SEATTLE — This much is certain about No. 9 Washington: It can beat up on lesser competition.
In cruising to an impressive 3-0 start, the Huskies have done most things very well. Quarterback Jake Browning is leading the country in pass efficiency, the Huskies have scored 40 or more points in six straight games and plenty of younger players have gotten valuable experience in a less-than-challenging nonconference scheduled that featured Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State.
What Washington has yet to find out is how it will react to adversity. What happens when the Huskies are playing from behind or are in a competitive game into the fourth quarter? It’s a luxury that Washington has yet to face but is a lingering question as the Huskies start Pac-12 Conference play this week at Arizona.
“We’ll see if we’re ready. That’s easier said than done. It certainly feels better and different when you’re in the fourth quarter and have a comfortable lead, as opposed to fighting and clawing all the way down,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “We haven’t encountered that one yet, but we obviously talk about it every week because we anticipate that. It just hasn’t happened. But I suspect it will.”
Washington’s roll through the nonconference portion of its schedule saw the Huskies outscore their three opponents 148-30. They never trailed in any of the three games, and dating back to last season have not trailed since the first quarter of the Apple Cup last November against Washington State, a span of nearly five whole games. The Huskies were tied for all of 21 seconds in the third quarter of the Heart of Dallas Bowl against Southern Mississippi before Myles Gaskin went 86 yards for a touchdown.
So it’s been a while since Browning’s had to make an important third-down throw to keep a drive going late in a game, or Washington’s stout defense has been asked to get a key stop and get the ball back to the offense. And while things get drilled constantly in practice, there’s no track record with this year’s group that it can transfer to a game.
“Seeing it live and having to go through the adversity in an actual game where it really, really counts is one thing. But we’ve been through spring ball, through fall camp; we have definitely faced adversity in practice,” Browning said after beating Portland State on Saturday . “Now, can that transfer to the game? That’s the big thing. But I don’t have any doubt that we’ll handle it. But you never really know until you know.”
The Wildcats (2-1) will present Washington’s first true examination in a place where Petersen suffered one of his most painful defeats two years ago when the Huskies were unable to run out the clock in the closing minutes and a fumble led to Arizona kicking a field goal on the final play for a 27-26 win . Washington’s last win at Arizona came in 2006, and there is the showdown lingering on the horizon with No. 7 Stanford at home on Sept. 30.
“To go to Arizona in a night game to open the league, that is going to be a challenge. Then we go home in a short week against Stanford, then go to Eugene,” Petersen said. “We will find out, we will find out quickly what we have.”
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