Oct. 26, 2007
SEATTLE (AP) - After five consecutive games against the upper echelon of college football -- the top four teams in the Pac-10 and current No. 1 Ohio State -- the Huskies are finally getting a reprieve.
It starts at home on Saturday against struggling Arizona, followed by road games at Stanford and Oregon State. The Huskies' next three opponents have a combined record of 9-13, versus the 32-4 mark faced in the last five weeks against the Buckeyes, UCLA, USC, Arizona State and Oregon.
"I look at Washington's schedule and, my gosh, trying to turn a program around playing these schedules is very difficult," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said.
Saturday's homecoming game against Arizona will feature a rare 12 Noon kickoff at Husky Stadium.
Washington has won two in a row against the Wildcats.
"It's going to be very difficult to keep that thought process out of our locker room, because that's what is going to be all around our football team," coach Tyrone Willingham said. "Hopefully our team is much wiser."
The Huskies also need a furious finish to keep Willingham from becoming the first coach in Washington history to post three losing seasons in a row.
To reverse their five-game losing streak, the Huskies might want to try stopping the run. The last five opponents have run for nearly a mile in all, racking up 1,581 yards rushing on Washington.
Oregon put an embarrassing cap on the stretch, running for a school-record 465 yards in last Saturday's 55-34 win, including a career-high 251 yards from Jonathan Stewart -- the third-highest total ever allowed by Washington.
When watching film of the Oregon loss, Washington's players and coaches noticed a significant lack of discipline following assignments against the Ducks' unique offensive system.
"It made our defense learn you really have to stay to your responsibility and not worry about what everyone else is doing," defensive end Greyson Gunheim said. "You can't try and make too big of a play or try to do something extra, because it's going to mess you up and mess the whole defense up."
If the Huskies are looking for their run defense to get healthy, then maybe Arizona (2-6, 1-4) is the perfect opponent. Despite some impressive flashes by freshman Nic Grigsby, including 126 yards last week against Stanford, the Wildcats' running game ranks last in the Pac-10, averaging just 83.5 yards rushing.
The Wildcats are making up for their run deficit with the arm of quarterback Willie Tuitama. Arizona has fully accepted a spread offense, built around Tuitama's passing ability, and he is throwing for 286 yards per game.
But there have been inconsistencies. Last week in a 21-20 home loss to Stanford, the Wildcats' offense failed to covert on fourth down twice and missed a short field goal following a turnover that turned out to be a critical miss.
The Wildcats have lost five of six and Stoops is now just 9-21 in Pac-10 games.
"We had a lot higher expectations than where we sit now. But our team continues to play hard and play pretty well too," Stoops said. "At times we just have to make a few more plays."
Washington's offense showed a new big-play spark against Oregon, thanks to improved play by redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Locker.
Locker completed just 12 of 31 passes, lowering his season completion percentage to 47.5 percent, but avoided critical mistakes. His 257 yards and four touchdowns, all over 25 yards, set or matched season highs, and his play kept the Huskies even with Oregon into the fourth quarter.
But Locker refused to consider it his best performance.
"We lost, obviously didn't play good enough to win the game," Locker said.
And as for the Wildcats?
"Everyone understands this is not a week to relax," he said.