Arizona football faces Washington, its toughest opponent thus far
Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate dashed to the first-down sticks and reached them with under a minute to play in Colorado on Saturday. That run iced the game and concluded a stellar 404-yard, three-touchdown performance from the senior, who led UA to its fourth-straight win.
The Wildcats are now 4-1 (2-0 conference record), alone atop the Pac-12 South and received 11 votes for the AP Top 25.
Their toughest opponent to this point lurks around the corner, though, as the Washington Huskies travel to Tucson on Saturday night.
UW looked like a force through five weeks. It was 4-1 and blew out four opponents, including No. 21 USC and Hawaii, the latter of which gave Arizona its sole loss.
But Washington laid an egg last week at Stanford with a 23-13 defeat. Quarterback Jacob Eason was dreadful, completing 16 of 36 throws with an interception that set up a Cardinal field goal.
Saturday is a potentially major stepping stone for Arizona to climb into the top-25. But if UW bounces back with a performance that looks more like its early season success, then the Wildcats could be in trouble.
What: Washington (4-2, 1-2) @ Arizona (4-1, 2-0)
When: Saturday, at 8 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports 1
Washington looks to rebound
Before last week, Eason was having an excellent season. He still completes 65.7% of his throws and is 19th in the FBS in passing yards.
“He (Eason) is big, hard to get on the ground and the ball comes out quick,” Arizona head coach Kevin Sumlin said on Monday. “He can throw it a long ways.”
Eason also has a slew of dynamic weapons including receiver Aaron Fuller, who has 36 receptions in six games. Fuller has tremendous hands and blazing speed, making him one of the most difficult receivers to cover in the country.
Washington has thrived on defense once again this year. The Huskies allow 18.3 points per game, and last Saturday was the first time they allowed more than 20 points.
“Their defense has been one of the best in the country for years,” Sumlin said. “It is fast and prides itself on taking the ball away.”
The secondary has been especially disruptive with seven interceptions (tied for 10th-most in FBS).
Safety Elijah Molden is second in the country with 10 pass deflections and cornerback Cameron Williams leads the team with three interceptions.
UW’s issue this season has been allowing long drives and time of possession. Despite allowing under 20 points per game, the Huskies do not do a good job of getting their defense off of the field. They rank 96th out of 130 FBS schools in time of possession, which can wear down their defense.
How Arizona matches up
Washington has allowed plenty of yards on the ground this season, and with Tate (hamstring) and senior halfback J.J. Taylor (ankle) returning from injury last week, perhaps the Arizona ground game could get going like it did in weeks one through three (307.7 rush yards per game).
Tate had his first 400-yard game through the air in his college career last week, so if Arizona can establish the ground game early then he could potentially be a menace in play-action.
On defense, Arizona allowed 337 yards through the air last week and 159 on the ground. The Wildcats allow the third-most passing yards per game in the FBS.
Eason could be even more dangerous than Steven Montez was last week, and unlike CU’s Laviska Shenault, Washington’s top receiver, Fuller, is healthy.
In Week 6, Arizona was able to keep pace with CU until it pulled away in the fourth quarter. This week has to be similar if the Wildcats want to continue their win streak, and the way to do it is to run effectively and keep possession of the ball as much as possible.
Arizona’s offense is facing the best defense it has seen this year. Control of pace and possession to wear the Huskies down could be a key component. Eason had a down week at Stanford, but against UA’s defense he should put up big numbers. The Wildcats need Tate to follow suit in order to win.