Before this week’s match-up between the Washington Huskies and the Arizona Wildcats, we dove into the numbers to look at the Huskies’ major improvement from last season, the Wildcats’ defensive struggles, and Arizona’s chances of pulling out the win.
+118 - Washington’s point differential
Washington has played an absolutely cake schedule so far this season - Rutgers, Idaho, and Portland State are all bad teams - and Arizona is decidedly better than all of them.
To make up for the weak schedule, the Huskies have obliterated all of these teams. Not only is Washington first in the conference in scoring offense so far this season, but they’re first in the conference in scoring defense, too. They’ve won their three games by a combined 118 points. That’s about as dominant as a team can be.
213.1 - the Huskies’ pass efficiency
That dominance has been, in large part, because of how efficient Washington’s passing game has been. Washington has averaged nearly 10 yards an attempt (which leads the Pac-12) with 15 passing touchdowns (which also leads the Pac-12) and 213.1 pass efficiency (which also leads the Pac-12).
This is, in large part, due to the outstanding performance of sophomore quarterback Jake Browning. Browning was okay last year - he has been outstanding so far this year. His subpar competition admittedly inflates those numbers, but even still, Browning will be a problem on Saturday.
130.1 - the Wildcats’ pass defense efficiency
He’ll be an even bigger problem for Arizona than he would be for most teams because of how inconsistent the pass defense has been. Arizona is currently allowing a 130.1 pass efficiency rating to opposing defense, which seems fine until you realize: (1) it’s 9th in the conference, and (2) the Wildcats’ schedule has been very weak.
Even against the same sort of subpar competition that Washington thrashed, the pass defense has struggled. Exhibit A: the first half against Grambling State. Devante’ Kincade is a good player, but there is no reason that he should have been able to shred the Arizona secondary the way he did. Now, Jake Browning - who leads all of FBS in pass efficiency - gets the opportunity to face the same secondary. Arizona’s pass defense has to step up in a big way for the Wildcats to have a shot at winning this weekend.
21% - the Wildcats’ chances of winning, per S&P+
Washington is very good. S&P+ ranks them as the fourth best team in the country. Arizona is not that good, ranking 57th. It’s unsurprising, then, that despite the fact that the Wildcats are at home, this actually projects as the second toughest match-up the Wildcats will face all year.
Even still, those odds aren’t insurmountable. True, Washington has run through all the cupcakes they’ve faced so far, and Arizona has struggled. But it’s early in the year, we’re still dealing with a very small sample size, and Arizona gets to play at home. And as Wildcat fans know, Arizona has a tendency to knock off a top-ranked team once a year or so.
This game could be an inflection point. A loss pushes Arizona ever-closer to a losing season, while a win propels the Wildcats into the conversation in the Pac-12 South. The numbers aren’t in Arizona’s favor, but maybe Arizona’s recent history of knocking off top ten teams will hold. We’ll find out on Saturday.