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Washington expert previews the Arizona game, makes a score prediction

arizona-wildcats-washington-huskies-interview-preview-prediction-analysis-pac12-football-2020 Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats are set to play their first road game of the 2020 season on Saturday night when they visit the Washington Huskies in Seattle. It’s their first trip there since 2015, and the UA hasn’t come away with a road win against UW since 2007.

To help better understand what Arizona will be facing in Washington, we reached out to John Sayler from SB Nation sister site UW Dawg Pound. Below are his eloquent responses to our inarticulate questions.

Washington ran the ball 51 times in its opener against Oregon State, its most carries in more than two years, while operating under center most of the game in various beefy alignments. Then Jimmy Lake shows up to his pre-Arizona press conference wearing a hat that says ‘Run the Damn Ball’ Is it fair to say Lake’s offensive style is a major change from the Chris Petersen era?

I guess the outside fan doesn’t realize how much Chris Petersen loved to run the football. Perhaps it’s his reputation as a trick-play guy that makes folks think he was pass-happy. During his six seasons coaching UW, the Huskies averaged 38 rush attempts per game and over 175 yards on the ground. Oregon State had just allowed 229 yards rushing to WSU, and the weather was pretty bad on Saturday; a formula that (combined with a freshman QB making his first start) probably would have steered Petersen to something in the vicinity of a 50-carry night.

The offense seems pretty similar to what Petersen installed at Washington. Lake has been practicing against Chris Petersen offenses since 2013 at Boise State, and has often implied that a balanced offense is the hardest to defend. I think we will see the Huskies adjust their gameplan based on the opponent. Will they throw it 40 times? Only if they are playing catch-up.

Around 25-30 pass attempts per game was pretty standard in the Petersen era. I expect about the same from Jimmy Lake and John Donovan. Lake’s hat choice was probably meant to throw everyone off; now watch UW come out passing against Arizona. It wouldn’t be shocking.

Dylan Morris won a tight race to be the Huskies’ starting QB. What does he bring to the game compared to past Washington passers?

There’s a lot of Jake Browning there. Pretty average arm strength (especially compared to last year’s QB, Jacob Eason) but Morris showed a really good command of the offense, and was (mostly) accurate with the football. His receivers could have helped him out, but it was a tough night to pass the football, and both teams had trouble holding on to catchable balls.

I think Husky fans were mostly pleased with Morris’ debut, and are eagerly anticipating what he can do when the weather is better and the training wheels can be taken off. I’m sure he has his detractors as well. He is short at 6-foot and his mustache/goatee is pretty terrible.

Other than Morris, which Husky had the best debut among new contributors?

There are some very promising newcomers on the offensive line, and with 267 yards rushing against a fairly stacked front, you have to give them their due praise. Massive left guard Ulumoo Ale and right tackle Victor Curne both played sparingly in their redshirt freshman seasons a year ago, and now help anchor what is the biggest offensive line in school history (averaging 320 lbs across the line).

Curne actually graded better overall according to Pro Football Focus, but Ale was an absolute monster in the running game. This offensive line is big, and very athletic. The two redshirt sophomores are huge keys to the success of the Husky offense, even though the other three starters are proven, experienced players.

Lake is known as a defensive guru, but as head coach he can’t focus solely on that area anymore. How, in any way, does that change the Huskies’ scheme, and who are the key members of that unit that Arizona will have to contend with?

It’s an adjustment for sure. I don’t really think it affects the defense as much as it affects the overall game calling. At the end of the first half last week, he risked a turnover by handing off from shotgun twice from the UW 25-yard line with 13 seconds left. I think a more experienced Lake just takes the knee.

As for the defense, it now falls back into the hands of Pete Kwiatkowski, who was previously the Husky defensive coordinator until he stepped sideways, then down to allow Lake to call the defensive plays. The defense looks very much the same with a light front and extra DBs as a base set. The Huskies dare teams to run the ball, and try to tackle well and keep the gains short. They have not been as stout against the run of late, but I don’t expect a change in philosophy.

The secondary is the strength of the defense, but they will be tested if Washington is unable to generate pass rush. Last week Zion Tupuola-Fetui made a splash by registering a couple sacks, but it remains to be seen if UW can muster a consistent pass rush.

All-American Elijah Molden plays mostly the slot corner position, and he is a do-everything football player with incredible instincts. Sophomore ILB Edefuan Ulofoshio is a former walk-on who has excelled since winning a starting job last year. He is likely to lead the team in tackles this season.

Prediction time. Arizona hasn’t won in Seattle in 13 years, with the last four games there decided by at least 11 points, and hasn’t beaten Washington since 2014. Can the Wildcats pull an upset, or are the Huskies just too good?

I don’t really know if Washington is ‘too good,’ or even ‘good.’ And I thought Arizona looked very good against USC, so I am surprised by the two-score spread. The Wildcats have struggled in Seattle of late, but there will only be the shitty weather to deal with, not the deafening noise.

I expect the Huskies to use the pass early to set up the running game. Arizona will load up the front in anticipation of a run-heavy diet. If Morris is able to establish the short and intermediate passing game (with a deep shot or two thrown in to stretch the field), it will be tough for the Wildcats to slow down the run as the game goes on.

Arizona will put together enough scoring drives to make this competitive, but they will need to get touchdowns the way OSU did and not just settle for FGs. Washington 31, Arizona 23.