Back on the winning track, No. 17 Arizona and its prolific offense face a test Saturday from the sturdy defense of the Washington Huskies.
”They have a front seven that is as good as any in the country,” Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez said. ”They might have two or three of them being first-round picks. It’s a great challenge and I think our kids will see that.”
Arizona (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12, No. 14 CFP) is still in the hunt in the Pac-12 South, although Arizona State (5-1), USC (6-2) and UCLA (5-2) have better records in the conference.
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”I told our team that we have everything we want at stake with three weeks left in the season,” Rodriguez said. ”There aren’t a lot of teams that can say that.”
Washington (6-4, 2-4) is 0-4 against ranked team and needs a win to be bowl eligible in its first season under coach Chris Petersen, who called his team’s passing game ”painful” after the Huskies’ 44-30 loss to UCLA a week ago.
”We just need to be more efficient there,” Petersen said this week. ”Our run game is solid, but our run game could be a lot better if we could pass the ball better.”
Petersen, who established a powerhouse at Boise State, said his first year at Washington has ”been hard.”
”Anytime you go somewhere new and you’re figuring everything out as you go, I think that’s always challenging,” he said. ”But I didn’t come here thinking `How hard is this going to be?’ I just kind of take it one day and one week at a time and keep grinding.”
The coach got some good news when star defensive lineman Hau’oli Kikaha returned to practice after leaving the UCLA game with a stinger.
Arizona is coming off a 38-20 win against Colorado last Saturday.
Here are things to look at when the Huskies play the Wildcats.
SHAQ’S BACK: Shaq Thompson will be back at linebacker, maybe exclusively, for the Huskies. He played only running back against Arizona State and Colorado and mostly on offense against UCLA.
The Wildcats are all too familiar with Thompson on defense.
He had 13 tackles, six solo, in Washington’s 30-13 victory over Arizona in Seattle last season. This week, Rodriguez said jokingly he hopes Thompson declares for the NFL draft before the Huskies board their flight for Arizona.
SCOOBY DOES: Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright had another double-digit tackle game with 10 in last week’s win over Colorado.
In his six games against Pac-12 teams, the sophomore has 73 tackles, 16 1/2 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, five forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Wright is second nationally with 2.17 tackles for loss per game this season.
SLOW STARTS: Washington has been plagued by slow starts this season.
”I noticed it. We all noticed it,” running back Deontae Cooper said. ”Came out slow against Colorado, came out slow against UCLA. … I would say lack of energy. Lack of energy is a lack of execution. We’ve got to figure it out and move forward.”
Washington defensive lineman Evan Hudson said the subject has been a point of emphasis in practice.
”We’re going to go out there and play with our hair on fire,” Hudson said.
ARIZONA OFFENSE: The Wildcats got their running game going again to complement quarterback Anu Solomon’s passing, especially late in Saturday’s win over Colorado.
”They’re really good at what they do,” Petersen said. ”They don’t get into a whole bunch of different formations, but they have little complements off it and they execute really well.”
Arizona’s running game came back after a few rough outings, gaining 288 yards on 47 attempts against Colorado. Freshman Nick Wilson, bothered by a sore ankle earlier in the season, rushed for 153 yards, his fourth 100-yard rushing game. Solomon rushed for a career-high 114 yards.
HOME COOKING: The home team has won the last six games in the series.
Arizona is 4-1 at home this season.
Washington has been better on the road than in Seattle, going 3-1 with Pac-12 victories over California and Colorado. The Huskies’ lone road loss was at Oregon. The Huskies are 0-3 at home against Pac-12 teams.