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Arizona football opponent preview: Washington

arizona-wildcats-washington-huskies-college-football-opponent-preview-2019-pac-12 Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The first big-time test for the Arizona Wildcats will take place when it plays host to the Washington Huskies on Sat., Oct. 12 in Tucson. These two will be matched up for the first time since 2016 when visiting Washington narrowly escaped an upset in overtime.

Here’s a preview of the Huskies:

Introduction

The reigning Pac-12 champions enter the 2019 season with a quarterback not named Jake Browning for the first time since 2014. In fact, head coach Chris Petersen enters this season without a lot of familiar faces.

Washington produced eight draft picks last year, with four of them occurring in the first 61 picks of the 2019 NFL draft. This matched a program record of four picks in the first two rounds. In other words, Petersen is still crushing the recruiting trail and there’s no sign of that slowing down.

As recently voted by the Pac-12 media, Washington is picked to finish a close second to Oregon in the North Division. There would be no surprises if the Huskies win the North for the third time in four years, however.

The rundown

  • Returning production rank: 118th (67% offensive, 34% defensive, 50% total)
  • 2018 record: 10-4
  • Head coach: Chris Petersen (47-21, sixth season)

The stats

The following metrics are courtesy of Bill Connelly of Football Outsiders. You can read more about the rankings and theory behind them here.

  • 2018 S&P+ Overall: 14th
  • 2018 S&P+ Offense: 34th
  • 2018 S&P+ Defense: 4th
  • 2019 S&P+ Projection: 15th
  • 2019 Projected Record: 9-3

2018 recap

The Huskies won the Pac-12 championship for the second time in three years. They ultimately lost to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl which is still considered a great season by many standards. In fact, all four of their losses were by a combined 15 points.

As their final 2018 S&P+ defensive rankings shows, they were one of the best defenses in the country. The problem was their offense wasn’t quite on that level. Browning may have had something to do with this.

He ultimately finished his career with Washington as arguably the best quarterback in school history, playing in 53 games and leading the Huskies to an impressive 39-14 record over that span.

So you’re probably asking, “what’s the problem, then?” The problem was Browning struggled in big games. Over his four years, Washington went 2-3 in Pac-12 championship games or New Year’s Six bowls. In those games averaged 188 passing yards while completing 58.2 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and three interceptions.

His best statistical performance occurred just this past season in the Rose Bowl when he completed 64.8 percent of his throws for 313 yards. There were no TDs but no interceptions either. The bad news is most of this came in garbage time when Washington scored 21 unanswered in the fourth quarter after trailing 28-3.

The 2019 season will likely have more quality offensive production with Georgia transfer Jacob Eason, but the defense experienced a lot of turnover...

Offensive outlook

Out with Browning and in with Eason. Eason has quality experience against quality opponents from the SEC, starting 13 games as a true freshman for the Bulldogs in 2016.

As for running back, school career rushing leader Myles Gaskin will be playing on Sundays this season. The good news is second- and third-leading rushers Salvon Ahmed and Sean McGrew are back for their junior years.

The highlight for position players is definitely wide receiver Aaron Fuller. He’s coming off a junior season where he lead the team in receptions and receiving yards with 58 and 874, respectively. Fellow senior Andre Baccellia returns after ranking second on the team in those same categories in 2018.

Tight end has been a strong suit for Washington over the past several seasons. Drew Sample and Will Dissly are the most recent examples. This year the spotlight will be on Hunter Bryant. He missed most of last season due to injury but made a strong impression as a true freshman in 2017. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be a weapon for the offense.

Offensive line is in great shape with center Nick Harris and left tackle Trey Adams. Harris earned All-Pac-12 First Team honors in 2018. Adams, on the other hand, has missed more games than he has played over the past two seasons. However, he earned All-Conference First Team honors in 2016 when he started all 14 games.

Defensive outlook

Replacing lost defensive talent is never an issue for the Huskies. In spite of all of the turnover, the Washington is still very talented across the field. Starting with the linemen, upperclassmen Benning Potoa’e, Levi Onwuzurike, Josiah Bronson and John Clark will be leaned on to elevate the youth.

Potoa’e and Onwuzurike posses most of the experience. However, Bronson and Clark each saw the field enough to add value to the overall youth within the unit.

Much like the defensive line, linebacker will be a position that has a lot of youth and will look for key upperclassmen to set the tone. Kyler Manu, Brandon Wellington and Ryan Bowman are the names with the most experience but weren’t necessarily career starters. That will likely change this season.

True freshmen Josh Calvert and Daniel Heimuli are two names that could see immediate playing time. Calvert arrived to campus in January and was able to participate in spring ball. Heimuli was an equally highly sought after recruit. Both will pay dividends for Petersen.

The secondary is faced with the challenge of replacing cornerback Byron Murphy. Luckily they have senior Myles Bryant who will most definitely be playing on Sundays in the future.

Juniors Brandon McKinney and Keith Taylor will also see plenty of playing time in the secondary. The wild card of the group could be fellow-junior Elijah Molden who earned am All-Pac-12 Second Team nod on special teams. He is a staple on special teams but he may work his way into playing time in the secondary as well.

3 players to watch

Myles Bryant, CB

Simply put, Bryant is the next defensive back who will be an early-round NFL selection. He is the captain of the 2019 Washington secondary without question.

Aaron Fuller, WR

If Eason can settle into the offense, Fuller will lead the team in receptions and receiving yards once again. Bold prediction: he will outperform Dante Pettis’ 2017 season.

Nick Harris, OL

Harris has experience with all three positions within the tackles. He has settled in as starting center as he recorded 12 starts at the position in 2018.