One of the best teams in the country, and arguably the best offense out there, comes to Arizona Stadium on Saturday night when the Arizona Wildcats host the seventh-ranked Washington Huskies.
UW is off to a 4-0 start, scoring at least 41 points in every game this season, and their quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is a Heisman Trophy favorite according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
To better understand what the Wildcats will have to deal with, we reached out to Mark Schafer of SB Nation sister site UW Dawg Pound. Here are his unique answers to our ordinary questions.
AZ Desert Swarm: Washington is off to a 4-0 start, but that only begins to tell the story, as the Huskies lead the nation in passing and total offense and are scoring almost 50 points per game. Is it fair to say that this year’s Huskies offense is even better than the one that scored 49 on Arizona in 2022?
Mark Schafer: “I think it’s fair to say it’s definitely better, as crazy as that is to say. Consider that Michael Penix is leading the country in passing yards and yards per game without having played all four quarters in any game this year.
“If I could pin that on one thing it would be how pristine the pass protection has been. The O-Line is really giving him time to throw, and the receivers are among the best in the country, and the best Washington has ever had in program history. The running game has also steadily improved since coming out flat against Boise State. Running back Dillon Johnson has shown continuous improvement since coming to UW this season, as he didn’t look healthy against Boise State but since then has shown good power and willingness to keep running after contact, in addition to being a solid pass catcher.
“Overall, this offense has definitely taken a step up since last year and is poised to continue putting up big numbers.”
Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is completing nearly 75 percent of his passes and averaging nearly 12 yards per attempt. Has he shown any flaws yet this season?
“While Penix is probably one of the best Husky quarterbacks in school history, and both the numbers and highlights bear that assertion out, he does have a few flaws. Namely, he sometimes puts a little too much heat on his throws, and he overshoots his receivers. Also, he seems to always want to go for the big throw, regardless if its there for him or not, and that can lead to interceptions. Still, even with this flaw, he keeps everything on an even keel and usually bounces back and delivers the best performances week in and week out.”
There are three UW receivers with at least 20 catches and three TDs, plus a tight end with four scores. How would you rank all these weapons?
“UW’s receiving corps in among the best in the country and the best in program history at this point. Ranking the best of the bunch will be a tough task but let me give it a shot.
“Jack Westover is fourth, not because I don’t like him or anything, but because they’re so loaded at receiver that he doesn’t get the touches that he normally would. He’s very versatile and can block and catch as well as any tight end in the country, plus he’s athletic enough to rumble down the field with the best of them. His three touchdowns against Michigan State were definitely a sight to behold.
“In third, we have Ja’Lynn Polk, who has taken up the deep threat mantle along with Rome Odunze. Polk is one of those receivers who catches stuff when it looks like he should have no business doing so. He has great body control and great hands, and can make the toughest catches look easy, plus he has great speed to just outrun guys if he gets out in space.
“In second, we have Jalen McMillan. McMillan is about as sure handed as they come, with great athleticism to boot. Do not get caught in a foot race with this guy because whoever tries will lose. He is the Huskies’ normal red zone threat, as he paced the receivers in touchdowns last year.
“Rome Odunze is one of the best receivers I’ve EVER seen at the college level. He has it all, good size, great speed, great hands, great body control and a very high football IQ. He added on about 15 pounds in the offseason and that extra weight has served him well, just look at the Boise game where he literally boxed out a Bronco defender for a touchdown. No defensive back yet has been able to stop him and he looks almost uncoverable a lot of the time, and his big numbers are poised to get a lot bigger before this season’s out.”
How does the Huskies’ run game look? Can it carry the load if Arizona is able to slow down the pass attack?
“The run game looks…good. It’s better than it was to start the year for sure. The loss of Cam Davis definitely complicated the picture in the backfield, but I think now we’re starting to see some clarity. The staff now knows what they’re doing in terms of calling plays for Dillon Johnson (who thrives off counter plays and not so much the outside zone plays they were calling for him earlier), and the line has shown better run blocking ability than in the early stretch of the year. Will Nixon has also shown the ability to be a well-rounded back, with good burst and vision to avoid tackles. Due to blowouts, the freshman 3rd-stringer Tybo Rogers has also been getting a lot of playing time, and he’s shown great speed, looking like the running back type that head coach Kalen Deboer wants in his system, and watching his development in the coming years will be interesting.”
Which defensive players should Arizona be most concerned with, and how has that unit looked so far this season?
“The defense looks better than they did last year, which will do a lot to win the Huskies football games in such an offense-oriented conference. I do notice that they look a lot more aggressive, flying to the ball, and making quick stops, and not allowing plays to really get going. That’s something that we didn’t really see them do last year. That can be chalked up to more familiarity in year 2 of the scheme devised by Chuck Morrell and William Inge, co-DCs.
“I think for the defensive players, watch Edefuan Ulofoshio. He’s incredibly fast and a really good tackler and a great athlete, as he had a great stiff arm on Cal’s QB during his interception return for a touchdown last week. In addition, watch Zion Tupuola Fetui. He’s what I would call a game wrecker, as he can get into the backfield at the drop of a hat. Jabbar Muhammad is the sticky shutdown corner that the Dawgs missed last year, and he provides some stability to a secondary that suffered a lot of injury trouble last year. I would also include Bralen Trice, even though he’s been relatively quiet this year. He still makes contributions that don’t show up in the box score. The opposing offenses gameplan to stop him, and that counts for something, at least to me.”
Prediction time. Can Arizona beat the Huskies for the first time since 2014 or will Washington win a fourth straight matchup in Tucson? Give us a score pick.
“Going into the desert is always a tough proposition for the Dawgs, but at least the curse of Tempe will be evaded this year. I think with the amount of talent Arizona has, they’re going to try and turn this into a shootout. The amount of talent on Washington’s offense, coupled with an improved Husky defense should ensure that the Huskies win like last year, although Penix and (whoever starts at QB for Arizona) will give fans quite the fireworks show! UW 52, UA 35