Jake Locker - the key to UW's attack
It hasn't happened yet this year, but the Washington Huskies have a chance to do something for the first time all year - put together a winning streak. It will be tough sledding, however, as they must travel to Tucson, Ariz. to do it. Standing in their way are the No. 15 Arizona Wildcats, breaking in a new quarterback, but complete with a defense that has shut teams down with regularity.
KICKOFF: Saturday, 10:15 ET
SITE: Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz.
SERIES: Washington leads 17-8-1 (last meeting, 2009, Washington 36-33)
RECORDS: Washington 3-3, 2-1; Arizona 5-1, 2-1
POLLS: Arizona (15 AP, 18 USA Today)
PREDICTION: Arizona 35, Washington 28
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- Washington has fallen behind in four of its six games, something that is particularly critical to avoid on the road. Keeping Arizona's pressure off the edge to a minimum is critical. DEs Rooks Reed and Ricky Elmore have combined for 10.5 sacks this season. The Huskies have to keep those guys away from QB Jake Locker -- or devise ways to get Locker around them and make plays on the perimeter. The defense needs to get pressure on QB Matt Scott, who is making his first start of the season in place of Nick Foles and has proven susceptible to the sack.
-- Containing Washington QB Jake Locker is the key for Arizona. Locker isn't the run-first threat he was when he made his debut, but he has made good use of those legs in two games against Arizona, combing for 249 yards on the ground. Washington has other big-play threats -- RB Chris Polk and WR Jermaine Kearse -- but limiting Locker is always first on the to-do list.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
-- With Jake Locker healthy again last week, Washinton again went with a lot of roll outs and other plays that got the mobile QB in motion, making plays on the run. That worked to spark the offense to 21 points in the first 20 minutes against Oregon State. The offense stalled from there until the overtime sessions, when Locker hit Jermaine Kearse with two more TDs -- he had five TD passes for the game, four to Kearse. That connection again looms key this week against an Arizona team that statistically has the best defense in the Pac-10, allowing just 284.3 yards per game, and also is among the leaders in pass defense efficiency, holding teams to just six passing touchdowns for the season. Arizona, though, allowed 393 yards passing to Oregon State on Oct. 9, many coming on downfield throws, and the Huskies are sure to try to see if they can exploit the holes OSU found.
The Huskies have played pretty well on defense the last two games, holding OSU's passing attack without any big scoring plays last week (and only 21 points in regulation). UW is getting more pressure off the edge with DE Hau'oli Jamora progressing rapidly and DT Alameda Ta'amu improving. The Huskies will have to be aware of the running ability of Arizona QB Matt Scott, however, as he is good on his feet and will look to make gains on his own. The Huskies did not allow a passing TD to a receiver last week and had three interceptions.
Things get a little more interesting on this side of the ball for Arizona with Matt Scott at quarterback. He has to prove he has the down-field skills that Nick Foles has, and that he can think his way through a play and the game. Coaches were pleased how Scott made the adjustments at the line of scrimmage when he came in for an injured Foles last week. Arizona might have a schematic advantage this week as Washington doesn't quite know what the Wildcats will do with a full week of reps for Scott, who is quite capable of handling quarterback run plays, unlike Foles.
Arizona's defense had a fairly major hiccup against Oregon State two weeks ago, but this unit has been the surprise of the team, ranking seventh in the nation (13.3 points allowed per game) and 10th in total defense (284.3 yards allowed per game) at the halfway point of its season. The play of an all-new starting linebacker group has been solid, but what really makes this defense go is the play of defensive ends Ricky Elmore (six sacks) and Brooks Reed (4.5 sacks). That kind of quarterback pressure from the base defense means the Wildcats usually don't have to blitz, thereby potentially exposing the pass defense.
Huskies: Senior LB Mason Foster leads the Pac-10 in tackles at 12 per game, ranking fifth in the nation. ... P Kiel Rasp is up to No. 7 in the nation with an average of 45.9 per attempt. He's a walk-on who took over the job when Will Mahan was injured after the first game. ... WR Jermaine Kearse is sixth in the nation in receiving yards with an average of 103.8 ypg. ... QB Jake Locker ranks second in school history in career completions (549), attempts (1,018), and passing yards (6,805). He is second to Cody Pickett in each category. Locker is Washington's all-time leader in rushing yards by a quarterback (1,830). ... LB Mason Foster is coming off a 12-tackle outing in the win over Oregon State. He leads the Huskies with 72 for the season. ... Washington is averaging 26.7 ppg but opponents are nearly five points a game better at 31.3. ... The Huskies are 36-of-90 (40 percent) on third-down conversions but opponents are slightly better with 34-of-81 (42 percent). ... The Huskies have 13 sacks and no player has more than two (Foster, SS Nate Williams, and DE Talia Crichton).
Wildcats: True freshman CB Shaquille Richardson, in his first career start, earned Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week honors. after intercepting two passes against Washington State. Richardson was starting in place of Trevin Wade, who is expected back this week from a thigh injury. ... Arizona has held four opponents to under 10 points in the game, including Washington State in its last appearance (24-7). ... Something will have to give defensively. Arizona has surrendered only six touchdown passes this season but Washington QB Jake Locker threw five in his last game. ... RB Keola Antolin has rushed for 162 yards in his last two games on 29 carries. ... TB Nic Grigsby has 26 touchdown runs in his career, third most in school history. ... Junior DE Ricky Elmore leads the Wildcats with six sacks, well on pace to reach or surpass the 11.5 he had last season. ... Arizona is holding foes to a three-and-out series an average of four times a game, which ranks 13th nationally. ... The Wildcats have moved from 28th nationally to a tie for ninth in tackles for loss (8.0 per game).
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Huskies: QB Jake Locker -- Locker tied a school-record with five TD passes last week and again looked comfortable both in the pocket and running after struggling the week before with a thigh bruise. How Jake goes is pretty much how the UW offense goes.
TB Chris Polk -- The sophomore tied a career-high with 25 carries for 105 yards, his third 100-yard game of the season and second in a row. The Huskies went to Polk more last week in attempting to attack the middle of the OSU defense, a tactic they may employ again this week.
DE Hau'oli Jamora -- The true freshman is emerging as one of UW's better pass rushers, with 1.5 sacks last week. He is likely to start this week with Talia Crichton injured.
CB Desmond Trufant -- The sophomore had his first interception of the year last week but also had a critical pass interference penalty late (though one UW coaches protested). He'll be tested by Arizona's receivers throughout.
Wildcats: QB Matt Scott -- It's his show for at least one week, possibly much more. He hasn't been known as a passer, but he was 14 of 20 last week against Washington State, and that included a couple of throws that were flat-out dropped. A junior, Scott is 2-1 in his career as a starter.
RB Keola Antolin -- The hard-running junior has been more in favor in the past couple of weeks than senior Nic Grigsby. That could change from game to game, but the coaches like Antolin's physical style and his ability to catch out of the backfield. He has 46 carries for 218 yards and three touchdowns, as well as 19 receptions for 162 yards and two scores.
LB Derek Earls -- The junior college transfer has been very good as a first-year starter, with 22 tackles, including six for loss. He has broken up three passes. Might he be something of a spy on Washington QB Jake Locker this week?
Huskies: DE Talia Crichton (knee, doubtful), LG Erik Kohler (mononucleosis, questionable), WR Devin Aguilar (hip, questionable).
Wildcats: QB Nick Foles (knee, out), WR Richard Morrison (shoulder, out), WR Bug Wright (shoulder, probable), CB Trevin Wade (thigh probable).