SEATTLE (AP) — Steve Sarkisian’s decision to have Washington follow the trend of playing offense as fast as possible can be traced somewhat to what happened last year in Tucson.
Arizona didn’t just blow out the Huskies in a 52-17 thumping. Washington experienced firsthand just how physically exhausting it can be trying to keep up with skilled playmakers in a high-tempo offense.
“I felt like Arizona’s tempo got us, and this is part of the reason we’re doing what we’re doing offensively, is to prepare for this game,” Sarkisian said.
Get ready for a dizzying pace come Saturday afternoon when the 16th-ranked Huskies (3-0) host Arizona (3-0) in the Pac-12 opener for both schools. It’s a matchup of two of the fastest-paced teams, two of the best running backs in the country and two programs trying to validate unbeaten starts.
Washington has not started 4-0 since 2001. A win over the Wildcats would set up the Huskies for two huge weeks that will go a long way toward deciding how close they are to getting back on the national stage, with a road trip to No. 5 Stanford followed by a home showdown against No. 2 Oregon.
Arizona’s non-conference schedule did little to offer concrete evidence that the Wildcats are Pac-12 South contenders — with wins over Northern Arizona, UNLV and Texas-San Antonio. Saturday’s game will be the Wildcats’ first true challenge.
Here are five things to know about Saturday’s conference opener:
CAREY AND SANKEY: Although they’ll never actually face off, the matchup of Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey and Washington’s Bishop Sankey is intriguing. Carey led the country with 1,929 yards rushing last season and because of the number of quality running backs in the Pac-12, Sankey’s 1,439 yards went somewhat unnoticed. Sankey enters the week No. 2 in the country, averaging 148.7 yards per game, despite getting just four carries for 77 yards last week against Idaho State. “He’s a great back. I respect his game,” Sankey said. “I’m more worried about their defense. Maybe if he played outside linebacker I would be more worried about him.”
PROTECT THE BALL: Arizona is tied for third in the country in turnover margin at plus-6 through three games. They’ve forced eight turnovers total with six interceptions. Washington QB Keith Price has been careful throwing the ball so far, his only interception coming on the first pass of the season against Boise State. That kind of ball security will need to continue against the Wildcats.
PASSING FANCY: Arizona’s running game has picked up where it left off last year, with Carey averaging 149.5 yards in his two games this season and the Wildcats running for 322 per game as a team. But unlike last year, the Wildcats’ passing game hasn’t provided balance. QB B.J. Denker is averaging just 108.5 yards through the air and has attempted only 55 passes in three games. No Arizona receiver has more than seven receptions. Washington may load up along the line of scrimmage to try to contain the run game and force Denker to throw over the top. “Most of the reason the numbers weren’t so good was because we were running the ball so well,” Denker said. “It’s not like I don’t know what our receivers are going to do. It’s just being young and not really having to throw the ball every down.”
PACE OF PLAY: Arizona may partly be the blueprint Washington used for its new offense, but the Wildcats seem almost plodding compared to the Huskies so far this season. Washington is averaging 83 plays per game so far while the Wildcats are at just 68. Those extra plays are partly why Washington is third in the country in total offense, averaging 629 yards per game, trailing only Oregon and Baylor. And the Huskies are doing it with the kind of balance Arizona did a season ago; Washington is averaging 325.3 through the air and 303.7 on the ground. Last year, Arizona averaged 83 plays per game, with 298 yards through the air and 298 on the ground.
EXPECT CRAZY: It all started with Ortege Jenkins and his head-over-heels flipping touchdown in the closing seconds to beat Washington 31-28 in 1998 and has continued since. Whenever the Wildcats and Huskies meet in Seattle, it’s a close game. They’ve played eight times at Husky Stadium since 1998 with a cumulative score of Washington 258, Arizona 254 and with no game decided by more than 11 points. Most famous for Washington was Mason Foster’s interception return for a TD — from a deflection off an Arizona receiver’s foot — for a 36-33 win in 2009.
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