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Student News Preview: Washington Huskies

<p>Rutgers' special teams coverage unit struggled mightily against No. 14 Washington in 2016, giving up both a punt and a kick-off return in a 48-13 loss.</p>

Rutgers' special teams coverage unit struggled mightily against No. 14 Washington in 2016, giving up both a punt and a kick-off return in a 48-13 loss.

In preparation for the 2017 football season opener, the Daily Targum spoke with the student newspaper of the Washington Huskies, the Daily UW. Josh Kirshenbaum, the sports editor at the Daily UW took the time to answer the Targum's questions on the No. 8 Huskies and we did the same here.

Q: The defense has lost a lot of starters, especially in the secondary. How different will it be without guys like Sidney Jones and Budda Baker?

It's definitely going to be different, and the recent suspensions of middle linebacker Azeem Victor and cornerback Austin Joyner won't make it any easier. Still, Washington has a lot of experience returning. Up front, Greg Gaines and Vita Vea can clog up the middle with the best of them. Middle linebacker Keishawn Bierria is the vocal leader of the defense, and while Victor will be missed, DJ Beavers got plenty of experience last year when Victor's season ended due to injury. Three safeties are back in JoJo McIntosh, Ezekiel Turner, and returning Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Taylor Rapp. All three had experience starting last year, and there's been a lot of speculation that Rapp will move up from the free safety position to take over for Baker in the nickel role.

It is going to be interesting to see how the corners shake out, and I don't think any of it is going to be settled for a while. Jordan Miller and Myles Bryant are back with experience, Byron Murphy has been one of the stars of Camp, and Elijah Molden and Brandon McKinney are some of the more hyped defensive recruits Washington's had in a while.There's plenty of depth in the secondary, and Coach Petersen has said they want to get as many guys reps as possible. I'd expect to see as many as 13 guys get reps in the back end, and we'll know a whole lot more after 60 minutes of play.

Q: After an appearance in the College Football Playoff last year, are expectations just as high for 2017?Last season was interesting, because many people didn't expect Washington to be a CFP contender until this year, and I don't think a lot of fans realized just how good the team was until the Week 5 game against Stanford. This year the expectations are definitely high, both with last year's result and all of the returning talent. I don't think it's even close to Playoff or Bust, and Chris Petersen has probably has as much job security as is possible, but people have legitimate expectations of the program for the first time in a while. This team should contend for a Pac-12 crown again, and fans know that if this happens, a CFP spot is completely feasible.

Q: How does the loss of John Ross hurt the offense, considering what he did to Rutgers last year?

Any time you lose someone with 4.22 40-yard dash, it isn't exactly going to help. That being said, basically everyone else on the offense is back for Washington, which makes it a lot easier. Jake Browning returns, as well as the Huskies' two main running backs in Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman. Aside from Ross, pretty much all of Browning's targets are back too, led by Dante Pettis, who would probably have been the No. 1 option for most schools last year. Behind him, Chico McClatcher had a solid 2016 in the slot, and Aaron Fuller, Quinten Pounds, and Andre Baccelia (who by many accounts had one of the best Fall Camps of any UW player) each provided solid minutes last season.

Aside from the 2016 corp, the UW also brings back Brayden Lenius, who spent 2016 in Chris Petersen's dawg house (pardon the pun), and brings in many bright young freshmen, chief among them Salvon Ahmed, who's taken reps both at running back and receiver. Washington will probably try to use him in a Christian McCaffrey sort of role, and while it's definitely too early to make the direct comparison, Petersen has confirmed that he'll play as this year, fans are hoping he lives up to the hype.

So to put it all together, Washington will definitely miss Ross, both as a receiver and as a decoy to free up the run game and the other wideouts. But with the talent the Huskies return, there shouldn't be too much drop-off at all.

Q: Are the Washington specialists good enough to neutralize Janarion Grant with punt coverage and deep kickoffs?

That's definitely going to be a fun matchup to watch. On kickoffs, Tristan Vizcaino did a good job last year keeping the ball out of returners' hands. He also handled punts last year, but that will change because this season, Washington finally caved to the hype and got itself an Australian punter. Joel Whitford, who comes from the same Australian program as Mitch Wishnowksy and Tom Hackett is one of the more hyped freshmen this year, an impressive feat for a punter, and fans can't wait to see what he can do. If he can neutralize Grant, we'll know that he's the real deal.

Q: The spread right now is Washington -30.5. Do the Huskies cover?

My gut says no, but I've always been a pessimistic person. If I had to predict a final score (and I'm awful at that sort of thing), I'd say UW wins 45-17


Thanks to Josh Kirshenbaum from the Daily UW for taking the time to answer our questions. He can found on twitter here, while the Daily UW Sports feed can be found here.

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @GriffinWhitmer and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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