SEATTLE – Bob Stitt is regarded as one of the more innovative offensive minds in college football, honing his craft for years at the small-college level before making the jump to Montana and the FCS level before the 2015 season.
He has an admirer in Washington coach Chris Petersen.
“Their coach is a legendary coach for a long time coaching small-college football and a lot of guys have been through his shop to pick his brain and see how he does things,” Petersen said. “So he’s a really good coach.”
Petersen will get to see Stitt’s innovative offense up close on Saturday when No. 7 Washington faces Montana in the Huskies’ home opener.
It will be the first home game for the Huskies (1-0) since the middle of last November, before they were Pac-12 North champions, before they beat Colorado in the Pac-12 championship game, and before they faced Alabama in the national semifinals. So the opener is expected to be a celebration – even without a premier opponent – and a tuneup after Washington’s sluggish 30-14 season-opening win over Rutgers.
“I am excited to be here at home and I am really excited to see what our crowd is all about. I really, really am,” Petersen said. “When a program is doing the things they want to do, it doesn’t matter – we only get seven home games, and everybody is going to show up to see their team play. When you look at really the elite programs throughout the country, the (fans) are there – rain, wind, early, late, before school, it doesn’t matter. I am really hopeful we get a really good crowd.”
Montana (1-0) has not traditionally been an FCS team to step up in competition and take on FBS programs. The trip to Seattle will be the Grizzlies’ first FBS game since playing at Wyoming in 2014 and just the second since 2011 when they lost 42-16 at Tennessee.
“We’ve got to use this game to get better and you can’t miss an opportunity for your football team to get better schematically and mentally,” Stitt said. “To go against the best, that can’t do anything but help us.”
Here are other things to watch as the Huskies host the Grizzlies:
- Washington QB Jake Browning was solid but not spectacular in the opener. He threw for 284 yards and two touchdowns. He also took one of the biggest hits of his career early on. Browning would like a little better performance than his last start at Husky Stadium. In the home finale last season, Browning threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns against Arizona State but also threw two interceptions.
- If there is one Montana player not likely to be in awe of the atmosphere at Husky Stadium, it would be starting quarterback Reese Phillips. Phillips started his career at Kentucky before transferring to Montana. One of the three games Phillips appeared in before leaving Kentucky happened to be at Tennessee in front of more than 102,000 fans. Phillips was excellent in Montana’s opener, throwing for 381 yards and four touchdowns in a victory over Valparaiso.
- Washington’s run game was expected to be a strength with the return of Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman, and the addition of freshman Salvon Ahmed. But the ground attack never got going in the opener. Gaskin had just seven carries, Coleman was limited to 40 yards on 14 attempts and Ahmed touched the ball once. “I think everybody’s always trying to figure those things out. And it’s probably playing ‘live’ for the first time,” Petersen said. Expect the run game to be a focus for the next couple of weeks as Washington tries to get that part of its offense established heading into Pac-12 play.
- Washington will get preseason AP All-American linebacker Azeem Victor back on the field for the first time since Nov. 12. Victor suffered a broken leg on that day in Washington’s only regular-season loss last season. He was healthy throughout spring and fall camp, but was suspended for the season opener for violation of team rules. Victor is expected to team with fellow linebacker Keishawn Bierria to form one of the best linebacker duos in the country.
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