TUCSON, Ariz. – Time for desperation in the desert.
Washington travels to Arizona to face the equally anxious Arizona Wildcats at 7 p.m. today in an attempt to kick start the second half of the season.
This is Washington’s third game on the road this season. It’s the first time the opponent has not been ranked No. 2 in the country, the way LSU and Oregon were. The Huskies had numerous issues in those games. A glaring one was the start to each.
Against LSU, the Huskies recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff but on the ensuing drive they dropped two passes and had to kick a field goal. It was their only points in a 41-3 drubbing in sweltering Baton Rouge, La.
At Oregon, Shaq Thompson picked off Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota on the opening drive. Washington failed to score, muffed a punt after stopping Oregon on its next series, and was steamrolled from there, 52-21.
In addition, the Huskies spent last week’s game trying to emerge from a hole against USC. They were unable to, leaving them at 3-3 as the second half of the season and a pursuit of a third consecutive bowl game begins.
To begin the trek, Washington faces Arizona’s speedy offense in a place where it hasn’t won since 2006.
New Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez is lauded for his offensive machinations. When Rodriguez was in charge at Michigan and West Virginia, his version of the spread offense averaged 30.5 points a game. In his first season at Arizona (3-3 overall, 0-3 Pacific-12 Conference), the Wildcats are averaging 37 points.
So, call them Oregon Light. The Wildcats will run a brisk no-huddle emulating the Ducks’ crazed offense. It’s just not quite as fast and does not have as many weapons.
Oregon can leverage opponents with the frequency of snaps plus multiple fleet-footed options from De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barber to quarterback Mariota. When defenses begin to cheat against all those runs, the Ducks go to receiver Josh Huff on the outside or tight end Colt Lyerla, whom Washington could not contain, to make them pay.
Arizona relies on a single, capable back, Ka’Deem Carey, to run routes out of the backfield and get the bulk of the carries. He is a skilled runner (averaging 5.3 yards a carry) and also a danger out of the backfield on screens or wheel routes. Coming into this week, Carey led the Pac-12 in touchdowns by a running back.
Coupled with him is quarterback Matt Scott, who entered the week leading the conference in total offense. Rodriguez inherited a weapon when he took over at Arizona in Scott, who has a quick release, decent arm strength and running ability. Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said Scott’s not as fast as Mariota – who ran seven times for 40 yards against the Huskies – but is a more than capable runner.
Scott also set a conference single-game record for completions (45) and attempts (69) in Arizona’s 54-48 loss to Stanford two weeks ago.
That game displayed the prowess of Arizona’s passing. It also showed the Wildcats’ defense could be the cure to Washington’s disjointed pass offense.
Maligned Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes was 21-for-34 passing against Arizona for 360 yards. That work earned him the Pac-12 offensive player of the week award and helped dip the Wildcats to 10th in the conference in pass-defense efficiency.
Huskies quarterback Keith Price, he of the seven turnovers in the past two games, completed 16 consecutive passes against USC last week. He also ran a season-high 12 times.
“I remember more bad than good,” Price said. “I’m not really caught up in what I do good, I’m always trying to improve myself and what I need to get better. And turnovers are a thing that I need to get better at.”
Arizona lost three in a row – all in Pac-12 play – prior to having last week off. Washington has lost two consecutive games and is 1-2 in the Pac-12. There will be a fair amount of desperation in the desert tonight.
“I think both teams recognize, at least we do, the significance of this one for the second half of the season and getting some momentum into the second half of the season,” Sarkisian said.
The Huskies have had little momentum thus far. After an opening win against San Diego State, they were pounded at LSU. A win over lightweight FCS opponent Portland State followed as did the upset of Stanford – but they have stalled since, losing their past two.
Tonight’s game presents a chance to capture the real and imagined. A win pushes Washington to 2-2 in the conference and it can claim to have hopped on the right path.
A loss? That leaves the Huskies a perilous 1-3 in Pac-12 play, under .500 overall for the first time this season and in danger of missing a bowl game.
The heat is on.
WASHINGTON (3-3, 1-2) AT ARIZONA (3-3, 0-3)
7 P.M., ARIZONA STADIUM, TUCSON, ARIZ.
TV: Pac-12 Networks. RADIO: 950-AM, 850-AM, 102.9-FM
THE SERIES: Washington holds an 18-9-1 edge, with the UW taking 11 of the past 17. Last year, the Huskies beat the Wildcats, 42-31, when Chris Polk scored five touchdowns, rushed for 144 yards and caught four passes for 100 yards. In 2010 in Tucson, Wildcats backup QB Matt Scott led the Wildcats to a 44-14 win on 18-for-22 passing for 233 yards and two TDs. The 2009 game in Seattle resulted in a stunning Huskies win when linebacker Mason Foster intercepted a Nick Foles pass that deflected off the foot of an Arizona receiver and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown with 2:37 left for a 36-33 victory.
WHAT TO WATCH: If Huskies QB Keith Price gets rolling. Ball security is a problem, but he also completed 16 consecutive passes against USC. If he can protect the ball and throw downfield tonight, everyone will be calling him cured by Sunday.
WHAT’S AT STAKE: The end of a losing streak and staying above .500 for the Huskies.
THE PICK: Washington, 44-34.
Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey has a knack for making safeties look bad. Parker will need to be sound with his angles.
The speedy youngster should be in line for a couple deep shots against Arizona’s mediocre defense.
7Shaq ThompsonS/LB6-2 /215Fr.
The true freshman should get opportunities to make some big plays for the Huskies.
You know the story by now. Expect a big day and stories about how Washington’s pass offense has woken up.
A surprise starter against Oregon, the true freshman’s appearance won’t be a surprise tonight.
Despite playing safety, Flowers leads Arizona with 2.5 sacks. He needs to be picked up on the blitz.
4Dan Buckner WR6-4/215Sr.
The Texas transfer will often be Marcus Peters’ responsibility.
10Matt Scott QB6-3/196Sr.
Scott leads the conference in passing yards and total offense.
15John Bonano K6-1/214Sr.
Bonano is 6-for-11 on field goals this season, including 3-for-6 from 20 to 29 yards.
25Ka’Deem Carey RB5-10/197So.
The Tucson native has scored a touchdown in five of Arizona’s six games. The only one he didn’t, the Wildcats lost to Oregon, email@example.com @Todd_Dybas blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports firstname.lastname@example.org