The Washington game was not must-win for Arizona's bowl game aspirations -- but it was close. The Huskies and Wildcats had matching 3-3 records entering Arizona's 52-17 rout, compiled against high-level competition. Their six combined losses came against teams ranked in the Associated Press, Coaches, BCS; basically every poll that exists.
But there's nothing weighting quality losses vs. bad losses when striving for bowl eligibility. No excuses, play like a champion today. That's precisely what Arizona did to pull above .500 and earn Rich Rodriguez his first Pac-12 Conference win.
The combined record of Wildcat FBS opponents through Week 8 is 33-9; Washington accounts for four of the loses. For a program like Arizona in a rebuilding project -- even one ahead of schedule -- losses to Stanford, Oregon State and Oregon make sense. Beating the opponents of comparable or lesser talent is what makes the difference.
Arizona set the right tone for the second half of its schedule, not just by drawing within two wins of the postseason, but winning a game it should. An unfortunate hallmark of recent seasons is Arizona teams dropping winnable games against equal or lesser competition: Washington in 2009; Oregon State in 2008, 2010 and 2011; USC and Arizona State in 2010 and New Mexico in 2007 and 2008.
Wildcat opponents for the remainder of the season have a combined 19-16 mark, a seemingly more manageable slate in and of itself and more so when considering 5-2 Arizona State has yet to beat an FBS opponent with a record over .500, and 5-2 UCLA hasn't beaten Arizona since 2006.
Of more significance than how the competition has fared is what Arizona did to win Saturday. The Wildcats had proven they could win a shootout in Week 2 against Oklahoma State, but the first three conference games resulted in opponent scores of 49, 38 and 54.
Against Washington, defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 defense had its best showing since holding explosive Toledo (7-1 on the season) to 17 points. The Husky offense has had its issues, sure. But Arizona could have easily been the Dawgs' remedy to reinvigorate quarterback Keith Price and Co.
An aggressive pursuit of Price forced timely turnovers. Jake Fischer and Tra'Mayne Bondurant were leading blitz after blitz in what was the program's best sack outing since 2010. Taimi Tutogi continued his evolution into one of the stars in the defensive front.
A win was much needed -- a win in which the defense played outstanding was needed more. UW was held scoreless in the second half, and that gave the Wildcats another sorely needed method of victory. The Wildcats put away a game early.
After leading both Stanford and Oregon State, only to see those leads vanish late, Arizona did what it needed to not just maintain its advantage but build on it.