Last October, the Arizona Wildcats welcomed Washington Huskies to Tucson with a 4-1 record and sights on a Pac-12 South title. After leading at halftime, the Wildcats lost by double digits and began a losing streak that has yet to end after a heartbreaking loss in the final minute last week vs. USC.
Arizona faces Washington again seeking to end that skid, while the Huskies aim for their fourth straight win over the Wildcats. Washington kicked off the Jimmy Lake era winning a defensive struggle against Oregon State. The Huskies' multifaceted ground game complemented the stout defense that has been a hallmark for the program since Lake came aboard as part of Chris Petersen's staff.
Arizona at Washington
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 21 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Washington -11
When Arizona Has the Ball
As Arizona's dream start to 2019 turned to a nightmare, one positive emerged: then-freshman quarterback Grant Gunnell. Gunnell was accurate and showed off a strong arm down the stretch, splitting time with Khalil Tate behind center. The offense is now Gunnell's to run exclusively, and it looked sharp scoring 30 points in a season-opening loss to USC.
Arizona had no trouble moving the ball against the Trojans, attacking with a balanced mix of the run and pass. Gary Brightwell handled the bulk of ball-carrying duties effectively, while Gunnell seemingly found a No. 1 target Tavian Cunningham. The speedster Cunningham will need to make an impact if Arizona's to break off explosive plays against a Washington defense that surrendered just 85 passing yards in its opener against Oregon State.
And while the Wildcats offense had no trouble moving the ball against USC, stalling in the red zone directly impacted the final outcome. Conversely, the always physical Washington defense came up with a huge red-zone stop to seal its win over Oregon State.
When Washington Has the Ball
Offense was the most prominent unknown for Washington ahead of the 2020 season, with John Donovan on-board as the new coordinator and replacing both the starting quarterback and key contributors on the offensive line. In its first game under Donovan, Washington unveiled a look heavily reliant on the run, spreading carries among a variety of rushers. Richard Newton and Sean McGrew were focal points, as expected, but the Huskies ground-game depth showed up with fullback dives and designed runs for quarterback Dylan Morris also mixed in.
Arizona's run defense in its first game under coordinator Paul Rhoads looked vastly improved from 2019 when that phase was a particular weakness of the Wildcats, but the Trojans still managed 5.4 yards per carry. Arizona will have to force the unproven Morris, who emerged from a four-man competition to winning the starting quarterback job, to pass. Arizona can only do that getting into the backfield, and while the Wildcats recorded eight tackles for a loss in the opener against USC, they didn't get any sacks, making it easier for Trojans quarterback Kedon Slovis to find open receivers downfield.
Washington's first game under Jimmy Lake as head coach went about as expected: great defense with obvious work to do on offense. While it may take a few weeks to see the actual identity of the offense start to forge, recent years have shown the Huskies' defensive philosophy is enough to produce results.
On the flip side, Arizona's inability to balance a sometimes explosive offense with defense has been the Wildcats' downfall. New coordinator Paul Rhoads' unit made instantly evident strides, most notably in its tackling. Washington is a more physical opponent than USC, so just how much Arizona's improved in that regard will be revealed early on Saturday.
Prediction: Washington 28, Arizona 24
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.
(Top photo courtesy of @UW_Football)