackle Trey Adams, as the redshirt senior is sitting out the game.
Washington: CB Elijah Molden, who is coming off a 14-tackle performance in the Apple Cup, emerged as the latest star in the secondary for the Huskies. He had the first three interceptions of his college career this season as a junior, and his 16 passes defended were tied for the Pac-12 lead. Molden also has five tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
FACTS & FIGURES
Boise State is 4-0 in the Las Vegas Bowl. Petersen led the Broncos to bowl wins there in three straight seasons, 2010 to 2012. … Washington RB Salvon Ahmed rushed for 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns in 11 games, becoming the Huskies’ ninth 1,000-yard rusher in the past 10 seasons. … The Mountain West champion has won five consecutive bowl games, including three straight victories in the Las Vegas Bowl. … Petersen is 146-38 as a head coach. His .793 career winning percentage is the second-best among active FBS coaches. … Harsin was Petersen’s offensive coordinator at Boise State from 2006-10. The Broncos went 61-5 during that span.