Arizona picked up a bye last week at exactly the right time. The 'Cats were banged up after their win at OSU, giving them a week of rest and preparation before heading out on the road again. Arizona is 3-1 overall and this is a pivotal game in their schedule; should they beat Washington, the Wildcats are only two wins away from qualifying for a bowl and a likely finish in the Pac 10's upper division.
Mike Stoops has recruited well since arriving at Arizona, but the turning point of his tenure was not overnight. If not for a late comeback against Washington two years ago in Husky Stadium, Stoops likely wouldn't be coaching the Wildcats today. Dating to late in the 2007 season, Arizona has won 14 of 21 games, including 9 of 14 Pac-10 games and 3-2 versus ranked teams during that stretch.
This game laregely hinges on Arizona QB Nick Foles to catch lightning in a bottle again in his second start. He was 25 of 34 for 254 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions against Oregon State. Foles gives the Arizona offense the kind of passer needed to run its spread attack, as he has the arm strength to go deep down the middle, a quick release to set up screens, and the touch to throw fades to the outside.
The Husky defense ranks ninth in the Pac 10 in total yards allowed, but as opposing teams can attest, they tend to bend and not break. A key in the Notre Dame game was limiting the Irish to field goals for much of the game. Washington has played the toughest schedule in the country thus far, so they have a good idea of what is needed to keep the Wildcats under control.
Arizona has a history of struggling against mobile QB's, and Jake Locker is the most mobile QB in the country right now. Sarkisian hasn't unleashed him except when necessary, so it will be interesting to see if he decides to run Jake a bit more. Nonetheless, the Wildcat defense will have to keep a QB spy assigned to him, creating opportunities for Chris Polk.
The strength of Arizona's defense has been a secondary, led by cornerbacks Trevin Wade and Devin Ross. I don't believe there is a better CB tandem in the conference right now. Both are going to test the Washington receivers; should Locker make a mistake, either CB can quickly turn it into a defensive score.
Quarterback - Washington - Jake Locker is the best QB in the conference and Nick Foles has one start under his belt. Nick had a nice debut at OSU, but Husky Stadium is a completely different beast.
Running Back - Even - Chris Polk has been solid for Washington all season and Homer is one of the better blocking backs in the country. Even with Nic Grigsby not at 100%, his replacement Keola Antolin is a very solid running back. Chris Gronkowski and Paul homer are virtually even at FB.
Wide Receivers - Washington - This one is close; Zona's Terrell Turner is one of the best receivers in the conference, while UW has the overall edge in depth. UA--like UW--prefers to distribute the ball around the field.
Tight End - Washington - The loss of Rob Gronkowski is a big problem for Arizona. Kavario Middleton bounced back with some key catches in South Bend. Chris Gronkowski moves over from FB to block at times. UW gets the slight edge because Middleton is the superior receiver.
Offensive Line - Arizona - It is closer than it looks on paper, as Washington has over-achieved this season, even if that over achievement hasn't been enough to satisfy all Husky fans. The Huskies will give Jake enough time to work his magic and Chris Polk will get his usual yards. Arizona isn't huge up front, but like Stanford, they are very quick and get the job done. The key, however, will be if UW can get enough pressure to keep Nick Foles from picking them apart.
Defensive Line - Arizona - The Washington defensive line has not had a good game since USC. Arizona, on the other hand, did a very nice job against one of the best running backs in the country two weeks ago. Containing Jacquizz Rodger's was a big key in that win. Tackling has been a problem for both teams. Chris Polk has no problem breaking tackles and the same can be said for the Arizona backs.
Linebacker - Washington - Washington has matched up and played well against every team on the schedule with this experienced unit. They will be tested this week since the Wildcats will throw the ball quite a bit in their area. Senior Arizona MLB Vuna Tuihalamaka is tied for the team high with 31 tackles, and has been an active force sideline to sideline this season.
Secondary - Arizona - The Wildcats have two of the best CB's in the conference starting on Saturday. Washington may have to replace two of their starting safeties because of injuries. I think Nate will be able to go but whoever lines up with him better have his game face on. Quinton Richardson had an off game last week while Desmond Trufant continues to get better every game. UW is taking a long look at Adam Long this week and expect him to see action on Saturday.
Special Teams - Even - Washington hasn't lost any games this season because of special teams which is a good thing. The only time they lost this sector of the game was against Stanford. Going in I don't think either team has a clear edge.
Game Match ups
Washington running game versus the Arizona defense
Ted Miller of ESPN insists that the Wildcats have a tougher defense than Notre Dame. Is it tougher than LSU, Stanford and USC too? I don't think it is. Washington, led by Chris Polk, has proven they can pick up yards against any defense. The key to Polk's game is yards after contact, while he also has the speed to break the big one when given the opportunity.
