Andrew Berg (4-0 SU, 1-3 ATS)
The major blemish on UW’s excellent 2022 season was the 45-38 loss in Tempe to Arizona State. The Sun Devils were a mess and didn’t seem like they would be much of a challenge, but mistakes like a Michael Penix pick-six, a turnover on downs inside the 30, and an inability to get stops against a backup QB in the second-half led to the most disappointing result of the year. The errors were the type that seemingly happen every time the Dawgs travel to the desert. I try to look for logical explanations for mystical occurrences in sports, but the Arizona road trips definitely feel like some sort of voodoo.
On the other hand, Jimmy Lake, of all coaches, had one of his best head coaching moments in a road win against Arizona. It can be done, even by lesser coaches and rosters than this one. Also, the major failing at ASU last year was the defense’s inability to get a sub-par offense off the field. This year’s version has already proven to be better at making big plays, matching last season’s seven interceptions through only four games. With backup QB Noah Fifita likely playing for Jayden de Laura, the WR combo of Tetairoa McMillan and Jacob Cowing becomes a little less frightening. The resurgence of Eddie Ulofoshio and the linebacking corps also promises to make the run game more difficult for the Cats.
Of course, that all buries the lede. The 2023 Dawgs are in a different class than the teams who lost so many weird games in the desert because the offense is just that much more dangerous. Arizona’s defense has been effective against lesser competition, but UW will be multiple steps ahead of the best offense they have faced this year. I don’t see a persuasive reason to think that Arizona will have significantly better success at containing the three-headed monster of Odunze, McMillan, and Polk, nor will they be the first team to consistently make Penix uncomfortable in the pocket. Even if things go badly and the desert voodoo makes an appearance, I think there is enough margin for error for this team to survive.
Washington- 45, Arizona- 24
Mark Schafer (4-0 SU, 2-2 ATS)
The Dawgs are heading down to the deserts of Tucson to take on the Arizona Wildcats this week! Last year’s clash was a kind of shootout, with the Dawgs taking that one 49-39 in Seattle. This year, I can almost hear a collective groan among the Husky fans who are (rightly in my opinion) concerned about having to travel to Arizona. But the good news is this is Tucson we’re going to and not Tempe. And to make matters better, the Wildcats’ offense has stumbled out of the gate, with Jayden De Laura struggling. However, he may not play, and instead Noah Fifita may go, lending possible credence to the fears of some Husky fans, but allow me to potentially soothe those concerns.
This Arizona team has started really slow on offense, as I said, with De Laura throwing 1,069 yards with 9 touchdowns, 5 picks and getting sacked 9 times. Fifita is 8-8 this season, but that’s in limited action. As a team, the Wildcats are averaging 27 points per contest, which might be good for Iowa, but not for the PAC 12!
The defense is improved over last year, but this is also a team that won by 1 point against Stanford, who look to be one of the worst teams in the conference this year. Like Cal, this is a team that will try to keep a lid on the vertical passing game that has become a hallmark for this Husky team. I think we have too much talent to be contained for very long, and defensively, with an improved unit, we should be able to force a few mistakes along the way, and the Huskies will simply outgun the Wildcats behind the left arm of Michael Penix Jr.
Washington- 52, Arizona- 35
Gabey Lucas (3-0 SU, 0-3 ATS)
On one hand, Arizona’s only one OT against Mississippi State away from being undefeated. On the other, they’re one point against Stanford away from being a .500 team. Ah, the joys of the early season.
I ~do~ think though, that it’s pretty rough to imagine Arizona — with Noah Fifita having an average depth of target of 2 yards per — keeping up offensively. At the same time, while Cal’s defense is better than Arizona’s, Arizona’s offense and special teams are competent enough where they’re not likely to gift UW 14 points before Michael Penix even touches the ball.
Point being — and I ~would~ watch more film and do a better (any?) analysis but I have way too much work to do and not enough financial flexibility to just say “screw that” and prioritize this — my gut is that the Dawgs will score roughly around what they did last week but give up a decent amount more. Although the more that I think about it, the more I could see them actually being more offensively prolific (minus that 14 points from D/ST) simply because they’ll likely have to keep their foot on the gas for a bit longer this time depending on how Fifita fares.
Washington- 52, Arizona- 34
Max Vrooman (4-0 SU, 2-2 ATS)
In my mailbag this week I looked a little harder into the idea of the desert curse and found that over the last several decades, UW’s point spread against Arizona at home has been 12 points better than on the road. I don’t believe in curses but the Wildcats have a winning record against top-10 opponents in Tucson since 2005 and the Dawgs almost stubbed their toe here back in the CFP season in 2016 (escaping in overtime). This is the ultimate trap game with a bye and then the showdown with Oregon coming up next.
That said, the matchup on the field appears to be quite favorable. We likely won’t know until just before kickoff but it seems unlikely that starting QB Jayden de Laura plays after spraining his ankle last week. One of de Laura’s strengths as an undersized passer is his ability to move in the pocket and avoid pass rushers while holding the ball until someone gets open downfield in a scramble drill. If that mobility is compromised, it makes him a much less effective player. In his career de Laura has been excellent against the Huskies but so far this year has regressed and let his turnover-prone tendencies take over.
That means we might see redshirt freshman QB Noah Fifita in his first career start. So far this year he is 8/8 for 69 yards but has an average depth of target of 2.0. The Wildcats love to throw the ball to their running backs and to receiver Jacob Cowing behind the line of scrimmage then go deep to their one major threat, Tetaroia McMillan. Arizona hasn’t scored in the first quarter of their last 3 games and getting down early to the Huskies is a death sentence.
The defense is improved for Arizona this season despite several defections to USC in the transfer portal. They’re 6th in the country in EPA per Rush on defense but of course Washington will be happy to throw the ball every down if necessary. Although Arizona played a road game against Mississippi State and otherwise have played an FCS team plus two offenses ranked 98th or worse in SP+.
I can’t realistically imagine a game where the Washington offense is held below 35 points (and probably 45 points) even given the troubles in the desert. Maybe Noah Fifita is a revelation and tears up Washington’s defense but I don’t see how they keep up. I won’t be surprised if there’s a backdoor cover similar to how the Cal game went but the Huskies get an early lead and are able to continually pull away.
Washington- 48, Arizona- 27
THE FINAL TALLY
Straight Up: Washington- 4, Arizona- 0
Against the Spread (UW -20): Washington- 2, Arizona- 2
Average Score: Washington- 49.3, Arizona- 30.0