If the Washington Huskies win here on Saturday against the 17th-ranked Arizona Wildcats, it will rate as an upset. Arizona is a nationally-ranked team and a 9.5-point favorite.
And given the Huskies’ recent history in the state of Arizona, it might be considered mildly surprising if this game is even close.
The Huskies, losers of four of their past six games, don’t tend to show up, for whatever reason, when they play in the desert.
A history lesson:
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Last season, Washington lost, 53-24, at Arizona State in a game that was never close.
In 2012, the Huskies visited Arizona in Tucson and lost, 52-17, in a game they trailed 24-3 early in the second quarter.
In 2010, the Huskies visited Arizona and lost, 44-14, after the Wildcats scored the game’s final 27 points.
In 2009, the Huskies visited Arizona State in Tempe and actually could have won, but lost, 24-17, after inexplicably allowing a 50-yard touchdown pass with five seconds to play.
In the torturous season of 2008, the Huskies visited Tucson and lost to Arizona, 48-14. The season had gone so poorly and the beating was so thorough that afterward, athletic director Scott Woodward spoke with reporters to address the job status of coach Tyrone Willingham. He was fired three weeks later.
The year before wasn’t a whole lot better, as UW lost, 44-20, at Arizona State after being outscored 31-3 in the second half.
You have to go back to 2006 for the Huskies’ last victory in the state of Arizona, a 21-10 triumph in Tucson over the Wildcats keyed by quarterback Isaiah Stanback and linebacker Scott White.
So, why can’t the Huskies (6-4, 2-4 in Pac-12) ever seem to make it a game in the desert? Part of the reason, of course, is that Arizona and ASU have been at least decent in recent years. The six teams that have beaten UW in the state of Arizona from 2007-13 combined for a record of 47-31, with ASU winning 10 games each in 2013 and 2007.
But Arizona, while consistently competitive, hasn’t won more than eight games in a season since 1998. (It’s also worth noting that UW has beaten Arizona in Seattle each of the past three times the teams have played there.)
“You can’t tie them year-to-year because it’s different teams,” fifth-year senior defensive tackle Evan Hudson said of UW’s desert futility. “One year it’s in Tempe and the other year it’s in Tuscon, and then back to Tempe. You can’t compare the games, the different teams, different areas. We’ve just had some bad luck down there, and we’ll try to change that this week.”
It won’t be easy. Arizona (7-2, 4-2) is on pace for its best season in the past 15 years, and has enough offensive weapons to make one believe another lopsided score could be in the making.
Wildcats redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon hasn’t been as accurate as coach Rich Rodriguez would like — he completes 59.5 percent of his passes — but he’s thrown for 2,816 yards, 25 touchdowns and only five interceptions, and has one of the deepest group of receivers in the Pac-12 to help him out.
Solomon is the point-man in Arizona’s version of the triple-option offense … except that might not mean what you think it means. Solomon will often appear to be running the ball himself on a zone-read, but will instead throw the ball to an uncovered receiver.
“It’s very similar to triple-option — without the pitch. The pitch is the throw,” Huskies defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. “So they’ll run zone-read, they’re going to run it and run it and run it, then he pulls it and you play the quarterback, and he’s pitching it out there.”
Huskies coach Chris Petersen also said Arizona “might be the fastest team,” in terms of offensive tempo, on Washington’s schedule.
“Their offensive line is always set up for that tempo, quick guys, so it's going to be a fight,” said senior defensive tackle Danny Shelton. “It’s going to be pretty difficult for the defensive line to make plays, but we just have to do our job and knock balls down and cause piles."
And prevent another desert disaster from piling up at the same time.