Let’s get one misconception out of the way first: Arizona’s defense actually isn’t total ass. Looking just at score totals, you’ll miss that many, _many_ times this season, their offense has given up a pick six, or turned over deep in their own territory, or has punted a punt that was returned for a touchdown. Plus they’ve liberally turned it over in their own territory. In fact, despite their offense doing them no favors, the actual Arizona defense hasn’t given up more than 34 points this season; 14 of Colorado’s points were from a punt return TD and pick six, Oregon with a pick six, SDSU with a pick six... BYU on the other hand actually scored all their 24 points against the defense, albeit because Arizona’s offense couldn’t stop punting and missing field goals. The Wildcats’ defense itself is only giving up on average ~28 points per game against the FBS, despite being often put in pretty crappy positions.
Their offense, on the other hand.... hoo boy. (Part of this is because they’re down to their, like, 13th string quarterback, but no matter who they’ve had under center, the Wildcats haven’t even hit the 20 point mark all year. Yikes.)
That feels so bizarre to type since Arizona’s identity for what — a decade? — has been having high-flying offense and mediocre-at-best-defense, Scooby Wright notwithstanding. In fact, watching this team it looks like they have the foundation and beyond for a pretty _good_ defense in the future, which in itself is the foundation of a competent football team. It’ll take a lot of work, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Arizona football actually gets good in a few years.
All this to say, this will probably end up lower-scoring than most of us were expecting off the top. Furthermore, Arizona’s pass defense is actually relatively good, so this is certainly an opportunity to get some runnin’ of the damn ball in — although it would be dumb to do the 22 personnel bullcrap we’ve become accustomed to all season; Oregon in particular had lots of success with pulling linemen (both traps and power runs) combined with manipulating the Wildcats’ formations with trips out wide. It’s not like Washington specifically has to use trips or anything, but spreading their back seven out wider than normal and then using their linebackers’ and safeties’ positioning against them seems, uh... smarter than _not_ doing that, especially when you can run them into a pulling guard or tight end who beats the crap out of them in space.
For this to feel like a really successful outing I think Washington’s defense needs to actually generate some turnovers, and there’s little excuse not to do so. Arizona just has not protected the ball very well and Washington has the worst turnover differential in the North. This offense is real not good, and I’ll be disappointed if the Huskies defense doesn’t take advantage of that.
Washington- 34, Arizona- 17
Coming into the year, I expected Arizona’s 2021 to look a little like UW’s 2009. The previous season was such a catastrophic combination of bad coaching, bad play, and bad luck, that the program was unlikely to replicate such depths of performance. So far, Jedd Fisch’s first season at the helm for UA has somehow been just as bad as Kevin Sumlin’s final one. Arizona has had bad luck (they’re down to their third-string QB and a couple of walk-ons) and has played badly, too. I don’t think it changes the program’s long-term outlook much. Fisch will be selling the future to recruits, and there’s plenty of early playing time to go around.
The Husky defense has had enormous trouble getting opposing offenses off the field. The strategy of limiting big plays and forcing opponents to stay ahead of the chains for long drives has backfired; opposing offenses have too often strung together 10+ play TD drives and kept the Husky offense off the field for key stretches. Arizona’s run offense has shown no proclivity to dominate the way Michigan, Oregon State, and UCLA have against the Dawgs. In fact, they run and pass at an efficiency that’s well below-average, made worse by the fact that they don’t take care of the ball.
We have heard whispers that changes are coming for the Washington offense. It’s unclear whether those changes have to do with the play-calling, the play-caller, or the personnel. Assuming the offense looks something like what we have seen to date, I would expect the Dawgs to score in the mid-30s against a poor Wildcat defense. Arizona hasn’t done well against the run or the pass. UW has had more success in the air. Dylan Morris has been erratic under pressure, but decent with time to throw. He should have a somewhat clean pocket on Friday. With a healthy group of pass-catchers, I’d like to see more of the mentality of spreading the ball to multiple play-makers that got traction early against UCLA. A three-score spread for this UW team makes me queasy, but the Dawgs should be able to win comfortably.
Washington- 34, Arizona- 17
I’ll forgive Washington fans for having bad memories of Tucson. In 2008, 2010, and 2012 the Huskies lost by 34, 30, and 35 points respectively on the road at Arizona. In 2016 Washington made the playoff and Arizona was just 3-9 and yet it took overtime and some Lavon Coleman heroics for the Dawgs to escape with a win. That said, this Arizona team is far worse than any of those.
Arizona is ranked 112th in SP+ as of this week (Arkansas State is 124th). They played the 2nd worst team in the conference (95th ranked Colorado) and lost 34-0 last Saturday. They’re starting their 3rd string QB who for his career as thrown 3x as many INTs as TDs and is averaging barely over 5 yards per attempt. Neither of their primary 2 running backs are managing even 4 yards per carry. Every opponent has scored at least 21 points against them (including FCS Northern Arizona at home) and Arizona has yet to score 20 points in a game. Regardless of how Washington is playing, how should this game be remotely close? And yet...
Despite the final scores it doesn’t feel like the Wildcats have completely given up on the season as the halftime deficits they’ve faced in their last 3 games have been -1, -14, and -6 despite final margins of -22, -18, and -34. Given how Washington’s offense has looked this year I don’t think it’s at all a stretch to see this being a one score game heading into the break. If the Huskies are able to get up by 14 points at any point in this game though then there’s just no way Arizona has a passing attack that can move the ball on UW’s defense. I think UW pulls away in the 2nd half before giving up a garbage time touchdown late.
Could Washington lose this game? Yes. Are they more likely to win by 28+ than they are to lose though? Also yes. And given that they have @Stanford, Oregon, Arizona State as the next 3 games after this Washington desperately needs a feel good victory in this one.
Washington- 27, Arizona- 13
THE FINAL TALLY
Straight Up: Washington- 3, Arizona- 0
Against the Spread (UW -17.5): Washington- 0, Arizona- 3
Average Score: Washington- 32.3, Arizona- 15.7