The Washington Huskies (0-4, 0-2) travel to Tucson AZ, to take on the Arizona Wildcats (3-1, 1-0) in a key Pac-10 showdown. The Wildcats are looking to turn the corner and make a bowl game for the first time since 1998. The Huskies are looking for their first win in seven attempts and a loss at Arizona would give Washington their first 0-5 start in 39 years.
Kickoff: 4:37 p.m. MST
First Meeting: 1978 (Washington 31 – Arizona 21 in Seattle)
Last Meeting: 2007 (Arizona 48 – Washington 41 in Seattle)
All-Time Series Record: Washington Leads 16-7-1
* Arizona opened the season with a 70-0 win over Idaho
* Washington is giving up a school record 507 yards per game
* Sine last season's contest Arizona is 5-2 and Washington 2-7
* Arizona has 11 touchdowns drives under two-minutes only four teams have more
* UA defensive tackles coach Mike Tuiasosopo is a cousin of Manu Tuiasosopo, father of former Huskies Zach and Marques Tuiasosopo and uncle to current Dawgs linebacker Trenton Tuiasosopo.
* 10 true freshman have seen the field in 2008 for the Dawgs
* Washington leads the Pac-10 in third down conversions at 54.0%
Get Defensive: So far in 2008 the Wildcats appear to have fixed the problems that haunted them on defense last season. Through four games they are allowing 150 fewer yards and over 11 points less per game. Much of the success can be attributed to the lesser competition they have faced (Idaho, Toledo, New Mexico, and UCLA), but their defensive numbers are still impressive and rank them near the top of the country. They only need to be decent against Washington to get the win. The Wildcat offense will put up points in bunches and Washington will have to try and keep up. A few stops here and there is all it will take.
No Turnovers: Arizona is heavily favored and for good reason. The one thing that always seems to level the playing field is turnovers. Wildcat quarterback Willie Tuitama has been efficient in 2008, but will force some throws. He needs to just be patient in this game, take what the Husky defense gives him and not force things. If Tuitama doesn't throw an interception and running back Nicolas Grigsby holds onto the ball, it will be a long evening for the Husky defense.
Stop The Run: Always an obvious goal for any team, it will be crucial in this contest. Washington will have freshman quarterback Ronnie Fouch making his first college start and you can expect a bunch of runs out of the two-back set to try and take the pressure off the young gunslinger. Last season the Huskies rushed for 236 yards and they will try to run the ball early and often in an attempt to work the clock and keep the Wildcats high powered offense off the field. Fouch looks like a promising quarterback, but expect Arizona to clog the box and force him to beat the Wildcats talented secondary.
Establish Run Early: The only chance Washington has to win this game is if they run the ball early and often while holding it for long periods of time. If they can manage the clock and create long scoring drives, they could keep this one close especially given the recent history of the series. This was made more difficult when starting half back David Freeman left last Saturday's game against Stanford with an ankle injury. Sophomore Brandon Johnson and freshman Willie Griffin will need to step up and have huge games. There should be plenty of space to run as the Arizona front four are undersized and inexperienced.
Pressure The Quarterback: Zero sacks and only 11 tackles for loss in the first four games is not going to get it done. If Tuitama gets time to sit in the pocket he will put up over 500 yards in consecutive games against the Huskies. I don't know how, but Washington must figure this problem out and soon.
Create Big Plays: It can be forcing turnovers, returning a kick for a touchdown, a long run or long pass, but Washington will need some special plays to win. It will take a few "game changing" plays like this and the special teams would be a great place to start. The Huskies have been close on a couple of kickoffs, but they have no positive yards on punt returns.
Willie Tuitama – QB – Has 1,014 yards, 10 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. He is probably the best quarterback in the Pac-10 right now!
Nicolas Grigsby – RB – Second in the Pac-10 with 435 yards. He is averaging 5.6 yards per carry and has scored 7 times.
Mike Thomas – WR – Explosive playmaker has 408 yards receiving and 3 touchdowns. He is also one of the most feared return men in the Pac-10 and currently is ranked No. 30 in the country in punt returns.
Eben Britton – T – 6-foot-6, 310-pound tackle was a second team All-Pac-10 selection in 2007. The three year starter has emerged as one of the best tackles in the country.
Rob Gronkowski – TE – This big bodied tight end will be playing on Sundays. He missed the first three games with an illness but returned against UCLA and caught two touchdown passes.
Ronnie Palmer – MLB – The leader of the Wildcat defense and one of their only three returning starters from 2007. He has 21 tackles, 5 for loss and 2 sacks in the first four games.
Sterling Lewis – OLB – Transferred to Arizona this season from Blinn Community College in Brenham Texas. The athletic backer leads the team with 31 tackles, 19 of those solo!
Nate Ness – S – Another junior college transfer, Ness is a lock down cover safety with NFL skills, who tied current NFL corner Antoine Cason with 5 interceptions last season. He currently has 14 tackles and 1 interception in 2008.
