Oct. 22, 2010
|Gametracker||Live Audio||Gameday Central|
|TV: ESPN||Radio: Washington ISP Sports Network|
by Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
TUCSON, Ariz. - The resilient Huskies have already seen - and endured -- just about everything in their wild half season.
Yet Steve Sarkisian says Washington (3-3, 2-1 Pac-10) entered something new when it landed in the breezy desert Friday afternoon for Saturday night's game at 15th-ranked Arizona.
Kickoff is at 7:15 p.m. ESPN has the telecast. The Washington ISP Sports Network has the radio broadcast. And gohuskies.com has Gametracker, a live in-game chat and streaming audio.
"It's a playoff game. It's playoff time, second half of the season," Sarkisian said. "Two teams battling, right now tied for second place in the conference. So we're treating this like a playoff-game mentality.
"There is a real sense of urgency in our locker room right now."
The resurgent Dawgs haven't held a similar record or been this close to the top of the conference standings this far into a season in several years.
As senior safety and co-captain Nate Williams said, "3-3? My whole time being here we've never been 3-3 at this point."
Washington also hasn't gone on the road following a win away from home since Nov. 9, 2007. That was one week after UW won at Stanford, when Jake Locker was a redshirt freshman.
The Huskies' next away victory didn't come until three weeks ago, at USC.
"It's nice to know we can win on the road," linebacker Cort Dennison said. "A lot of kids on this team had never won on the road before. It gives guys a sense of confidence."
Sarkisian thinks that victory at USC could have a carryover here on Saturday. Washington has five of its last seven games inside Arizona Stadium.
"(And) I'd like to think they can have some confidence from beating a very good Oregon State team last week," the coach said of his players.
"To play a great team like that and to win the way we did, it just lets us know we can go to a bowl and play with anybody, really," Williams said.
That confidence will come in handy against U of A.
Arizona's defense has been the stingiest in the Pac-10, allowing just 284 yards and 13 points per game. The Wildcats have been particularly feisty against the run, surrendering 89.7 yards on the ground per game and just two touchdowns rushing all season.
Washington hopes it can answer that challenge with bullish sophomore running back Chris Polk, who last week romped for his third 100-yard game of the season and eighth in two seasons at UW. Plus, there's freshman flyer Jesse Callier and the outside running of Locker, the Huskies' dynamic quarterback.
A bad head cold and deep thigh bruise eliminated almost all of Locker's running and rollout passes two weeks ago as Washington tied for its lowest-scoring game in Sarkisian's two seasons as coach in a 24-14 loss to Arizona State. But Locker was healthier and back to his usual running self last week while tying a school record with five touchdown passes in the 35-34 double-overtime win against the Beavers.
Locker sat out the majority of Wednesday's practice to rest because Sarkisian said the indispensible co-captain's "whole body" was sore. But Locker was full go in the full practice at Husky Stadium on Thursday, and he was smiling and loose during the brief walkthrough at Arizona Stadium here on Friday. He will start for the 35th time in his Huskies career at Arizona.
"He's kind of like an NFL veteran," Sarkisian said. "Jake's got enough experience where he can still stay mentally sharp even though he's not getting the reps."
Look for Sarkisian to again test Locker's health with rollout passes and quarterback runs early against Arizona, as he did right away against Oregon State and Arizona State. That's so Sarkisian can get an immediate read on how much of the offense he will be able to unleash on the Wildcats.
The results of that test could be the key to whether Washington can stay in second place in the Pac-10 behind national No. 1 Oregon.
"When we're able to get outside the pocket and put pressure on the defense, it's an advantage for us," Locker said. "It creates some matchups problems I think, just because you've got to be conscious of both the run and pass at that point."
Another key will be how Washington tackles, Senio Kelemete on the left and Drew Schaefer on the right, fare against what Sarkisian calls Arizona's "monsters": defensive ends Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed.
The wildest `Cats on the defensive front are first and second in the Pac-10 in sacks. Elmore has six, Reed has four and a half. Arizona leads the conference with 21 sacks.
It could be a prime chance for Polk to show off his greatly improved pass-blocking skills that Locker was raving about this week, to help out UW's tackles.
Sarkisian said Kelemete, the only member of the line not to change positions recently, is coming off perhaps his best game of the season. And coaches moved Schaefer from center to tackle to take more advantage of his athleticism, plus to get senior Greg Christine's intelligence and grasp of the offense in the conductor's role at center.
Washington's improving defense, which has stiffened in the second halves of the last three games, may see a new Arizona offense. New at least compared to the one Nick Foles was leading before he sprained his knee in the Wildcats' 24-7 win last week at Washington State. He's out for Saturday.
Foles was second in the nation with a 75 percent completion rate and led the Pac-10 with 306 yards passing per game before he got hurt. But replacement quarterback Matt Scott was third on the team in rushing last season, despite starting only three games before he was benched in favor of Foles.
Arizona also may fall back on the running of senior Nic Grigsby, an 1,110-yard rusher two seasons ago, against a Huskies defense that has had problems against the run all season.
The Dawgs know that. Sarkisian says they are as focused as they've been all season.
"I'm proud of our guys with the way they've been able to lock in on this game," the coach said. "They're ready to go."