I wrote a fair share of this on the plane to Arizona, which reminded me of what a crazy series this has sometimes been.
For two teams that had and history before Arizona became a member of the Pac-12 in 1978, it seems like a lot of memorable things have happened through the years in this series.
Recall Steve Emtman’s sacks of George Malauulu on the first two plays of the game in 1991 that to many people stand as the enduring image of the dominance of that defense. There was the 1992 game in Tucson, when the Huskies saw their 22-game winning streak snapped in the first game after the Billy Joe Hobert stuff came to light.
There was the Ortege Jenkins “Leap by the Lake” in 1998 that stands as one of the most unique finishes in Husky Stadium history. There were UW’s three straight stirring fourth-quarter comebacks in 2000 (also the first game after the Curtis Williams injury), 2001 (Cody Pickett’s fourth down run) and 2002 (an 80-yard Pickett-to-Reggie Williams slant pass in the final minutes, pictured above.)
There was Arizona’s comeback from a 22-point fourth-quarter deficit in Seattle in 2007 that might have been the real beginning of the end for Tyrone Willingham.
There was the 2009 game and Mason Foster’s “Immaculate Interception” that gave Steve Sarkisian one of his most memorable wins as UW coach. And even last year’s 42-31 game in Seattle figures to live on for Chris Polk’s school-record-tying five touchdowns.
Will Saturday offer another thriller?
That might be the best bet for the Huskies as I wouldn’t imagine this as a game UW will win going away. Road wins are not easy in any situation, and haven’t been for the the Huskies under Sarkisian. What is probably the biggest step left for Sarkisian to turn the Huskies around is winning on the road. UW is 4-14 on the road since Sarkisian took over.
Three came in 2010 with Jake Locker at quarterback — the 32-31 thriller at USC, then the back-to-back wins to end the year at Cal and WsU. The only other is last year’s 31-14 victory at Utah (UW is 0-4 in non-conference road games under Sarkisian, 4-10 in conference games).
To be sure, the list of teams UW has lost to on the road the last few years is pretty stout — Notre Dame, BYU, Nebraska, LSU, Oregon twice, Stanford twice, USC, UCLA, etc. But that’s also how it is at UW, which doesn’t go on the road to play B-list non-conference foes — road games are reserved for ‘A’ non-conference games and conference games.
UW was a obviously a heavy underdog in its first two road games of the season at LSU and Oregon, and each game ultimately went according to the expected (by those on the outside, anyway) form.
But this one is different. Arizona is a 7-point favorite, a line that began at 4.5 and has gone up a bit but still doesn’t paint UW as a huge underdog. Those taking Arizona no doubt like the way Arizona has moved the ball all season, but especially at home — 624 yards against Toledo, 501 against Oklahoma State and 545 against Oregon State. The Wildcats get those yards out of an up-tempo, no-huddle offense averaging almost 91 plays per game (UW averages 67.6). It’s simply usually a lot harder for opponents to keep up on the road and in the heat.
So as well as UW’s defense has played at times this season, it’s hard to envision a real stopping of Arizona’s offense. That means UW’s offense will have to keep up.
And the stats offer lots of hope that it can. As glittering as are Arizona’s stats on offense is as bad as they are on defense — the Wildcats are 110th in the nation in total defense,, allowing 480.5 yards per game (though in the kind of number that helps indicate how pace of play matters, consider that Arizona is allowing 5.8 yards per play, which isn’t much worse than the 5.5 of Washington, which is allowing just 355.2 yards per game to rank fourth in the conference in total defense). In one example of Arizona’s defensive struggles, the Wildcats have just six sacks — threw fewer than anyone else in the conference (UW is next on the last at nine).
So if there’s a game for the UW offense to get back on track, this is it. I’d expect Keith Price, for once not feeling heat on every single play, to revert to form and for the offense to look a little more like its 2011 version.
But lots of crazy things tend to happen in the desert, and I’d also expect big days for some of Arizona’s skill guys, such as QB Matt Scott and running back Ka’Deem Carey.
In other words, I’d expect a shootout.
One area where UW has been really good under Sarkisian is winning the close ones — — consider that UW has won the last 10 games it has played in which the margin was less than 10 points (put another way it hasn’t lost a game by fewer than 10 points since the opener of the 2010 season, a 23-17 loss at BYU. UW has lost 14 games since then, all by 10 points or more).
Winning the close ones can be an acquired skill. But it can also just be some fortunate bounces of the ball at times, as well. On the road and against a high-scoring team coming off a bye, the last-second bounces of the ball just might favor the home team this time. Call it ARIZONA 35, WASHINGTON 31.