TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Washington was pushed around in its last game, a bruising 23-13 loss to big, powerful Stanford.
The Huskies face a different kind of challenge Saturday night in the desert. Arizona is not oversized nor bruising. The Wildcats like to spread it out, beat teams with quick-hitting plays and their cache of explosive play-producing skill players.
“That spread offense where they spread you out, there’s creases and they’re really good runners,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “They’ve got three or four guys, and JJ Taylor is exceptional. He’s a different-type back that you don’t see a lot in terms of one cut and away he goes.”
To bounce back from their second loss of the season, the Huskies (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) will not only need to keep track of Taylor, but Gary Brightwell, quarterback Khalil Tate and Darrius Smith.
Petersen singled out Taylor, but he’s been dealing with an ankle injury and the other three average more yards per carry, topped by Smith’s 7.4.
Tate also has thrown for 1,088 yards and nine touchdowns while completing 67.5% percent of his passes.
Arizona’s offensive balance has allowed the Wildcats (4-1, 2-0) to move atop the Pac-12 South after a 35-30 win over Colorado last week.
The win in Boulder was Arizona’s fourth straight since an opening loss to Hawaii and third in a row as an underdog. The Wildcats will play the underdog role again this week despite being at home.
The reason: Washington’s defense.
The Huskies may have given up explosive plays in each of the past two weeks, a rarity for them, but they’re still among the Pac-12’s best on D.
“Their defense has been one of the best in this league for the last few years and they’re also one of the top teams in the country every year in turnover margin,” Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin said. “They don’t give it away. Their defense is fast, big guys inside. They can run really well, but also pride themselves in taking the ball away from you. We have a big challenge this week.”
A few more things to look for when Arizona hosts Washington on Saturday night:
Washington QB Jacob Eason has not been at his best in conference games. Through his first three Pac-12 matchups, Eason is completing 54.3% of his passes and averaging 149.3 yards passing. The numbers might not be so dramatic if Eason hadn’t played so well in Washington’s nonconference games, particularly the Huskies’ win at BYU where he threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns in his first road start.
Last week in the loss to Stanford, Eason was 16 of 36 for 231 yards, but after starting the game hot he struggled over the final three quarters.
FOURTH QUARTER CATS
One reason for Arizona’s winning streak has been its ability to close out games, something that had been missing in the past.
The Wildcats have outscored opponents 29-3 in the fourth quarter the past two games, including holding Colorado to three points in the final quarter despite playing at altitude.
“First of all, you’ve got to be in shape,” Sumlin said. “We were playing at 5,000 feet and it didn’t bother us. A lot of things happened in this game and these guys are confident in that fourth quarter because they know they’re in really good physical condition and they trust each other.”
Washington RB Salvon Ahmed had a career day against USC two weeks ago, then through a combination of circumstance and rotation of running backs, barely saw the ball against Stanford. Ahmed had just six carries for 28 yards versus Stanford a week after rushing for a career-best 157 yards against the Trojans. Part of the reason for Ahmed’s absence was the strong running of Richard Newton, who averaged 6.4 yards per carry before leaving the game with a foot injury. The severity of Newton’s injury is unclear but he’s unlikely to play against Arizona, meaning Ahmed and Sean McGrew will likely carry the running load for the Huskies.
“That’s how it goes. Like I said before, I like how we rotate our backs. I don’t think we have one guy that needs to be in there the whole time,” Petersen said.