TUCSON, Ariz. – Washington has been dominant to open the season, picking teams apart with its passing game, shutting down opposing offenses with its cache of talented defensive players.
The competition level is about to ratchet up a few ticks.
After beating up on Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State, the ninth-ranked Huskies face their first true test of the season on Saturday night, when they head to the desert to play Arizona and its snap-before-they’re-ready offense.
“We’ll see if we’re ready. That’s easier said than done,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “It certainly feels better and different when in the fourth quarter you have a comfortable lead, as opposed to fighting and clawing all the way down. That does change things. That we haven’t experienced.”
It has been relatively easy so far.
The Huskies (3-0) won their first three games by a combined score of 148-30 and its first-team defense has yet to allow a touchdown. Quarterback Jake Browning leads the nation in passing efficiency at 206.9, throwing for 12 touchdowns with one interception.
Continuing that type of success should be a little tougher in Tucson.
Arizona (2-1) had some early-season struggles on both sides of the ball, but seems to be getting the kinks worked out after rolling over Hawaii last week.
The Wildcats also have a knack for playing well against the best teams. They’ve knocked off a top-10 team each of the previous four seasons and are looking forward to this challenge.
“You come to this level to play in those games. You want to be one of those top-ranked teams,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “When you play them, there should be a little extra juice because of the attention it will get and because of the challenge you are facing. If our guys want to prove that they can play at the highest level, they are going to get a chance.”
A few more things to look for when Washington faces Arizona on Saturday night:
Arizona sophomore quarterback Brandon Dawkins has played well in two games since Anu Solomon injured his knee in practice and will likely start again on Saturday. Solomon was limited in practice this week and is listed as questionable on Arizona’s injury report. But Dawkins may have started anyway. The dual-threat QB has thrown for 458 yards and a pair of touchdowns, adding 215 yards and five more scores on the ground. The Huskies prepared as if Dawkins would be the starter.
Facing Washington’s defense can be an intimidating task. Rodriguez estimates the Huskies have up to seven potential NFL players on their defense, including safety Budda Baker, linebacker Joe Mathis and Sidney Jones. The Wildcats like to play fast and may need to ramp it up even more with these Huskies chasing them.
“They’re probably as big and explosive as any team in the country,” Rodriguez said.
Arizona became thin at running back after running back Orlando Bradford was dismissed from the team following his arrest on domestic violence charges. The Wildcats took another hit against Hawaii last week, when primary back Nick Wilson was injured in the first half. In stepped J.J. Taylor. The small but ultra-quick freshman ran his way through Hawaii’s defense last week, racking up 168 yards on 18 carries, including one 61-yard touchdown dash down the sideline. Wilson is listed as questionable on the injury report and Arizona moved slot receiver Tyrell Johnson to running back to add depth.
The Huskies will see a familiar face across the field Saturday night. New Arizona defensive coordinator Marcel Yates spent more than a decade at Boise State working under Petersen before Petersen left for Washington. With Yates at the helm last season, Boise State held Washington to 179 total yards in a 16-13 win in Idaho.
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