TUCSON, Ariz. – The Washington Huskies hope Saturday night is when the roller-coaster morphs into an up escalator.
They’ve pretty much had it with the up-and-down – lose one, win one, lose one, win one, lose one, win one – that has defined this season.
They’d like to just keep heading skyward when they play Arizona at 7:15 tonight.
“Hopefully we can break that trend this week,” said Washington coach Steve Sarkisian.
It’s tempting to say that they’d better, with games against Stanford and at Oregon the following two weeks. If they go back down this week, it won’t be easy to get back up, and the Huskies could suddenly be looking at a pretty stiff climb to get to a bowl game.
The Huskies were presented with what looks like a golden opportunity when Arizona lost starting quarterback Nick Foles to a knee injury last week in a win at Washington State.
Foles will be replaced by junior Matt Scott, more of a runner than a passer and almost certainly not as adept at operating Arizona’s high-flying offense, which leads the Pac-10 with an average of 308.8 passing yards per game.
Washington coaches, though, say they don’t expect Arizona’s offense to change drastically.
“(They’ll) maybe run the ball a little bit more and maybe a little bit more quarterback runs,” said UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt. “We’re expecting some of that stuff, but we’re still practicing what they’ve been doing all year. That’s what they’re good at.”
Sarkisian, meanwhile, pointed to another matchup as key – his offensive line against Arizona defensive ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, who have combined for 10 1/2 sacks.
“They get off the football really well, and if there’s one key to look for it’s our ability to block their defensive ends,” Sarkisian said.
That’s especially vital to keep Jake Locker upright. The UW quarterback sat out most of practice again this week after taking a number of hits in the Oregon State game, with backup Keith Price – who is ready to go if needed, Sarkisian said – getting most of the snaps. Locker returned to full practice Thursday and will start.
What Sarkisian is looking for as much as anything, however, is a consistent effort.
Washington seemed ready to break through three weeks ago when it won at USC, only to come home and lose in an uninspired effort against Arizona State. But then came another rebound win against Oregon State.
“Obviously, we’ve analyzed it and looked at it and are trying to find out why,” Sarkisian said. “Sometimes maybe we put a little too much pressure on ourselves, like ‘OK, we won – now we can go win two in a row.’ Let’s just go play, forget what happened last week and what might occur if we win or don’t win – let’s go play the game, and play with great effort and great energy and passion and see what happens.”