Jake Locker had a career day two years ago against this team. You would think Sark would unleash him a bit on Saturday because it is a conference game and Arizona has a big problem with mobile QB's. I look for Jake to run more in this one.
Arizona has been prone to miss tackles lately and you can't bring down a Polk or a Locker with an arm tackle. Arizona needs to improve their tackling or Washington just might control the ball a lot longer than they would like.
Washington Passing Game versus the Arizona defense
Jake plays extremely well in front of the home crowd. He really feeds on the atmosphere at Husky Stadium. He will be challenged more by the opposing secondary this week. The Arizona corners can turn mistakes into defensive TD's so he has to avoid the trap he fell into at Stanford.
The Notre Dame loss was tough on Jake and he hasn't forgotten how his team lost after building up to what looked to be an insurmountable lead two years ago against this same team. This one is really for all the marbles and the players know that. Lose this one and having to win the next four out of six to go .500 is a real tough task.
Jake needs to make sure he makes all his reads this week. He is facing some DB's who can go and get the ball. The Washington receivers on the other hand need to eliminate the drops that have been plauging them. We counted at least six or seven against ND.
Arizona rushing game versus the Washington defense
Arizona ranks first in the Pac-10 in rushing with 223.2 yards. It's hard to believe they are ahead of Stanford in this category isn't it?
When Nic Grigsby is healthy, he is among the best backs in the Pac 10. He must be wrapped up or he is going to break out for some serious yards and hurt you. The one thing that is in Washington's advantage going into this one is that Nic isn't at 100%. He has a severely bruised shoulder which will limit his effectiveness on Saturday. Washington needs to lay some hard licks on him and make him wince every time he touches the ball.
Keola Antolin will be the guy to keep an eye on if Grigsby can't go. Funny enough, we haven't seen a lot of fall off when Antolin is subbing for Grigsby. UW will have its hands full no matter who ends up starting or playing the most.
The Arizona offense had a tough time earlier this season until they achieved balance by passing the ball. That balance takes away the opportunity to concentrate on the running game and stuff it. UA has a good line but it will be nothing like they faced against Stanford. Think more quick ang agile rather than monsterous.
As usual the linebackers are going to need to come up, fill, and make key stops.
Arizona passing game versus the Washington Defense
The Arizona SBN blogger asked me if Nick Foles scared Washington? After the gauntlet of talent we have faced in the first five games of the season I would have to say that answer is no. We just faced an NFL talent in Jimmy Clausen. Nick Foles is a good looking kid but he doesn't compare to Jimmy.
The key for Washington is crowd noise and defensive pressure. We need to keep Foles inside the pocket. Our defensive ends have to contain better. Clausen had six or seven seconds to pass sometimes last Saturday. That puts way too much stress on your secondary.
The Huskies have seen plenty of spread in the past. They practiced against it all last season. I don't think we are going to see anything that really surprises us. We just need to apply pressure, get to the ball, and make more tackles.
Crowd noise. I expect a little over 60,000 fans to be in the stands on Saturday. That isn't a full house but it still can create enough noise to disrupt a young QB. We had about the same amount for USC and it was very loud in the stadium.
Washington held Notre Dame to field goals on five drives inside the 22-yard-line. Arizona has had problems with Rob Gronkowski out converting opportunities in the red zone and on theird down.
UW needs to convert better in the red zone. UW would likely have beaten Notre Dame had it been able to score TDs on either of two drives to the 1-yard-line in the second half. Expect Washington to take a closer look at its short yardage offense in preparation for Arizona.
The one intangible that doesn't change each week is turnovers. UW needs to have a plus turn over ratio to win this game. They should be able to do that at home.
Sophomore CB Trevin Wade has four interceptions this season, and eight for his career. He has all kinds of natural instincts and could be the next great UA cornerback.
Jake had one of the best games of his career against UA in 2007 when he threw for 336 yards and ran for 157. That made Jake the 19th player in NCAA history to have a 300-100 game.
UW RB Chris Polk's 106 carries are the eighth most in the nation.
S Nate Williams and WR D'Andre Goodwin are listed as doubtful for Staurday due to concussions.
S Justin Glenn is out for the season with a broken leg.
LB EJ Savannah and WR Devin Aguilar return to the lineup this week after sitting out against Notre Dame.
Through four games, Arizona ranks in the Top 20 nationally in both rushing offense and rushing defense. The Cats are rushing for 223 yards per game, while limiting opposing teams to just 94.5 markers per game.
The teams Washington has played so far this season are 21-4 on the season the rest are 19-13....Wow!
The Wildcats throttled the Huskies 48-7 in Tucson last season. Jake Locker and Chris Polk did not play in that game. Washington leads the overall series 16-8-1.