Pass Offense: 274.50 (No. 22) Rush Offense 149.00 (No. 65) Total Offense: 423.50 (No. 32)
Pass Defense: 103.25 (No. 1) Rush Defense 118.50 (No. 41) Total Defense: 221.75 (No. 2)
Pass Offense: 209.24 (No. 64) Rush Offense 113.75 (No. 99) Total Offense: 323.00 (No. 95)
Pass Defense: 279.25 (No. 110) Rush Defense 227 .75 (No. 116) Total Defense: 507 (No. 118)
The Washington secondary has showed improvement since last season, especially when you consider all of the injuries suffered at the Safety positions. However, the front seven for the Huskies haven't managed a sack all season and that will not work against the Wildcat passing attack. Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama is playing like the best quarterback in the Pac-10 right now and he has two legitimate NFL weapons in wide receiver Mike Thomas and tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Husky cornerback, freshman Quinton Richardson, has shown flashes of being a great Pac-10 corner. He has made some impressive plays early in his career, being tested against a few of the nations top offenses. The return of hard hitting safety Victor Aiyewa will also help. Aiyewa is the most talented safety on the Washington roster and has missed the whole season with a groin injury. This is especially important because true freshman Johri Fogerson who was forced into playing time because of the vast injuries to the safeties is still bothered by a hurt ankle that could keep him out of the game. Aiyewa's return will help, but it won't fix a passing defense that allows 280 yards per game ranking them No. 110 in the county. Even the best defensive backs in the nation can't guard a receiver when the opposing quarterback gets all day to sit in the pocket. The Husky secondary is better – but how much better we will not know until the defensive line starts to help them out.
The lack of penetration by the Husky front seven also hurts them in the running game where they are allowing 228 yards per game ranking them No. 116 in the county. Arizona comes into the game with a rushing attack that averages nearly 149.00 yards per game, led by the second leading rusher in the Pac-10 Nicolas Grigsby. Grigsby is an undersized, but lightening fast back that needs space to be effective. He should see plenty of space against a Husky front seven who just cant clog the holes. Washington inside linebacker Donald Butler was playing one of his best games versus the run against Stanford when he went out with a concussion. He is listed as day-to-day for the Arizona game and without him it will be even harder for the defense to turn things around. The Husky front four will be facing an Arizona offensive line that features three starters from 2007. This strong unit took a hit when they lost center Blake Kerley for the season with a knee injury. Even without him, the line has been productive and will give the young pups on the Washington defensive line all they can handle. There is plenty of talent on the Dawgs defensive line, but it is young and not yet developed. Will this be the game the light bulb goes on and they start to produce?
Washington lost starting quarterback Jake Locker presumably for the season as he recovers from thumb surgery. In his place freshman Ronnie Fouch will take over and be asked to keep pace with Arizona. Fouch will actually improve the Husky passing attack but will be tested early in his first start. The Wildcat secondary is the number one rated unit in the county (largely because of the competition they have played). This is impressive considering they lost one of the nations best cornerbacks to the NFL and replaced both starting corners from last season. The secondary is led by junior college transfer safety Nate Ness. Ness has the skills to play in the NFL and recorded five interceptions in 2007. He already has one in 2008 and will give Washington receivers fits with his outstanding cover skills. Cam Nelson is a returning starter at the other safety spot and is one of the leaders of the defense.
Washington's leading receiver D'Andre Goodwin left last weeks game against Stanford with bruised ribs and has not fully participated at practice this week. He is listed as a game time decision and his loss would be huge. Without him in the line-up, Fouch will be throwing to all freshman receivers and you can expect true freshman Cody Bruns to make his first appearance of the season. Two other true freshmen Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar have both showed they will be excellent Pac-10 receivers and both will have to step up big in Goodwin's absence. True freshman tight end Kavario Middleton broke onto the scene with eight catches in his first two college games. But, after hurting himself in the BYU game and playing through the pain, he has yet to record another catch. He is the best NFL prospect on the roster and will need to re-emerge as a weapon for his young quarterback.
This is the area of the game Washington must succeed in. That task was made much harder when starting running back, freshman David Freeman hurt his ankle against Stanford. He is doubtful for the game and sophomore Brandon Johnson will most likely start with freshmen Willie Griffin and Terrance Dailey backing him up. More important then who is running the football are the guys blocking for them. The Husky offensive line was supposed to be one of the best in the Pac-10 but have struggled at times this season. They are coming off their best game against Stanford and should be even more comfortable since Washington will run fewer shotguns spread sets and a more traditional two running back offense. The size, strength and talent are there to dominate and they will need to step up and do so against an overmatched Arizona defensive line.
The Arizona rush defense is giving up 118 yards on the ground, ranking them No. 41 the country. Those are bad numbers, but they are not great considering they haven't faced any high-powered offenses this season. The Wildcats replaced all four starters on the defensive line from last season, but that might not be a bad thing since they were highly ineffective. 6-foot-2, 270-pound junior tackle, Earl Mitchell is an undersized interior lineman who relies on speed and athleticism. So far it has worked and he leads the line with 16 tackles. Defensive end Ricky Elmore leads the team with two sacks and he also has three tackles for loss. The Wildcat defensive line is undersized and inexperienced and the Washington offensive line should have their way with them. This will be the best line Arizona has faced this season by far.
The numbers are alarming. Arizona ranks No. 14 in the country in punt return yards, No. 40 in the county in kick off return yards, and No. 30 in the country in net punting average. On the flip side Washington ranks No. 119, No. 111, and No. 76 respectfully.
Arizona's Mike Thomas is an explosive punt return man capable of taking any kick to the house. On Kick offs Keola Antolin handles the duties and is no slouch himself averaging over 32 yards per return. Punter Keenyn Crier is averaging 43.5 yards per punt and looks like one of the best in the Pac-10.
Washington's kick return man Jordan Polk is special and will score a few touchdowns before the season is over. D'Andre Goodwin usually handles punt returns but is out with a rib injury and Quinton Richardson will take over. It doesn't seem to matter much because the punt return team has been unable to open up anything this season.
Punter Jarred Ballman is having another good season despite a couple of bad punts early in the season. He's averaging 39.91 yards per punt and has the leg to hit 60-yard punts when he hits them well.
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