For the second time in two years, Steve Sarkisian faces a game with the Arizona Wildcats that will severely alter the trajectory of his football team and the toastiness of his Herman-Miller Aeron chair.
Rewind to last season. Sark's Huskies had just run a ridiculous gauntlet of five games that included road trips to #3 LSU and #2 Oregon as well as "home" games against #8 Stanford and #11 USC. While they had managed to steal a win against the Tree, the Huskies had presented very little resistance to the murderer's staked out on their row. Although many fans were willing to give Sark a break given the level of competition, just about everybody expected a competitive game in Tuscon, if not an outright UW victory. After all, this was the beginning of the "easy" part of their schedule and Sark had promised that his team was going to take the next step.
It turns out that the next step was right off a desert cliff.
The Wildcats shocked the Huskies with the suddenness of their offense and Matt Scott's relentless attack deep down field. That air attack kept the Huskies with a man less in the box which Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey exploited with a ruthlessness that would make Caligula blush. When the Huskies did have the ball, their lack of synchronization made the Arizona D - the "worst-in-the-conference" Arizona D - look like the second coming of the '85 Chicago Bears.
The numbers were staggering:
...Scott averaged 12 yards an attempt (what?) and passed for 4 TDs
...Carey carried the ball 29 times at nearly 6 yards a carry
...Three Arizona receivers caught TD passes of 27, 33, and 55 yards
...Arizona scored 52 points on just 71 plays (UW ran 81)
...Arizona's 533 yards was the second most ever gained on a Sark D
It was an onslaught that not even the Wildcats fans were expecting. It left Sark stunned and Husky fans frothing. If they were inclined to give Sark a pass on the 3-3 record coming in to it, the dismantling that left them at 3-4 was the last shoe to drop before the dreaded term "hot seat" would become associated with Steve Sarkisian.
The Huskies never really came back from that stunner. Sure, they got past a severely over ranked Oregon State team and reeled off three wins against bottom dwellers. But they Coug'd it in the Apple Cup and gave away an epic day by Bishop Sankey in the Vegas Bowl before leaving Sark with a parting gift: the moniker "Seven Win Steve"
Ol' Seven-Win opens up this years Pac 12 slate with a whole new team under whole new circumstances. This Huskies club is ranked 3rd in the NCAA in total offense - #9 in rushing offense, #17 in passing offense and #3 in third down conversions. Those are Oregon numbers. Actually, better than Oregon numbers. Bishop Sankey is the #2 rusher in the nation. Price is the #3 passer (passing efficiency). The no huddle offense is new. Everything is new.
What isn't new is the scenario. Just like last year, we enter our Arizona game not exactly sure what kind of team we have based on the circumstances of the schedule to date. Just like last year, we are not exactly sure how good our opponent is at QB or on Defense. Just like last year, we stand on a precipice: win big and the Stanford / Oregon gauntlet looks like an enormous opportunity to put UW football back on the map in a meaningful "Top 5" sort of way. Lose and the prospect of 3-3 - just like last year - looms large. Get crushed and, well, hello Hot Seat.
The history of the Huskies versus Wildcats is relatively unremarkable. The schools have faced off just 29 times with the Huskies winning 18 times (and one tie). While there have been some amazing feats - including the Leap by the Lake, the Immaculate Interception, Isaiah Stanback's Hail Mary and Chris Polk's 149 yds rushing/100 yds receiving/5 TD game - there hasn't really been a defining "big game" between these two teams.
The reality here is that Saturday's affair also fails to meet the standard of "big game". There are no titles on the line. BCS positioning is not at risk. The Pac 12 Championship game does not hang in the balance.
Just don't mention that to Sark, because he knows what the stakes are, especially if the Dawgs falter again. And, so do you.