Shaq Thompson will return to starting linebacker spot
After playing mostly at running back the past three games and with defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha recovering from a stinger, Thompson will start at linebacker against Arizona.
Seattle Times staff reporter
UW @ Arizona, 12:30 p.m., Ch. 13
The Pac-12 Conference has greeted Chris Petersen with four losses in his first six games, the same number of Mountain West Conference defeats that he had over his final three seasons combined as the coach at Boise State.
“It’s been hard,” Washington’s first-year coach said Monday. “It’s been hard.”
The Huskies’ latest loss, a 44-30 setback to UCLA on Saturday night, compelled Petersen to offer an apology to Husky fans during his postgame news conference.
“I think any time you go somewhere new and you’re figuring everything out as you go, I think that’s always challenging,” said Petersen, still the winningest active coach in the FBS with a 98-16 career record. “But I didn’t come in here thinking, ‘How hard is this going to be?’ I just kind take it one day and one week at a time and keep grinding.”
All four of UW’s losses this season have come to ranked Pac-12 teams, and the Huskies (6-4 overall) face another one Saturday when they travel to play No. 17 Arizona (7-2, 4-2).
The good news for the Huskies is star defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha should return from a stinger in his right shoulder suffered early against UCLA. Kikaha, the nation’s leader in sacks, did not return to the game, but Petersen said the senior practiced Monday morning.
Just as important for UW’s defense is the return of star Shaq Thompson to his preferred linebacker position. Thompson has been UW’s primary running back the past three games — rushing for 372 yards on 52 carries (7.2 yards per carry) — but he will start at linebacker against Arizona, Petersen said.
Thompson, in addition to rushing for 100 yards against UCLA, had four tackles in limited snaps on defense Saturday.
“I think we were playing him as much as we can,” Petersen said. “That running-back position is a tough, hard position. There’s just a lot of pounding.”
The Huskies’ other two-way standout, John Ross III, is listed as a starting cornerback on the depth chart this week, ahead of freshman Naijiel Hale. Ross played primarily at corner against UCLA for the first time this season. He also had a 100-yard kickoff return.
Thompson leads UW in rushing yards with 456 and Ross leads with 371 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns, and they’re both scheduled to start on defense this week.
“We’ve got to balance that and see where we need the most help and are the most thin and those type of things,” Petersen said.
Washington’s game on Nov. 22 against Oregon State will be a night game to air on Pac-12 Networks, either at 6 or 7:30 p.m. The exact time will be announced this weekend.