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Washington vs. Arizona: First look at the Huskies

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What are the Wildcats going up against in their first Pac-12 game of 2016?

NCAA Football: Idaho at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats have improved to 2-1 on the season after defeating the Hawaii Warriors on Saturday night. That victory has completed non-conference play and one quarter of the regular season.

UA’s first opponent in conference play is the Washington Huskies, who seem to be clicking on all cylinders.

2016 Record – 3-0; vs. Rutgers 48-13, vs. Idaho 59-14, vs. Portland State 41-3

Key Offensive Players – Jake Browning (QB), Myles Gaskin (RB), John Ross III (WR), Dante Pettis (WR)

Key Defensive Players – Budda Baker (FS), Sidney Jones (CB), Elijah Qualls (DT), Azeem Victor (LB)

Washington will arrive in Tucson as the 9th- ranked team in the nation. Last week, they had the highest ranking the Huskies have seen since Chris Petersen arrived when they were 8th.

Petersen has had an interesting relationship with Arizona during his first two years in the Pac-12. The 2014 meeting in Tucson was one of the more exciting games of the year for the conference. It took a fake field goal, a legendary strip and recovery from the UA defense, and a last second field goal to win 27-26.

The 2015 matchup was much more forgettable as the Huskies won in a 49-3 shellacking. The score was only 21-3 at halftime, but Washington held strong and pulled away late. Everything was going right for them that night, including the typical late October weather in Seattle.

I’m excited for this matchup for a few reasons. The biggest is the Wildcats will be the first quality opponent the Huskies have faced thus far. Washington has done a great job of taking care of business at home against vastly inferior opponents.

Marcel Yates and Petersen are very familiar with each other from their Boise State days. This will not be their first head-to-head matchup though. Yates was the defensive coordinator for Boise last year when the Broncos held Washington to 13 points. The rematch between Yates and offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith will be interesting as Yates has a new cast and Smith is finally settling in.

Washington’s high scoring output is a little misleading as those scores can suggest the Huskies have a very potent offense. However, it is important to consider the opposition’s talent during non-conference play. There’s no doubt this is a very well-rounded team that can score in all three phases of the game (offense, defense and special teams).

Wide receiver John Ross III missed the 2015 season due to a knee injury. He is once again healthy and can impact the game in a couple ways. He is an outstanding receiver but an even better kick returner. As a sophomore in 2014, he recorded two touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards as a returner. On offense, he tallied 371 yards on 17 receptions which is good for 21.8 yards (!) a catch.

The defensive side is loaded with talent that has allowed 10 points per game thus far. It is headlined by secondary members Budda Baker (preseason All-American) and Sidney Jones.

Year three is typically where a new regime’s efforts materialize. That first recruiting class is now in their third year of college football. We saw this with Rich Rodriguez in 2014, and it’s very possible we’re seeing the same with Chris Petersen.

Yates will have the defense prepared for Browning and company, the ZonaZoo will be rockin’ and Pac-12 After Dark could show up in a big way. Arizona and Washington are scheduled to kick off at 7:30 PM PT on Pac-12 Network.