Whenever the Washington Huskies prepare to face an opponent that could play more than one quarterback, coach Chris Petersen balks at questions about how the Huskies might ready themselves for such a situation.
They prepare for the system, he says. They focus on themselves. It doesn’t matter who the opponent — this week Arizona, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Tucson — ultimately lines up under center.
Besides, Petersen thinks he knows who it’s going to be, anyway. And with junior Anu Solomon officially listed on the Wildcats’ injury report as “questionable” to play with a knee injury, Petersen’s suspicion appears as if it will be confirmed.
“I think Dawkins will probably go,” Petersen said, referring to Arizona’s third-year sophomore Brandon Dawkins, who started at quarterback in each of the Wildcats’ last two games with Solomon sidelined by injury. “(He) had a really good game (last week). Solomon’s still, I think, recovering, but he may play as well. We can’t worry about what they’re doing. We’ve just got to worry about what we’re doing, that we’re prepared.”
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If Dawkins is indeed the guy, the Huskies had better be prepared to defend more than a few designed runs by the quarterback. Those calls are frequent in a Rich Rodriguez-coached offense, anyway, but they are more frequent for Dawkins than for Solomon.
In addition to completing 16 of 21 pass attempts for 235 yards and a touchdown last week against Hawaii, Dawkins also carried the ball 15 times for 118 yards and three touchdowns — and he rushed for 97 yards and two scores the week prior against Grambling State.
“They’re similar guys,” UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said earlier this week, asked to compare Arizona’s two quarterbacks. “Dawkins might be a little bit faster, but they’re similar guys as far as what they do in that offense. They both scramble, they both sit in there and spit the ball out quick. Both can get it down the field. So the only difference is, one’s got more experience than the other. That’s about it.”
The Huskies faced a mobile quarterback last week, too, when Portland State and shifty senior Alex Kuresa visited Husky Stadium. He escaped the pocket a couple times for positive gains, but was sacked four times and finished with minus-8 yards rushing.
Dawkins is a Pac-12-caliber challenge, though. Petersen said UW true freshman Daniel Bridge-Gadd has been simulating Dawkins this week with the scout team in practice, but it obviously isn’t possible to accurately portray the fastest quarterback the Huskies have seen so far this season.
“He can change the game with his legs,” said UW defensive end Joe Mathis. “So we’ve got to keep him contained, keep hitting him, because last week, we kept hitting the Portland State quarterback and he stopped running at the end. So we’ve got to make them feel us.”
Solomon isn’t the only key Arizona player ailing. Nick Wilson, UA’s junior tailback, is also listed as questionable this week with an ankle injury. And two defensive starters — nose guard Parker Zellers and linebacker DeAndre’ Miller — have been ruled out for Saturday’s game.
Wilson’s uncertain status will likely mean a bigger work load for 5-foot-6, 170-pound freshman running back J.J. Taylor, who dazzled last week against Hawaii with 168 yards on 18 carries, including a 61-yard touchdown run.
“He’s not the biggest guy, but he is one of the quickest, for sure,” Petersen said. “So they’ve seen him on tape, and our guys know that it’s about spreading you out and creating one on one matchups and letting him do his thing. And it can’t come down to one guy, just corralling him. We’ve got to get off blocks and everybody’s got to have leverage, and all those type of things.”
If Petersen has decided yet whether junior receiver Brayden Lenius will travel with the team and suit up for Saturday’s game — Lenius was suspended for the first three games of the season for violating team rules, but is eligible to return this week — he isn’t saying. “We’ll figure it out here shortly,” Petersen said, before ducking a question about whether Lenius will make the trip.