SEATTLE -- Last season's opener was considered a lock for Washington against lower-division Eastern Washington.
Then it took an end zone interception from cornerback Desmond Trufant in the final moments to preserve Washington's 30-27 win, allowing everyone to escape with a reduced heart rate.
It was also Keith Price's debut as the starting quarterback -- the beginning of what turned out to be a record-setting season. This Saturday's season opener against San Diego State and its tricky defense will present the first challenge for a Washington program hoping to get to its third consecutive bowl game.
"You can feel the eagerness from everybody," sophomore wide receiver Kasen Williams said.
Much of the offense's excitement should be dedicated to watching tape. The Aztecs use a 3-3-5 defense earmarked by multiple shifts up front meant to confuse and hurry a quarterback. San Diego State was plus-12 in turnover margin last season when it went 8-5 and made an appearance in the New Orleans Bowl.
"From an identification standpoint, they can be challenging," Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian said. "You can't worry about the numbers. They've got guys moving around, playing different spots. A guy might be free safety one snap, the next snap he's blitzing off the edge. They can cause some hesitation for you. They can create errant throws and in turn create turnovers.”
An important element to slowing San Diego State's rush will be Washington's new co-starters at running back. Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey will alternate series in the backfield as the Huskies try to replace record-setting back Chris Polk, who declared for the NFL draft following his junior season. Polk has the most carries in Washington history.
"I wouldn't say pressure; I would say opportunity," Callier said of replacing Polk. "How many carries I get, I'll make the best of them.”
The Aztecs will also be trying to baffle a revamped offensive line and two freshman receivers. Washington's first depth chart has three sophomores -- Micah Hatchie at left tackle, Colin Tanigawa at left guard, and Ben Riva at right tackle -- among the starters. Only Tanigawa started multiple times last season.
Two Huskies youngsters will be split out wide, as well as freshmen Jaydon Mickens and Kendyl Taylor atop the wide receiver depth chart with Williams.
"I always tell them, if you don't understand something, just tell me," Price said. "Once they get hit, banged around a couple times, they'll wake up.”
Saturday will also be the first opportunity for the Huskies defense to create a new impression than their last, when they gave up 67 points to Baylor in the Alamo Bowl. Former Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz transferred to San Diego State and will start Saturday. The Aztecs like to take deep shots in their pro-style offense and are likely to do so against an unproven defense.
"I think the reality of it is, I think they want to play well. I don't know if it's about proving anybody wrong or right," Sarkisian said.
Junior transfer Tre Watson is on top of the depth chart at corner opposite senior Desmond Trufant. New Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has changed the Huskies' scheme, allowing speedy talents like Josh Shirley and touted freshman Shaq Thompson room to roam.
Most of Washington's injury issues headed into the opener rest on the defensive side. Defensive end Hau'oli Jamora will have surgery Thursday on the same knee he injured last season, which caused him to miss the rest of the season after four games. Sarkisian would not commit to a timeframe for Jamora's return.
Linebackers Nate Fellner, Cooper Pelluer and Jamaal Kearse are all out Saturday.