Arizona comes in into Husky Stadium with a very good QB and RB combination between Grant Gunnell and Gary Brightwell. Their defense is...*checks Gabey’s article*... improved from last year, but nothing the Huskies shouldn’t be able to handle. In particular they’ve really improved the interior of the defensive line with two grad transfers, from New Mexico and New Mexico State of all places. However, this is still an offense first team lead by their talented sophomore signal caller.
Arizona will probably test the Washington defense early by running Brightwell between the tackles and hitting lots of short and intermediate throws into the flats, and bubble screens. Husky DBs should match up against any WRs the Wildcats throw out there, but the linebackers need to step up to stop the run. Brightwell is a physical and violent runner who could soften up the defense to allow Gunnell to uncork a deep shot.
Offensively, I think Husky fans, myself included, are hoping for a more exciting and explosive offensive performance in week 2. Arizona lost a ton of linebackers to transfer in the off season but by all accounts the replacements played admirably last week against USC. I’m sure the coaches will try to attack the linebackers with intermediate throws to Terrell Bynum and Puka Nacua, while trying to hit Rome Odunze and Ty Jones deep from time to time. Or they could just run the ball all game like they did last week and escape with a narrow victory. At this point, I can’t say I have confidence we’ll see RPOs and aggressive downfield passing after what I saw last week.
If Oregon State is on the lower end of the talent spectrum in the Pac-12, Arizona is right there with them. There’s no reason the Huskies shouldn’t be able to run or throw them out of the stadium but I worry about the conservative approach we saw last week. And unlike Oregon State, Arizona appears to have a more potent passing attack, though I like the match up of guys like Asa Turner and Elijah Molden going up against short routes and screens - they are physical players who could blow up those plays routinely. Even with my doubts, I think we’ll see an improvement from week 1 to week 2, and I just don’t trust this Arizona defense which gave up 500 yards to USC enough to stop the run against a Husky team that will try to establish it early. Special Teams will still be a problem and keep Arizona in the game, but the Huskies get the win.
Washington- 31, Arizona- 24
Based on last week alone, it’s hard to figure why UW is favored by double digits against any Pac-12 team or why Arizona would get double digits against any Pac-12 team. Nonetheless, there are reasons to think that myopic view doesn’t tell us everything we need to know about the teams.
This week’s All We Hear Is Purple podcast recording was eaten by an internet monster, so the world missed out on Gabey and my dive into the myriad factors that resulted in the Dawgs’ lackluster offensive approach. Among the contributing variables: horrible weather at game time, an OSU defense that looked vulnerable against power runs, a conservative gameplan to protect a QB making his first start, and a desire to kill the clock and protect a late lead in the coaching staff’s first game. Make no mistake- it was too conservative. For UW to come anywhere close to its potential, Dylan Morris has to be more active and UW’s playmakers at WR have to be better and more involved.
Is it possible that the context cocktail missed the point and John Donovan really wants to run out of the I-formation 50 times per game? Yes, it’s possible. I believe the more likely explanation involves these factors and they will loosen the reigns against an Arizona team that is less vulnerable against interior runs, in weather that’s projected to be much better, and in game that isn’t the very first one for coaches and the QB.
In terms of the actual matchup, the USC game tells us little about what to expect from Arizona. They played lots of zone against USC’s air raid and the Trojans threw lots of quick passes. I suspect Washington will use more quick-hitting passes, but it won’t be the bread and butter of the offense. Still, if Morris finishes with under 200 passing yards again, it won’t be a good sign for this week or the season at large.
Defensively, the challenge will be stopping Gary Brightwell. Arizona’s lead back shared time with J.J. Taylor last season, but showed last week that he has the power, durability, and elusiveness to handle the bell-cow responsibilities. UW needs to be better up front with its tackles holding blocks, and at the second level with linebackers filling the right holes. The coaches can help by bringing a safety into the box, and given the immense talent in the secondary, the corners can probably do with a little less help. Grant Gunnell is a balanced, talented quarterback and Arizona has good weapons at wide receiver, but they did not protect him very well last week and UW can cause similar problems if ZTF repeats his breakout performance.
Altogether, I think the accumulation of strange factors led to UW playing too conservatively in week one. With that test out of the way, the coaches will have to loosen up a bit because the Dawgs are the more talented team in this matchup and need to have the freedom to show it.
