Remember last year when Arizona came to Montlake on Halloween and made fools out of Washington?
Yeah, me neither. But, like Mariners fans such as myself will tell you, there’s always next year.
And how quickly “next year” arrived for Arizona, who I can only imagine are more than eager to avenge last year’s butt-whooping at the hands (paws?) of the Huskies. Whether or not they can do that likely depends on the ability of their defense to step up against a surprisingly effective pass game and a run game that is trying to return to last year’s status.
In the linebackers, Arizona is spending their first full season without Two-Star Scoob, which in hindsight seems like such a waste since he isn’t on an active roster. Just yesterday, Cleveland waived the 2014 Pac-12 DPOY and their seventh-round draft pick.
On the plus side, his injury last season meant Arizona did have a lot of practice playing without him, plus they return Cody Ippolito who also missed 2015 with an injury. Just now I’m starting to realize how much injuries screwed the Wildcats over last season. Besides the natural process of de-rustifying (totally a word) after missing a year of football, Ippolito should provide some much-needed game experience and leadership.
Other than that, LB Deandre Miller is turning out to be a relative threat in the pass rush, bringing much-needed help to an undersized defensive line.
The secondary has hit a patch of bad injury luck. Safety Tellas Jones tweaked his ankle against BYU (though could return this weekend) and CB Dane Cruikshank left in the middle of the Hawaii game with an injury. In light of that, freshmen Isaiah Hayes and Tristan Cooper must compete against Ross, Pettis, McClatcher, etc. The lack of experience in the backfield has them in a similar position to UW’s secondary two years ago, and although that could pay off in a year or two it’s hard to imagine they’ll thrive right now.
Also of note is that their new defensive coordinator (replacing Jeff Casteel) is former Boise State coordinator Marcel Yates, who was an assistant at BSU under Coach Pete from 2003 to 2011.
While Casteel ran an ultra-conservative 3-3-5 in which the havoc rate was less than 10%, Yates’ Boise State defense was 4th in the nation in havoc rating and I’m sure he’d like to see Arizona’s defense get to that level. In order to achieve that he’s bringing flashes of BSU’s 4-2-5, but their new defensive strategy has been described as not one scheme or front, but frequent changes to what opposing offenses see. In one BYU highlight video, I saw two 3-man rushes, six 4-man rushes, two 5-man rushes, and two 6-man rushes, many of which came from various fronts. Talk about changeups galore. The only thing I didn’t see was the Engage Eight play my roommate and I use to piss each other off during Madden games.
We all know the Huskies have one particular streak of bad luck in Arizona. Ugh.
If I were particularly superstitious this would kill me, so I hope nobody has reminded the players of this.
Everything else looks like it plays into the Huskies’ favor; even with last year’s pass-focused base defense, Arizona was bad on defense—especially at limiting explosive plays. Now that they run a more balanced and unpredictable scheme, we can reasonably expect to see Everybody’s Favorite Bolt-Action Rifle under more pressure than he saw last year. Luckily for Washington, Browning’s deceivingly adept mobility and ability to keep his eyes downfield and throw outside of the pocket should keep this issue from becoming awful, so long as the offensive line doesn’t completely collapse. Changing to a more aggressive philosophy could also allow an even more exposed defensive backfield at mid-long ranges for Browning and the receiving corps to exploit.
Regardless of the matchup, it will feel good to see the Dawgs face off against the first Pac-12 defense of the year.
Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.
Edit: The original version of this post said Arizona had an 11-0 record under RichRod at home. This is super false, obviously, if for no other reason than they’ve played more than 11 games at home since he’s been there. Not sure what statistic I meant to put down, but now I forget. Whatever. Bow down!