So I’ve come to realize the headline gave away where I was going with this — I’m a sports writer, not a brain surgeon, for a reason — and probably caused many of you not to bother reading any further. I just never got around to changing it last year because I didn’t think it mattered, and being a creature of habit, kept right on with it this season. But now I’m changing it up so you at least have to flip to the bottom to get the pick — oh the suspense!!!!
Anyway, first I want to address a question I got a lot this week — why do people think Arizona’s any good?
You can obviously twist numbers around to make whatever point you want to — hey, A-Rod is the best clutch hitter in the history of baseball since Oct. 9, 2009. So I realize the stat I’m about to give may seem a little random.
But consider that since Oct. 27, 2007, when Arizona won at Husky Stadium in a game many in Tucson have pointed to as a turning point for Mike Stoops’ program, the Wildcats are tied for the third-best record in conference games. Here’s how Pac-10 teams stack up in their last 14 conference games, or the amount of conference games UA has played since beating UW that day (and including that win):
Oregon State 11-3
Arizona and Oregon 9-5
Cal and Arizona State 6-8
Washington and Washington State 2-12
So when Steve Sarkisian says this week of Arizona that “I think they’re really good” I think it’s a little more than coach-speak. The Wildcats are 14-7 overall since that game at UW in 2007, including an 8-5 record last year and a Las Vegas Bowl win. So UA is beginning to get to a point where it should be considered a pretty good program.
When I broke the game down for the paper, here’s who got the edges:
QB — Washington. Jake Locker will get this in every game the rest of the season.
RB –— Even. Might seem the wimpy way out, but Arizona’s injury situation makes it hard to read. But assuming Nic Grigsby is healthy, he’s one of the better backs in the conference and backup Keola Antolin isn’t bad, either — he won Pac-10 Player of the Week honors twice last year.
WR — Washington. Arizona has a decent corps of its own but the Huskies are beginning to becoming consistent playmakers in this department, and UA is without TE Rob Gronkowski.
OL — Arizona. Wildcats have a couple of injury concerns here, as well, but overall, it’s a more proven group than UW’s.
DL — Arizona. UA ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore are two of the best in the conference. Reed has had an ankle injury but is expected to be good for tomorrow. Elmore has filled in the slack with Reed ailing and has 4.5 sacks in for games.
LB — Washington. UW should be back to full health with E.J. Savannah returning.
Secondary — We’ve well-documented here this week UW’s injury issues at safety, and the Huskies also spent the week experimenting at the corner spot opposite Desmond Trufant. Arizona sophomore CB Trevin Wade is a rising star who has eight passes defended for the season — or just two fewer than UW has as a team.
ST — Even. May be another cop out, but the stats in a lot of areas are pretty close. One UA edge could be Antolin as a kick returner — he’s second in the conference.
The game figures to come down to two things — can the Huskies stop Arizona’s running game enough to make Nick Foles, making his second start at QB, beat them; and Jake Locker. Locker should be the best player on the field tomorrow and this is the type of game, where a lot of areas seem close, where Locker himself could make the difference.
Though Arizona has some good defensive stats, I’m envisioning a shoot out — Arizona did pile up some numbers against a non-conference slate not as tough as UW’s (though I think a lot of the offense guys deserve a benefit of the doubt there since they’ve done it before). But in its one Pac-10 game, Arizona had to score a lot to beat Oregon State 37-32.
I’m sensing a similar game tomorrow, maybe kind of like the game here two years ago when Arizona won 48-41. I’ve heard a lot this week about a post-Notre Dame letdown. But I’m not sure how much merit that has. If anything, the Huskies might just be a little angry about the way that game got away from them and eager to have another chance to play. I’d frankly be more worried simply about the physical pounding UW has taken the last three weeks and the impact that could have tomorrow — while Arizona had last week off to rest and heal up.
That said, I’m going with the home team tomorrow. UW has proven competitive to an extent in every game it has played this season (the Stanford game less so, obviously) and being at home, and with a growing confidence in what the team is doing should make this one another competitive game. So I’ll buck the growing Arizona trend I’ve noticed and side with the home team to pull this one out. … WASHINGTON 34, ARIZONA 31.