We’ve previewed Arizona’s offensive, defensive and special teams phases, and spoke to our friends at Arizona Desert Swarm. As of this afternoon, Vegas favors the Huskies by 14 points over the Wildcats. Now, it’s time to make our picks.
After feasting on non-conference patsies for the last three weeks, Washington's season kicks off in earnest tomorrow when the Dawgs take on the Arizona Wildcats in a late-night kickoff in Tucson at Arizona Stadium. Suffice it to say that trips to the desert have not been kind to the Washington Huskies in recent history. Tomorrow will mark nearly 10 years to the day since the Huskies last beat Arizona in Tucson, not to mention the program's continued troubles with Arizona State and the dud of a performance that was the 2014 Cactus Bowl.
With regard to the Wildcats specifically, the recent history of Washington's matchups against Arizona is an interesting one. The two teams have traded wins every year since 2008, with the home team going 8-0 in that span. What's more, the wins haven't been particularly close, either. On average, the score of those games shakes out to 41 for the home team, against 19 for the visitors.
I don't see that trend continuing tomorrow. Arizona has offensive weapons that will pose a risk in quarterback Brandon Dawkins, wide receiver Trey Griffey and true freshman running back J.J. Taylor, but I hardly think that the Washington defense will wilt against a team it limited to three points last year whose first-string running back, Nick Wilson, will likely not play. And when Washington controls the ball, I just don't see the athletes on Arizona's defense who will be able to consistently stymie John Ross, Chico McClatcher and Myles Gaskin, the latter of whom should get an opportunity to carry the ball at least 20 times for the first time this season. Washington 38, Arizona 17.
Husky fans have been clamoring for a "real opponent" since the beginning of the season. While it is debatable as to whether or not the Wildcats are, in fact, a better opponent than Rutgers, there is still a sense of intrigue here. Fact 1 is that Arizona, unlike anybody else UW has played, has a fully ingrained identity - at least offensively - the likes of which UW has not yet seen. Fact 2 is that it is has been 10 years since UW won a game in Tucson which gives the impression of a legitimate challenge.
The fact of the matter is that UW should win this game handily. Arizona is a flawed team that is especially weak in the trenches on both sides of the ball. In fact, two of their three starting defensive linemen are smaller (by weight) than UW's receiving TE (Darrell Daniels).
The Wildcats do have more team speed than any other team that UW has faced and that could make this one interesting early on as UW attempts to adjust to the pace. Seeing how UW's receivers adjust to this will be of particular interest to me as I still see that as a bit of a weak link.
Regardless, I think UW's defense is good enough to win this one outright. That our offense seems leaps and bounds better than it was a year ago leads me to believe that we'll see a comfortable win and the liberal rotating in of backups by the fourth quarter. UW 48, Arizona 17.
Arizona's offense looked really good last week and I got kind of worried. Then I reminded myself that it was Hawaii playing a game on the mainland. Brandon Dawkins poses a great threat as a runner, and while not a consistent passer, he is capable of the quick strike. The Huskies must contain Dawkins and not allow him to roam freely. When he does run, he has to pay the price. These are things that the UW defense does really, really well.
Offensively, the Rainbow Warriors had wide open receivers all over the field last Saturday, so this could be another game where Myles Gaskin doesn't post great numbers because the passing game is wide open. If the running game is needed, Gaskin might have to have one of his strong second half performances to help the Dawgs remain balanced.
Arizona and the ZonaZoo will be fired up for this one, and it will be interesting to see how the Huskies handle themselves if they aren't able to jump out to a big first half lead. UW 34, Arizona 24.
Arizona was wrecked last year, so that's some decent motivation in the back of their mind. Unfortunately for them their defense has too many hiccups at the moment while Washington's offense has their rhythm down. They're thin at the linebackers and are being forced to play a bunch of inexperienced guys in the secondary, plus their defensive line is pretty undersized. Against a Washington platoon that's really gelling right now I can't see their defense coming out the victor.
On their offensive side though I anticipate them being the trickiest to defend for UW so far this year. PSU gave Washington some practice dealing with shifty quarterbacks who will hurt you if not contained but Arizona's athleticism is on a different level than Portland State so it will be a good challenge. I fully expect to see some plays where we think a Dawg has Solomon/Dawkins but then he escapes and pick up more yards than we're comfortable with. I'll set the over/under for those scenarios at 5. Place your bets! Final Prediction: Washington 42 - 23 Arizona.
The last time the Huskies won in Tucson, I watched the game feed from the Arizona jumbo tron that was fed back to Hec Ed, as it was the only TV available that evening; needless to say, it was terrible. The Huskies scored three times in the final six minutes of the second quarter for their only points of the game, and held Arizona to -24 yards rushing on the night in a 21-10 win. While I don't believe in the power of streaks, I'm confident that this one is going to end on Saturday, less than a week shy of a full decade.
Arizona is about the definition of a middle-of-the-pack team, but that's still a pretty big increase in the quality of opponent the Huskies have faced this season. Arizona's offense is actually fairly good (30th by S&P+), mostly because it's capable of generating big plays. But the defense has been truly dreadful (99th by S&P+), especially against the pass.
The Huskies will be able to score enough points to win. The ability of the defense to shut down a running quarterback and limit big plays will be the difference between a blowout and a merely "comfortable" win. I think the Huskies take it to the 'Cats pretty good, and come home with a 38-20 win.
Something caught my eye when taking a look at Arizona's defense this season. Like their neighbors in Tempe, the Wildcats have been blitzing A LOT. To be more precise, on nearly 40% of their snaps, they are bringing an extra rusher. Not quite the 60%+ of Arizona State, but they like to bring the heat. Washington's offensive line so far has been a slight let down, but have performed pretty well in pass protection. Plus, Jake Browning has shown this season he can beat a blitz, completing 14/15 passes when under pressure. And despite last season's Arizona State 2nd-half face plant, I like how this offense reacts to aggressive, blitzing defenses: they beat you deep with John Ross and Chico McClatcher. There's a lot of speedy play makers on offense that can take advantage of an aggressive defense.
Arizona could also be missing star running back Nick Wilson who hurt his ankle last week. Plus, starting DL Parker Zellers, and the team's best pass rusher, LB D'Andre Miller have been ruled out for the game. What scares me about this game is the atmosphere and "Zona Curse". The Huskies have not played well in the desert in 10+ years, and most of the time have simply not even gotten off the bus. Arizona also seems to have a 1-2 big upsets in them a year, and as I've said so many times on this blog, I can never count out a Rich Rod coached offense. There's always a chance he could get it rolling, and with the up-tempo pace and misdirection, blow anybody out.
But this year feels different (pretty sure I said that last year). There's a focus, discipline, and intensity to this team I just haven't seen since I've been a fan (only 8 short years). The Husky defense is just too good, and Arizona's defense is small, and banged up. Washington 31, Arizona 13.