Struggling Arizona defense might be just the ticket for Huskies, who have had trouble offensively.
TUCSON, Ariz. — There might be no more fitting place than the Arizona desert for the Washington offense to finally heat up.
There might be no more necessary time either as the Huskies enter the second half of the season with a 7 p.m. contest against Arizona that looms as something of a swing game for the rest of the season.
At 3-3, the Huskies need a win to avoid falling into a hole, especially with surprising Oregon State coming to town next week.
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Arizona, also 3-3, is in a similar situation.
“I think there’s quite a bit of significance (to this game),” said UW coach Steve Sarkisian, whose team is a 7 ½-point underdog. “We’ve been in some real hard-fought battles, and so have they. I think both teams would love to come out the second half of the season and start fast.”
The Huskies figure to need a breakout performance from their offense to get that done.
Washington has not scored more than 21 points in any of its five games against an FBS team this season, and is 11th in the Pac-12 in total offense at 317.5 yards per game.
Most of that futility, though, has come against some of the best defenses in the country.
The host Wildcats are unquestionably not that, ranking 110th in the nation in total defense, allowing 478 yards per game. Arizona has managed to win three games and almost knock off Stanford and Oregon State despite that defense, thanks to an offense that ranks fourth nationally, gaining 551 yards per game.
So while the Huskies have shown a much-improved defense throughout most of this season, this is a game the offense needs to produce.
“We definitely plan on scoring a lot of points,” said quarterback Keith Price. “We know that they are going to score, so we know that we kind of have to match that.”
It will be up to Price to lead the way. While far from solely to blame for the offensive struggles, Price has been at the forefront of the frustration. Last week, in a 24-14 loss to USC, he threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles in the fourth quarter that ended promising drives.
He spent the week focusing on ball security at practice and vowed it will get better.
“The turnovers, man, is what’s been killing me right now,” he said. “If I just eliminate those, it’s going to be fun.”
The Huskies can’t afford the errors they have made the past two weeks — including key miscues on special teams — against the Wildcats, who have adapted quickly to the no-huddle, up-tempo offense of first-year coach Rich Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, who was out of coaching last year after being fired at Michigan following the 2010 season, was fortunate to find fifth-year quarterback Matt Scott on hand after he was redshirted last season by former coach Mike Stoops. Scott spent most of the past three years sitting behind Nick Foles, now with the Philadelphia Eagles. But one of Scott’s five starts came against UW in 2010, when he led the Wildcats to a 44-14 victory.
Sarkisian said he hopes having already played against a team that runs a no-huddle offense (Oregon) might prepare the Huskies for Arizona.
He also hopes the experience of the games at Oregon and LSU will have the Huskies better equipped for the rigors of the road, where UW has struggled. The Huskies are 4-14 in road games under Sarkisian (4-10 in Pac-12 games) and losers of six of the past seven.
“The start of the game for me, going on the road, is critical for us that we really come out and execute really well,” Sarkisian said. “Focus, detail-oriented, really doing our jobs so that we can play four quarters of football and not keep having to come from behind when we are on the road.”