North Dakota at Washington

The Sports Xchange

September 05, 2018 at 7:46 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, 5 p.m. ET
SITE: Husky Stadium, Seattle
TV: Pac-12 Networks
SERIES: First meeting
RANKINGS: Washington No. 9

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Fighting Hawks

–QB Nate Ketteringham, a junior transfer from Sacramento State, had a solid debut for the Fighting Hawks, completing 19 of 30 passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns in the 35-7 win against Mississippi Valley State. He did not commit a turnover and also ran for a score.

–RB John Santiago was an AP first-team All-American last season as an all-purpose player, as he led the FCS with 1,780 all-purpose yards in the regular season. He rushed 17 times for 91 yards last week, also catching two passes for 13 yards, returning two punts for 28 yards and returning one kick for 29 yards. The senior is a three-time first-team All-Big Sky selection at running back.

–DB Deion Harris missed all of last season because of an Achilles’ injury, but big things are expected in 2018. He opened the season with a five-tackle effort against Mississippi Valley State. The senior made five interceptions in 2016, returning three for touchdowns.

Huskies

–RB Salvon Ahmed showed some explosiveness as the change-of-pace option to feature back Myles Gaskin. Ahmed tallied 36 yards on five carries against Auburn. Expect a heavier workload against North Dakota.

–WR Ty Jones emerged as a potential big-play threat to fill the void standout Dante Pettis left. Jones averaged 25.7 yards per reception on his three catches, providing a nice counter-punch to primary target Aaron Fuller.

–LB D.J. Beavers played a key role in Washington’s rush defense against Auburn, racking up eight tackles. Beavers and returning starter Ben Burr-Kirven combined for 21 tackles as the Huskies allowed just 3.3 yards per carry on the day.

–DT Shane Bowman perhaps answered the question of who would fill the void left by NFL draftee Vita Vea. Bowman made a sack against Auburn and demonstrated an explosiveness off the line that complements the space-eating size of fellow interior lineman, Greg Gaines.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

Sandwiched between two marquee road matchups — last week’s 21-16 loss against Auburn and a Sept. 15 trip to Utah — No. 9 Washington welcomes FCS opponent North Dakota on Saturday.

Assorted miscues, such as a fumbled option pitch near the goal-line during Saturday’s second half, denied Washington (0-1) a chance at a signature win. Beating North Dakota (1-0) would not qualify as a signature victory — Washington is undefeated against FCS competition since first scheduling such opponents in 2011 — but at least would put the Huskies in the win column.

“You’re curious about how the first game’s going to go, and how guys are going to step up on a really big stage in a hostile environment,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said of his takeaway from Week 1. “It’s just really hard to simulate that in practice.”

North Dakota gets to take on that same challenge this week, with Washington playing the role of the home team providing the hostile environment.

The Fighting Hawks, coming off a 35-7 rout of Mississippi Valley State on Aug. 30, are taking a loose approach to Saturday’s trip to Seattle.

“It’s going to be a fun experience for us,” North Dakota quarterback Nate Ketteringham said Monday. “Coming here (to Washington), we kind of have a little bit different mindset. ‘We can win this one,’ that’s the kind of mindset we’ve got to have.”

Ketteringham was in his redshirt season on a Sacramento State team Washington beat 49-0 in 2015. With the exception of nail-biters against perennial FCS contender Eastern Washington in 2011 and 2014, which Washington won by three and seven points, the Huskies’ average margin of victory against the FCS is 47.6 points.

Continuing that trend would give Petersen and his staff ample opportunity to give some new playmakers opportunities to step up, particularly with Washington replacing a handful of key performers from a season ago. One of the most prominent, if not one of the few question marks for the Huskies entering 2017 was wide receiver, with Dante Pettis gone for the NFL.

The process of replacing last season’s No. 1 receiving target already began against Auburn. Quarterback Jake Browning found wide receiver Aaron Fuller seven times for 135 yards, and Andre Baccellia four times for 41 yards. Quinton Pounds made a circus catch for a touchdown, and Ty Jones with his three grabs for 77 yards, looked capable of filling the big-play role Pettis manned in 2017.

“We’ve got a handful of those guys we’ve been saying all along, same thing — all these young guys who’ve played some significant football, but not major roles, and we’ve been expecting them to step up,” Petersen said. “And they did, they all took the next step, including Ty.”

Washington can also pepper in a mix of Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed in the run game, though North Dakota’s yield — after totaling an FCS Week 1-high seven sacks — totaled negative-27 yards.

“(Washington has) a tailback (Gaskin) who’s one of the best in the country,” North Dakota coach “Bubba” Schweigert said in his news conference Monday. “The offensive line is big and mobile. Good at tight end, good wide receivers. Just no weaknesses offensively.”

North Dakota’s game plan will likely rely less on trying to find and exploiting a weakness, as Auburn successfully accomplished with its tightened pressure in the red zone. The Tigers’ ability to generate pressure in the red zone against a Washington offensive line without highly touted NFL draft prospect Trey Adams — declared out indefinitely Tuesday — ultimately made the difference.

Rather, the Fighting Hawks approach Washington as something of a measuring stick.

“This is going to be a huge challenge for us,” Schweigert said. “Also, you look at it as a huge opportunity to compete against some of the best players in the country and one of the best teams in the FBS.”