The Arizona Wildcats raced and celebrated. The Washington Huskies argued and bickered.
So it went for most of the night during last year’s game in Tucson, with Arizona pulling away for an easy 52-17 victory. Looking back, UW coaches said that was the one game in 2012 where it was fair to question the Huskies’ effort, not to mention the lack of execution.
Arizona ran more plays, and ran them faster, than anyone in the conference last season, the first under coach Rich Rodriguez, and the Huskies admitted they weren’t prepared for that.
“It was ugly,” UW linebacker Shaq Thompson said. “We weren’t used to the tempo like that.”
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The Huskies are confident they are better prepared now. They’ll find out for sure when No. 16 UW (3-0) opens conference play against the Wildcats (3-0) at 4 p.m. Saturday at Husky Stadium. The game will be broadcast nationwide on Fox (Channel 13).
“We’re a different team, it’s pretty obvious,” said UW coach Steve Sarkisian, whose team has outscored its first three opponents 128-30.
Part of the strategy in UW’s decision to shift to a no-huddle, up-tempo offense in the offseason was to help condition its own defense to face the various Pac-12 offenses that run a similar style offense.
Arizona is averaging 322.3 yards per game on the ground, fifth-best in the nation, with All-American Ka’Deem Carey rushing for 299 yards in two games. Carey led the nation with 1,929 yards rushing in 2012, and on nearly every play he’ll be involved in a read-option play with new quarterback B.J. Denker.
At that point, Sarkisian said, “it’s pick your poison.”
Denker, listed at 6 feet 3, 184 pounds, has more carries (40) than pass completions (31) this season, with five touchdown runs. “He’s really fast — really, really fast,” Sarkisian said.
UW will almost certainly dare Denker to pass.
“He’s a run-first guy. Let’s keep him in the pocket and see what he can do with his arm,” said UW linebacker John Timu, who expects to return to the starting lineup after missing the Huskies’ victory over Idaho State with a shoulder injury.
The Wildcats are, no doubt, expecting UW to “stack the box” with extra defenders who hope to stop the run.
“If they are smart they would,” Denker told reporters in Tucson this week. “If they are going to try and win the football game they will. That’s going to be every team’s (strategy) we play. But we’re going to try to run the ball and throw when necessary. I feel if they try to stop the run, we will be successful.”
The Huskies haven’t had to defend much read-option yet this season. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said he will have to commit one, or both, of his safeties, Sean Parker and Will Shamburger, closer to the line of scrimmage at times against Arizona. Of course, Denker’s running ability adds a dimension to defend, and the read-option is designed to make defensive ends choose who to cover: the quarterback or the running back.
Depending on the defensive play call, the defensive end might be asked to track how an offensive tackle blocks or wait to see what the quarterback does at the “mesh” point with the running back.
“It’s all about knowing what you’re supposed to look at,” Wilcox said.
Regardless of what Arizona does, the Huskies say they expect themselves to look better than they did in Tucson last year.
“Every week so far, we’ve been really good and we’ve been feeling very prepared,” defensive end Cory Littleton said. “This week is no different.”
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org