Washington- 30, Arizona- 20
This game is interesting because, while both these teams are stable, we really don’t know that much about them. Grant Gunnell and Gary Brightwell at quarterback and running back for Arizona have experience but are new “The” guys, while Arizona’s defense lost a crapload of transfers but seemingly has improved with depth as a key weakness, and UW has a new coach and quarterback and seems to be revealing their identity bit by bit.
For Arizona I feel like Gary Brightwell will determine their offensive success — but more importantly, Kevin Sumlin and OC Noel Mazzone’s willingness to lean on him. Even though watching UW’s defense that should be obvious, I’m not sure it’s a given; Grant Gunnell is a tempting talent (and could likely turn into a coveted NFL prospect) and Sumlin is, after all, the guy who brought us such hits as Texas A&M blowing the biggest lead in CFB history to Rosen-led UCLA because he was too stubborn to — wait for it — run the ball when doing so would’ve made it mathematically impossible for UCLA to come back. That discipline seems crucial to me. Otherwise, it’ll be interesting to see if ZTF can keep up his work against the Wildcats; Gunnell is really fun to watch with his pocket mobility and awareness, but he did get sacked a few times against USC.
For the Dawgs on offense I think Arizona’s depth (or lack thereof) is key. Their defense appears to be genuinely quite improved and is more balanced than OSU’s, but there’s a significant dropoff from the ones to twos. Because of that I wouldn’t be shocked if Lake and Donovan did run a lot just to tire them out, but I’d hope they do more balanced running philosophies — some running it out of heavy, tight, 21 and 22 personnel like last Saturday, but equal or more amounts of running it out of more spread out passing formations, especially if they get some pulling guard action in. If you wanna get people worn down, it’s not a bad call to bash them in jumbo sets and then force them to sprint back and forth all the while getting mauled by Ulumoo Ale. Otherwise it’ll be interesting to see how UW’s receivers can take advantage of the size advantage at CB and depth issues at safety. Arizona’s corners are quite good relative to their defense, but they’re both 5’11” and it’s worth seeing if Ty’s height and Puka and Rome’s physicality can beat them up a bit.
If UW can get up early and force the Cats to throw, Arizona might be screwed. That’d further screw up Arizona because then their defense would have to get back on the field quickly, making them even more screwed, making their offense have to pass even more, etc. Talk about a cycle. BUT that’s a huge if.
It feels like the longer the game goes on, the greater advantage UW has. But if they shoot themselves in the foot like last week, Arizona has a good enough offense and improved defense where that could turn into a stressful game. I could see the score varying wildly, but let’s go with:
Washington- 34, Arizona- 24
Anything can happen in 2020 but I will say the one thing I feel fairly certain about is that the Huskies aren’t going to put up 38 points in a half against Arizona for the second straight year. The Wildcats will be short their leading passer, rusher, and receiver from that game a season ago while the Huskies also have a new QB, a new leader in carries, and new leader in receptions.
The caveats had to be made for the Huskies because Sean McGrew (13 carries, 106 yards) and Puka Nacua (3 catches, 94 yards) each had breakout games against Arizona last year. McGrew looked phenomenal in limited time against Oregon State and the combined success of last week and last year versus Arizona should hopefully mean we’ll see a lot more of him tomorrow. I’m sure there will be plenty of action on the ground but with clear weather projected a start under his belt I think (pray?) that we see Washington attack through the air a little more. Arizona is particularly weak at the safety spot so trusting Washington’s athletes on the deep ball could be a productive strategy.
There are certainly weapons for Arizona and the troika of Gunnell, Brightwell, and Joiner will put up a good number of points this year. Brightwell in particular was very impressive against USC and it would not be shocking in the slightest to see him have as much success on the ground as Jermar Jefferson did for Oregon State. However, Arizona played a tight end on fewer than half their snaps last week so they’re much less likely to exploit UW’s base nickel defense.
Special teams ended up being the biggest reason that the OSU game was close. The botched snap was 7 free points, the missed chip shot field goal was 3 points, and poor kick coverage gave OSU great field position twice (1 of which led to a touchdown). Let’s say Washington plays just an average game in that regard: no botched snaps, all makes inside of 30 yards, touchbacks on kickoffs. The Huskies win by at least 13 and we’re feeling a lot better about this game. I think given the improved weather that’s more likely to happen than another disaster which means we see a UW team living up to its defensive potential.
Washington- 27, Arizona- 13
Straight Up: Washington- 4, Arizona- 0
Against the Spread (-11.5): Washington- 1, Arizona- 3
Average Score: Washington- 30.5, Arizona- 20.3