Arizona (5-3, 2-3 in Pac-12) at Washington (3-4, 1-3 in Pac-12)
8 p.m. Saturday, Husky Stadium
TV: FOX Sports 1
Radio: 1000 AM/97.7 FM
The line: Washington by 4
Many people seemed surprised last week when Stanford was installed as a 19-point favorite over the visiting Huskies. Nobody really thought UW would win that game, but that still seemed like a pretty high point spread, all things considered.
And then UW quarterback Jake Browning didn’t play, and the three-score betting line made a lot more sense.
It’s with that in mind, then, that we turn our attention to Washington’s game this week against Arizona, in which the Huskies are currently a 4-point favorite, which could be another statement from the oddsmakers about who might start at quarterback for the Huskies. UW coach Chris Petersen, of course, offered no clarity on the subject on Thursday, saying only that he feels good about the quarterback situation and so on and so forth.
Regardless of who starts at quarterback -- and because the Huskies are favored, I’m thinking Vegas probably thinks Browning is going to play -- UW’s offense shouldn’t struggle nearly as much against Arizona as it did against Stanford. Injuries have ravaged the Wildcats’ defense -- they’re still without star linebacker Scooby Wright, and they’re ultra-thin in the secondary -- and as a result, UA allows 7.6 yards per pass attempt, a mark that is tied for 91st in the country. And the Wildcats yield about 5.73 yards per offensive play, which is tied for 85th. In the Pac-12, only Oregon State and Oregon allow more.
Arizona’s offense is one of the most productive in the league. In Pac-12 games, the Wildcats average 6.39 yards per play (third in the conference) and score an average of 34.2 points. They scored 42 points and totaled 483 yards in last week’s home loss to Washington State. They play two quarterbacks -- Anu Solomon, who mostly passes (126-for-202, 1,549 yards, 13 TDs and no interceptions), and Jerrard Randle, who could start this week and is a better runner (639 yards 5 TDs) and is averaging 11 yards per carry (he also completed 11-of-16 passes for 137 yards and two TDs last week) -- so that’s a unique look the Huskies haven’t seen this season. And Arizona is well-stocked at tailback with Nick Wilson (though he’s questionable for this game with a knee injury) and Jared Baker (6.9 yards per rush), and the Wildcats also have five receivers with 23 or more catches.
But I don’t see Arizona moving the ball at will against the Huskies. I think UW is a little healthier than it was last week -- it sounds like Travis Feeney is feeling better, and Joe Mathis should be, too, after two weeks off -- and the Huskies had a lot of success against Arizona’s scheme last season. I think they have the athletes to keep up again this year.
So again, I think it comes down to whether the Huskies can piece together enough consistent offense to help their defense stay off the field. If Browning plays, that will help, but they need better play out of him, too. And they need to stay committed to the running game (remember Chris Petersen’s comment about being “stubborn” with it?), even if they fall behind by a score or two early. Myles Gaskin is their most reliable offensive weapon right now. He needs to get the ball, and then get the ball some more.
If Browning can’t play and K.J. Carta-Samuels gets the start again, the run game will be even more important -- not only because it will be UW’s most effective way of moving the ball, but because they need to take some pressure off Carta-Samuels when he does drop back to pass. Arizona doesn’t blitz much, and the Wildcats have only 15 sacks in eight games this season, so this seems like a good opportunity for UW’s young offensive line to take a step forward and protect the passer a little better.
At home, against a beat-up Arizona defense, I’m calling this one for the Huskies.
The pick: Washington 31, Arizona 24.