We've spent the week taking a closer look at the Arizona Wildcats (thanks to Ryan & Randall for the great previews):
Now it's time to take all that info, shake it up, let it percolate a bit, come back to it and extract a prediction for the game. Ready, set, go!
The big thing that has been on the minds of Husky fans this season is the significant regression in the offense. What's wrong with Keith Price? When will our offensive line get healthy? Can we find a 3rd receiving threat besides Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins? Can Bishop Sankey hold up all season as the featured running back? The answer - or at least a significant portion of it - may rest in simply facing less formidable defenses. Enter Arizona.
Now, their defense isn't quite as bad as the raw numbers might suggest. Like Oregon, we have to account for the fact that Arizona plays at a very, very fast pace, and there are simply a lot more snaps per game in contests involving the Wildcats. That said, they're not good. We knew coming into the season that they might struggle given personnel losses both to graduation and to injury. And switching to the less conventional 3-3-5 stack defense has probably added growing pains to the mix, contributing to their lackluster performance. Anyone that watched Stanford's offense get shut down by the Huskies one week then explode for 54 points the next against Arizona saw how bad the Wildcat D could look.
The worst part of their defense - and the aspect that should give the Husky offense the most hope - is their pass rush. They've notched just 6 sacks on the season against 247 pass attempts; by contrast, the Huskies have surrendered 17 sacks against 192 pass attempts. Perhaps they just aren't blitzing a lot and instead are dropping more guys into coverage - by pass efficiency, they're not terrible, just mediocre, ranking 59th in the country. It's worth noting though that Oregon State and Sean Mannion shredded them. They can be had on the ground too, surrendering 182 ypg on 4.4 ypc.
If the Husky OL can keep Price upright and give him a little time in the pocket, I think we could see a real breakout for the UW offense. There should be some room to run for Sankey, and that should set up one of Sark's staples, the play-action. I think this is a game where this offense can get their (Gekko) mojo back and build some confidence for the 2nd half of the season.
The key to the game though will be how well a resurgent Husky defense can contain the explosive Wildcat offense. This is a scary unit under RichRod's spread attack. QB Matt Scott has proven to be an electric trigger-man for the offense, featuring a quick release, enough mobility to buy time or gash defenses that lose contain and having a stable of big, dangerous receivers to throw to. Mix in a RB that has a lot of the same qualities as Chris Polk in true sophomore Ka'Deem Carey, and you can see why they are 4th in the nation in total offense at 551 ypg. And they work at a dizzying pace, averaging 90.5 snaps per game on offense.
The Husky pass defense has made major strides this year, led by All-American candidate Desmond Trufant, but they'll need everyone in the secondary to do their part. And the LB corps will be under pressure to keep contain and put pressure on Scott, and to be sure tacklers against Carey and not let him run wild.
That the game is in Tuscon in front of the rowdy 'Zona Zoo and the Wildcats have had a bye week to heal up and prepare for the game doesn't help the Husky cause; their woes on the road under Sark are well-known.
If I'm looking at a worst-case scenario, I'd say that the Dawgs would continue their mystifying early game troubles, turning the ball over and letting momentum quickly get away from them as Arizona's offense hums to perfection while Price and the offense can't get into a consistent rhythm, and the Huskies lose 42-21.
If I'm looking at a best-case scenario, I'd say the Huskies see their fortunes turn around in terms of turnover ratio, they bust a couple of TD returns from their special teams, the offense explodes and gives the Dawgs an early, big lead and the defense can focus on stopping the pass and not worrying about Carey as a runner while letting Josh Shirley pin his ears back and let Mr. Scott get well-acquainted with his own turf as the Huskies win 45-24.
For the record - and maybe I'm sipping some purple Kool-Aid - I see a game closer to the best-case than the worst-case; I think the Dawgs snap out of whatever funk has descended on them in the first half recently, they shake off whatever ails them on the road, they see some fumbles bounce their way, they do get at least 1 special teams TD out of the return game, the offense - with Price enjoying time to throw for just the 2nd time all season - kicks into high gear, and the defense is able to do just enough to slow down the Wildcat offense as the Huskies take an early lead and hang on to win 37-30.