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Huskies Can Qualify For Another Bowl With Win Over Arizona
Release: 10/28/2011
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Oct. 28, 2011

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By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing

SEATTLE - Six is Washington's magic number this week.

And that's not just for the many touchdowns they may need to outscore high-flying Arizona.

Six is the number of wins Steve Sarkisian and his Huskies (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) need to become bowl eligible for the second consecutive season.

UW hasn't been to bowls in consecutive seasons since 2001 and '02.

"A big deal. Big deal. That's why this game is vitally important," Sarkisian said on the eve of Washington meeting Arizona (2-5, 1-4) in Saturday's homecoming game inside Husky Stadium (7:30 p.m. on ROOT Sports regionally, Fox Sports Network nationally, the Washington IMG College radio network and here again at GoHuskies.com with the live game chat and analysis from the sideline).

"To get to the sixth win and to cherish the opportunity to get to a bowl game is something that is big to us. We'll celebrate it and embrace it, like we did last year -- when that time comes."

So, no, Washington isn't necessarily looking down on mere bowl eligibility as an intermediate goal, after reaching and winning the Holiday Bowl last winter and then getting off to its best conference start since 1997 this month. Doing that would ignore how far the Huskies have come in so short a time under Sarkisian and his staff. They arrived in January 2009, weeks after UW finished an 0-12 season.

"We're growing as a team. We want to win all of them if we could. But as those milestones and goals come up I think you have to cherish them," Sarkisian said. "If not, you miss the experience of college football, and the things that occur that you need to cherish and embrace and be happy about, because a lot of hard work goes into this.

"And not just from our team's perspective, but from this entire athletic administration, headed by (athletic director) Scott Woodward. There are rewards there that people deserve. And if we can give that to them and give that experience then we should embrace that and cherish it."

To get that sixth win Saturday and completely erase any bile lingering over the Huskies' 65-21 loss last week at undefeated Stanford, Washington must stop the Pac-12's most prolific passing offense.

Senior quarterback Nick Foles is 454 yards from a 3,000-yard passing season, and he is completing an eye-popping 71 percent of his throws. Sarkisian, a former professional quarterbacks coach with the Oakland Raiders, thinks Foles is "going to have a tremendous NFL career."

The spread-out, quick-throwing Wildcats have averaged 43 points and 478 total yards in their last four games against the Huskies. Three of those have been wins. That includes a 44-14 win last season in Tucson with their backup passer when Foles was injured.

Asked if the Huskies' defense felt more prepared for Arizona having already faced Hawaii and Eastern Washington's quick-strike passing offenses in September, playmaking cornerback Desmond Trufant said, "Definitely.

"There are a lot of similar formations. A lot of four- and five-wide offense," Trufant said. "We've got to be prepared for that."

But as Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt pointed out, Foles is much bigger, stronger and a more accurate passer than Hawaii and Eastern brought to Husky Stadium.

And Holt knows the guys catching Foles' passes are bigger and more skilled. Juron Criner is 6-feet-4 and three scores away from Arizona's career touchdowns receiving record of 30. The Wildcats' other two top receivers, Gino Crump (39 catches) and Dan Bucker (36 catches), are 6-2 and 6-4, respectively.

Washington doesn't have anyone playing in its defensive secondary taller than 6-1. So a renewed pass rush to affect Foles' looks and throws would help.

That secondary may get more this week from 6-foot sophomore Will Shamburger, who impressed coaches last week with aggressive play while making seven tackles coming off the bench at Stanford.

Holt called Shamburger a bright spot to an otherwise dark night at Stanford.

"Really physical," Holt said. "Like - boom! -- a nice safety does."

The Huskies could use some boom on defense against the Wildcats.

"They have tremendous players," Trufant said of Saturday's key matchup. "It's going to come down to us making more plays than them."

Aside from that, it may come down to Keith Price's passing, Chris Polk running and the Huskies' offense outscoring Arizona in a shootout. That is where Arizona has failed so far this season, on defense.

The Wildcats are last in the conference in pass defense and pass defense efficiency, allowing more than 290 yards through the air per game and a completion rate of 70.9 percent. They have allowed 37, 37, 56, 48 and 37 points in losing to Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon, USC, and Oregon State.

Plus, Arizona will have three new starters in that besieged secondary Saturday night, the result of injuries and Pac-12 suspensions following a fight during its 48-12 win over UCLA last week.

Yet that doesn't mean Sarkisian will be so enamored with the pass against the Wildcats that he forgets he has Polk. The redshirt junior needs 128 yards to join Napoleon Kaufman as the only Huskies to rush for 1,000 yards in three different seasons.

"That doesn't mean we are not going to throw. We are going to throw the football," Sarkisian said. "But we also understand it's getting to late in the season now, it's almost November. And ol' No. 1 runs pretty good late in the season and in this stadium when it cools off a little bit.

"So I don't want to neglect giving Chris the ball because obviously he is having a tremendous year for us. I know what he brings late in the season."

The coach also knows what a sixth victory will bring.

He'd be more than happy to grab that now and not have to wait until pulling out a win late in the Apple Cup regular-season finale, as the Huskies did last season.

"Ha, ha!" Sarkisian said when reminded of 2010's last-minute qualification for a bowl. "I'd prefer not to, no."

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