It’s been three years since the Arizona Wildcats and Washington Huskies last met in a college football game, with playoff-bound Washington pulling out a 35-28 overtime victory in 2016 against a UA team that went 3-9.
Since then the Wildcats have changed coaches, while Washington is in its sixth season under Chris Petersen. He has led the Huskies to at least a share of the last three Pac-12 North Division titles, claiming the conference crown in 2016 and 2018.
To help better learn this fairly unfamiliar foe, we reached out to John Sayler of SB Nation sister site UW Dawg Pound for some insight. Below are his splendid answers to our modest questions:
Washington was again a trendy pick to make the College Football Playoff yet already has two losses. What hasn’t gone according to plan this season?
“Fans have gotten used to the defense being really good at Washington, even when they lose players to the NFL. Each year new guys step in and are equal to the task of making UW one of the top defensive teams in the country. This season, the Huskies have been really average on defense. They have given up big plays, and allowed opposing offenses to convert third downs to sustain drives.
“Offensively, they have been pretty good, but have struggled to get into the end zone when they drive into opponent territory. The running game has been good, but they just really have not been able to find any rhythm in the losses to Cal and Stanford.”
How has Georgia transfer Jacob Eason looked? Is he worth all the hype that built up while he sat out last season?
“Nope. No one could live up to that hype. Maybe Gardner Minshew.
“Eason has a great arm and can read zone coverage really well, but—as I feared—he is terrifying when he attempts to extend the play. Last week was not a good game for him against Stanford: some bad reads, some bad throws, and some terrifying pocket stuff as well.
“The pocket stuff will sadly continue, but he is usually a lot better reading coverages. He hasn’t had many lousy throws this season.”
It looks like Salvon Ahmed has picked up right where Myles Gaskin left off in the run game. What makes him so effective, and does he have any weaknesses?
“Ahmed is a really good back. He sees things very well and is patient. He explodes through the hole and also has a top gear that not many people can catch up to. He is not necessarily a shifty back like Gaskin, nor does he have as much power to finish runs. But he makes a subtle move, plants his foot, and off he goes.
“The Huskies are at their best when they are running the football, and this season it has been a three-pronged attack with Ahmed, Sean McGrew and Richard Newton. Newton is now injured, so that probably means more work for Ahmed. True freshman Cameron Davis may also get into the mix if the coaches think he is ready.”
Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin raved about the Huskies’ defense and their penchant for forcing turnovers. Is this year’s unit as good as past ones, or are there things it’s lacking?
“Turnovers have come in bunches this season, which is one of the only things the defense has done better than last year. They try to bait QBs into misreading coverage and throw interceptions, and they will attack the football in the arms of a ballcarrier. Coach Sumlin is preaching that because he needs his guys to be conscious that the Husky defenders will be coming for the ball. UW will need to get a few turnovers on Saturday night if they want to get a rare win in the state of Arizona.”
The desert has been an unkind place for Washington the last decade or so, with the 2016 win in Tucson the only victory in the last 12 years. Is this just an anomaly or do the Huskies just not have the same mojo outside of Seattle?
“The Huskies suck in Tempe, too. I don’t want to think about how long that streak is but it’s even worse. I don’t know what it is, but they have dropped a lot of road games (except 2016 when they won every road game). Husky Stadium is a big home-field advantage, so maybe that’s the problem, they need the home energy. The game they lost at home to Cal had a weather delay, and by the time the game got going the stadium was 90 percent empty. So yes, no more road games please.”
Prediction time: who wins Saturday’s super-late game?
“It’s hard to imagine the Huskies dropping two straight, but that’s what I see happening. This team is a mess until they show me otherwise. Arizona 23, UW 16.”