After their 35-30 win at Colorado the Arizona Wildcats (4-1, 2-0) currently sit undefeated in conference play and atop the Pac-12 South, but now must prepare for their biggest litmus test of the season to date when they welcome Washington to Arizona Stadium late Saturday night.
The UA comes into the game against the Huskies (4-2, 1-2) after another Khalil Tate masterpiece in Boulder sealed their fourth straight win, and Kevin Sumlin’s team has started to turn heads after both fans and pundits alike threw them in the trash after their loss to open the season against Hawaii.
While three consecutive underdog victories against Texas Tech, UCLA and Colorado have done much to boost the Cats’ reputation since that loss to the Rainbow Warriors on Aug. 26, a win against Washington would well and truly put people, both around the conference and around the country, on notice.
It would most likely merit a top-25 ranking as well.
The Huskies were projected to be one of the Pac-12’s best teams in the preseason and are among the conference’s most respected teams nationally, but have stumbled out of the gates to start the year - dropping two of their first three conference games, including a loss 23-13 to Stanford last weekend.
Still though, they are one of the most talented squads in the conference and will provide a huge assessment of just how good Arizona really is.
If the UA can beat the Huskies for the first time since 2014, talks of a Pac-12 South title won’t be as laughable as they once were.
If not, it would be a humbling reminder that Arizona still has a way to go before they are to be included in the conversation of the true title contenders in the Pac-12.
Before Saturday night’s 8 p.m. MST kickoff, we spoke to several Wildcats about what they know about Washington, being in first place in South, embracing the underdog role and more.
Here is the best of what was said:
Arizona safety Tristan Cooper on what he’s seen from Washington: “They’ve got a big O-line, a great O-line; might be one of the best we play this year. They’ve got a good quarterback too, and a hard running running back. They’re big, man, but we’re always smaller than every team so it doesn’t really matter.”
Cooper on preparing to play a team who is coming off a loss like UW is: “Nothing changes man. I mean, it may change for them, they might think, ‘okay, this is going to be a bounce back game,’ but for us, we prepare the same. We know that they’re going to try to do anything they can get to get this win and get back on track.”
Cooper on if he or other members of the team think about being first place in the Pac-12 South: “You can say that, but still nobody respects us. We can be in first and still nobody will respect us. It’s just like that. There’s always an excuse of why they won’t respect us so nobody really cares about being in first place right now. Our mentality is just 1-0.”
Cooper on the team embracing the underdog role: “If we were all going to be like ‘we’re always going to win all the time’ then nobody would have a chip on their shoulder. Everybody would get content. And that’s not cool. You know, it’s understanding that being an underdog comes with, being like, ‘okay we’ve got to prove this to some people.’”
Arizona offensive lineman Josh McCauley on what he’s seen from the Huskies: “They’ve got a lot of really good players on defense. It kind of depends on who they’re playing, because they change it up from week to week based on their opponent, but one on one they’ve got some good ballplayers and we’re going to have to execute.”
McCauley on what he expects Washington to do scheme wise: “Over the last few years we’ve shown that we can run the ball and that’s kind of what we take pride in. So I feel like teams come out and try and stop that early and load the box. So that’s always kind of our mentality going in. We’ve just got to pick that up.”
McCauley on if the team’s mentality changes being first place in the Pac-12 South: “We’re just going week by week trying to get one win at a time. We have the same mentality right now as we did after the Hawaii week after we lost. It’s one opponent at a time. No looking forward, no looking back.”
McCauley on what the offensive line has to do to be successful on Saturday: “We’ve really got to communicate and just continue what’s been going on. We’ve still got a lot of young guys in there so I think it’s really key that we are all on the same page.”
Arizona cornerback Lorenzo Burns on Washington quarterback Jacob Eason: “He’s a good quarterback, he transferred from Georgia of course so he does have some intangibles about him that kind of separates himself from a lot of different quarterbacks. But at the same time it’s about how you prepare, so if we prepare in the right way over here then we should handle our business against him on Saturday.”
Arizona safety Christian Young on UW: “They are a good team. I feel like their O-line is the best thing on their team and I feel like their receivers are pretty good too, but our DB’s should be able hold them.”
Arizona wide receiver Tayvian Cunningham on if UW’s loss to Stanford means anything heading into this weekend: “Nothing at all. They’re a good football team. We’ve known that since before they played Stanford and that’s how we’re going into it.”
Cunningham on if he cares about being first place in the Pac-12 South right now: “No, because that’s not what we want. We want to be Pac-12 champions.”