Following its most lopsided loss of the season, the Arizona Wildcats hit the road to take on a Washington team that itself is coming off a rough outing.
The Huskies (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) lost at ASU, their second straight defeat, that knocked them out of the polls after an impressive start to the season.
To better understand Washington, we reached out to John Sayler of SB Nation sister site UW Dawg Pound for some insight. Here are his robust answers to our frail questions.
AZ Desert Swarm: The first season of the Kalen DeBoer era seems to be going well, or at least it was before a 4-0 start was followed by back-to-back road losses in Pac-12 play. How has this new coach changed the way the program operates, and is the fanbase liking what they see to this point?
John Sayler: “They were loving the four wins at home. They have not liked the two losses on the road.
“When a new coach gets off to a good start—particularly one that includes a win over what we thought was a top 10 team (Michigan State)—and destroys everyone on the schedule, the sky is the limit and it’s “Pac-12 Champs right now.” But there were some pretty big concerns about the defense that showed up even when the Huskies were getting off to their 4-0 start. Playing at home, they were able to steamroll teams with their offense and the defense had just enough juice to get a few stops early.
“I’m impressed with the way DeBoer and OC Ryan Grubb have installed such an explosive, organized offense. We’ll see if he can build a great defense down the road as well. If nothing else, the program is more transparent with DeBoer versus Jimmy Lake. That’s not saying a lot, considering Lake had the charm of a wet napkin. But Kalen DeBeoer is a likeable guy.”
Like Arizona, Washington has an impact transfer quarterback in Michael Penix Jr., who is second nationally in passing. What has made him so successful?
“Penix is excellent at reading the secondary, and his throws are usually right on time and right on target. He has a nice group of tall WRs that have been hauling in a high percentage of their targets, Penix really trusts them to be where he thinks they will be, when they will be there. He could definitely stand to get better at converting inside the 10-yard line, but working the ball up and down the field, Penix can really get in a rhythm and make all the throws. His mobility is solid, with a nice feel for where to set up and move in the pocket. The NFL has to like his skillset, even if his durability has been an issue his entire career.”
The Huskies’ run game hasn’t put up big numbers, but 15 touchdowns in less than 200 categories is mighty impressive. Is this a matter of only using it when needed? And do you anticipate more of a ground attack to exploit Arizona’s woeful run defense?
“If Arizona can’t stop the run, then you are going to see a lot of Wayne Taulapapa, or Cam Davis, or Richard Newton or whomever DeBoer and Grubb want to roll out there. If the UA run defense is really that bad, then you will probably see all of those guys. This is an offense that uses the pass to set up the running game, but the offensive line has some pretty good maulers that create big lanes for the backs. I don’t expect to see Penix throwning 53 times again this week. Look for more balance. DeBoer loves to get the running game going a bit, which allows Penix to take big shots down the field.”
Who are the players on defense that Arizona should be most concerned about? Where are the biggest weaknesses on that side of the ball?
“The secondary was a question mark coming into the season, and injuries have run them down to walk-ons at times. I’m not sure who will be out there this week, but it never seems to be the same guys starting the game who end up finishing it. The linebacker corps is not great, but it is probably upgraded from a year ago. The pass rush led by Zion Tupuola-Fetui and Bralen Trice is more than adequate, but it hasn’t taken opposing receivers very long to get open, especially in the past two games. The defensive line is pretty stout, but their leader is Tuli Letuligasnoa, and he is not 100 percent right now. He was limited for the ASU game, and who the hell knows what DeBoer (or any coach) means when they say that he ‘should be more healthy this week.’”
Prediction time: Arizona hasn’t won in Seattle in 15 years, and Washington is 4-0 at Husky Stadium this season. How does this game go? Give us a score prediction.
“Jayden de Laura returns to the scene of his Apple Cup victory a year ago. He will surely have his opportunities to succeed against the Husky defense. They are not able to stop a good passing attack, or even an average one. What UW needs to do is make de Laura a little closer to below average for just a few drives, especially early.
“The Dawgs are back on the rug in Seattle. They have to be pretty pissed off with the way they played the last two games. I don’t think the defense will slow down Arizona on a consistent basis, but will get enough emotional stops to let the Dawgs get the offense on track. With the help of a couple turnovers, UW 45, UA 30.”