Arizona Wildcats vs. Washington Huskies Complete Game Preview
The preseason is over, now come the games that really count for Arizona and Washington.
In the only Pac-12 matchup pitting undefeated teams, Arizona (3-0) enters with a lot of question marks left unanswered after a down pillow-soft nonconference schedule, with its most recent victory coming 38-13 at home two weeks ago against UTSA. Washington (3-0) has had a much more impressive start, earning the Huskies a No. 16 ranking thanks to impressive wins over Boise State and Illinois before easily beating FCS Idaho State 56-0 last Saturday.
Washington is looking to avenge its most disappointing loss from 2012, when it went into Tucson and was decimated 52-17 by the Wildcats and Rich Rodriguez's read-option attack.
The game also features two of the nation's top running backs in Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey and Washington's Bishop Sankey.
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Place: Husky Stadium, Seattle, Wash.
Radio: Arizona IMG Sports Network, Washington IMG Sports Network
Spread: Washington is a 9.5-point favorite, according to sports betting site Bovada.
Arizona's Keys to Victory
Respect Keith Price
Price has been Washington's starter since the beginning of the 2011 season, and though he showed flashes of greatness in those first two years, inconsistent was the better way to describe him. But in 2013, he's turned a corner and become the complete package, completing 77 percent of his passes through the first three games. His passing efficiency (186.1) ranks eighth nationally, and he's protected by a solid offensive line that's yielded just three sacks.
Limit Bishop Sankey
A year after rushing for more than 1,400 yards, Sankey is averaging 148.7 yards per game and showing the kind of moves and physicality that's turning him into an NFL prospect. Arizona's SWAT defense will put a lot of emphasis in slowing Sankey down, but if they overpursue, they could find themselves chasing him a lot.
Keep the crowd out of it
A $280 million renovation took about 2,500 seats out of Husky Stadium, but now the action is closer to the field, turning the three-sided facility that faces Lake Washington into a cacophony of sound and fury. If Arizona falls behind early, it'll get even louder.
Washington's Keys to Victory
Contain B.J. Denker
Denker hasn't had much occasion to show off his arm at Arizona, either this year as the starter or in 2012 in relief of Matt Scott. But he has given defenses fits with his footwork, namely his ability to scramble from the pocket quickly and sprint downfield with surprising speed. He's also got a penchant for acrobatic slides and dives near the end zone, reminiscent of 15 years ago when Arizona QB Ortege Jenkins flipped over a Washington defender and into the end zone to win a game in Seattle that's still known in Tucson as "The Leap By The Lake."
Confuse the SWAT
Arizona's SWAT defense, which it uses mostly on third down and in obvious passing situations, converts its base 3-3-5 lineup into one with effectively seven defensive backs. This would be used to pressure Keith Price into running instead of throwing, but if Washington is smart it will look to dump the ball off to Bishop Sankey out of the backfield or run plays that keep at least one viable passing option underneath the secondary.
Go low on Carey
Ka'Deem Carey led FBS with a school-record 1,929 rushing yards in 2012. And though he missed Arizona's opener due to suspension, he's still gained nearly 300 yards in two games. What separates Carey from most other running backs is his tendency to never stop moving his feet, even as he appears to be stacked up. Often, his constant movement gets him free for a few more yards. Most teams tend to go high on him to tackle, but aiming for the upper legs could limit his ability to keep those feet moving.
Arizona Players to Watch
At some point, Denker is going to have to show he can throw the ball with frequency and precision. And against Washington, he may need to do it on the run, as the Huskies have notched 11 sacks through three games. A lefty, Denker tends to roll out a lot, which can give him more room to throw when needed. The key for him, though, will be staying calm enough to fire in passes to receivers, and not just on short routes.
The linebacker is likely to be assigned with covering dangerous tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins in pass coverage. That's a tall task for anyone, especially a true freshman. Seferian-Jenkins ate up Arizona's defense last year, catching eight balls for 110 yards and a touchdown. He hasn't been very involved in the passing game so far this year, but that could change quickly.
Washington Players to Watch
Washington's middle linebacker will effectively be a double agent of sort, spying on both B.J. Denker and Ka'Deem Carey to see which way Arizona goes with the read-option. Timu has found a way to get involved in the tackle no matter where it is, recording 18 tackles despite sitting out last week's win over Idaho State with a bruised shoulder.
Washington has averaged nearly 84 players per game in its first three contests, and Sankey is getting 26 of those touches each time out. Despite Keith Price having an amazing year, Sankey is still the key to Washington's offense. If he's shut down, it will turn the Huskies into a one-dimensional team and much more susceptible to getting beaten.
What They Are Saying
Arizona's lack of a passing game hasn't sat well with coach Rich Rodriguez, according to Pac-12.com's Kevin Zimmerman:
“We know we got to be ready to throw the ball,” Rodriguez said. “We've worked harder on that than anything else we have offensively.”
While quarterback B.J. Denker is getting a lot of heat for his low passing numbers, the Arizona Daily Star's Daniel Berk writes that Arizona's receivers need to do their part to make the air attack sizzle, especially senior Terrence Miller:
The senior was granted a medical redshirt last season after playing in four games and was expected to be a big part of the UA’s offense this season. He was the team’s offensive representative at Pac-12 media day in Los Angeles in July. With Austin Hill and David Richards both sidelined with injuries, it seemed like Miller would be Denker’s go-to guy. But the Moreno Valley, Calif., native has just two catches for 20 yards so far.
Washington's offensive line was a disaster in 2012, resulting in Keith Price getting sacked 38 times. He's only been taken down behind the line thrice this season, thanks to a renewed trust in his beefy blockers up front, the Seattle Times' Percy Allen writes:
"You got to trust the guys around you to play this position and my guys have been doing a great job," Price said. "And the guys up front—for me that’s the biggest change from last year. They’re making this thing go.”
Arizona ran Washington out of the building last season, winning 52-17 in a game that wasn't even that close. Does that mean Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian expects his players to be out for revenge?
When asked about getting revenge from last year's 52-17 loss, Sark said "I think there's some human nature there."—Daniel Berk (@DSBerk) September 23, 2013
Washington 38, Arizona 28
This series has produced plenty of Wild West shootouts and funky finishes, like Washington's 36-33 win in Seattle in 2009 that saw the Huskies intercept a ball that deflected off an Arizona player's heel and return it for a 37-yard touchdown in the final three minutes.
Arizona hasn't faced adversity yet this year. And no, falling behind 3-0 to UTSA after the opening drive two weeks ago doesn't count. Because of that, no one knows how the Wildcats will handle the combination of a hostile environment and a Washington team that is on the rise and hungry to keep proving itself.
The Huskies are apt to be up two touchdowns early, a hole Arizona found itself in on the road several times last season. The difference this year, though, is that the Wildcats have yet to show they can score as quickly as they did in 2012.
Arizona will put up points, but its defense will be too worn out to contain the Huskies' attack.