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Washington expert previews the Arizona game, makes a score prediction

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The Washington Huskies make their first trip to Tucson since they set the Arizona Wildcats on their path to losing streak infamy when these Pac-12 foes square off on a Friday night.

Washington (2-4, 1-2 Pac-12) beat Arizona 51-27 in October 2019, the first of what is now 18 consecutive losses. The Huskies 8-5 that season, the final one under coach Chris Petersen, while current coach Jimmy Lake is just 5-5 since taking over at the beginning of 2020.

To better understand UW, we reached out to John Sayler of SB Nation sister site UW Dawg Pound. Here are his sharp answers to our blunt questions.

AZ Desert Swarm: Jimmy Lake was Chris Petersen’s hand-picked successor, but that plan doesn’t seem to be working out based on this season’s results. What’s not going as expected?

John Sayler: “Lake is learning on the job apparently, and that has the fan base pretty pissed off. The team is about the same as they were in the abbreviated 2020 season, except last year they got lucky in two of the games they won, and the poor overall performance was masked by a 3-1 record. The one game the Huskies dominated was the Arizona game, but the Wildcats seemed more like a team that didn’t even want to be there.

“This year, the Huskies have dropped a couple close Pac-12 games that they could have won, and snatched a victory in overtime against Cal. The frustrating part for Husky fans is that the team doesn’t do anything well consistently, and it’s a pretty fair argument to say that falls on the coaching.”

Washington was the team that started Arizona on its miserable 18-game losing streak, winning 51-27 in Tucson more than two years ago. How different is this Huskies team from that one?

“That 2019 team was pretty up and down as well, but this year’s team is worse on defense. There are just not as many talented players, pretty much across the board. The safety play has never been this poor at Washington during the Lake era, and the young defensive tackles struggle to get off blocks. The cornerbacks are very good, surely the strength of the defense, but linebacker, edge, pretty much everywhere else is ordinary at best. That team also had Jacob Eason at quarterback. He could light up the scoreboard in a hurry, and made fewer mistakes than Dylan Morris.”

The Huskies have had numerous quarterbacks transfer in recent years, including ones who’ve gone on to start at Central Michigan and Fresno State, while Dylan Morris has as many interceptions as touchdowns. Is Washington stuck with him at that position?

“You can’t really blame Jake Haener for transferring. He waited behind Jake Browning for his chance to start, then when he had two years of eligibility left, Eason beat him out for the job. You also can’t blame Petersen for choosing Eason. Just a situation where Washington would have loved Haener to back up Eason in 2019, then be the starter in 2020 (and 2021 as it turned out with Covid), but Haener knew he could be a starter somewhere. He’s a really good QB.

“The guys who transferred this year saw themselves falling even farther on the depth chart with Sam Huard—the No. 3 overall quarterback in the 2021 class—arriving in the spring to enroll early.

“I don’t like Dylan Morris a ton, but he does have an excellent arm and he put points on the board. Huard is a true freshman, and I think most everyone hopes he wins the job next season. We’re just hoping for someone under center who makes less mental and physical mistakes.”

Strong run games have usually been a UW staple, but not so much in 2021. What’s working, and what’s not?

“The run game is improving, but the play of the offensive line has just not been good. UW has four tailbacks, and you don’t really know which two you will see. Kamari Pleasant and Sean McGrew have been by far the most effective of the backs, but even they have found themselves stuffed in the backfield on many occasions. At the beginning of the season, it was Richard Newton and Cameron Davis getting the bulk of the carries, but those two have REALLY struggled this year.

“Washington has been blessed with some of the best blocking tight ends in the Pac-12 over the past few seasons, but this year they don’t really have those same types of maulers who have made such an impact in the run game. UW runs a balanced, pro-style offense. If the running game doesn’t work, it makes everything else difficult.”

Prediction time. Does UW keep Arizona searching for that elusive victory or can the Wildcats score their first victory in the series since 2014?

“19 losses in a row? It has to stop sometime. This Husky team is the kind of squad that could lay an egg in the desert. I’m taking the Wildcats in an upset, 31-30.”