Sitting at 3-3 halfway through the season, and facing a program that not only has an identical record, but also mirrors Washington much in the way of talent level, recent success and scheme, there is a good chance we will finally see what Washington is truly made of in 2012 over the course of Saturday night's game in Tucson.
It has been hard to gauge too much from the results of the Huskies first six games, with four of them being games that fans would be happy to at least just have them be competitive in, and the other two being games that you fully expect to easily win. But now comes the real test against a team that they need to beat if they expect to hold onto their position in the lower-upper half of the conference and a team who they match up evenly with pretty much across the board.
This kind of game isn't as daunting as one against a Top 10 program, but it is much more pressure packed. A win is expected, and needed, to start the second half of the season with a winning record and positive vibe and a loss will be tough to swallow and make getting to bowl eligibility a much tougher task.
What Husky Fans Should Be Confident About
Evened Up - For the first time in conference play, the Huskies are playing a team that they can compete with across the board. The Wildcats are a solid team, but extremely beatable with a very suspect defense that has given up an average of 47 points to Pac-12 opponents this season. That stagnant Stanford offense that the Huskies and Notre Dame held without a touchdown, Arizona gave up 8 touchdowns to them.
More about that defense... - The Wildcat passing defense could be the perfect remedy for Keith Price's recent ills. The Wildcats have given up more than 1,000 yards and 7 touchdowns to Pac-12 quarterbacks so far this year and have only picked them off once.
Cornerbacks got your back - Desmond Trufant held the conference's leading receiver Marqise Lee to just 2 catches for 32 yards last week and freshman cornerback Marcus Peters held his own against the dynamic Robert Woods while also grabbing a pick on a perfectly executed play. The fact that the Huskies have a lock down corner and an emerging young standout should be valuable against the Wildcats prolific duo of Austin Hill and Dan Buckner.
What Should Make Husky Fans Scared
Road Woes: The Huskies have been dreadful in their two road games this year, barely even getting out of the gate before getting blasted. They have been outscored 93-24 on the road so far this season and 55-10 in the first half. Granted, Tucson isn't Baton Rouge or Eugene, but the Huskies can't come out and immediately make mistakes on the road against a good team like Arizona, and they especially can't let one mistake send them into a downward spiral like it has so far on the road.
Dual-Threat: Overall, the Husky defense has been a pleasant surprise this season, but if there is one problem that has been consistently exposed by opposing offenses this season, it has been their inability to defend a mobile quarterback. Marcus Mariota regularly made the Huskies pay for blitzing him by running for easy first downs while San Diego State's Ryan Katz and Portland State's Keiran McDonagh ran for a combined 138 yards against the Husky defense. Matt Scott is one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the conference when on the run and the Huskies will have to figure out a way to keep him contained if they hope to slow the Wildcat offense.
Hurry-up - The Wildcats are trying to be like an Oregon Light on offense and while they aren't completely there yet, they actually are running more plays in a game on average than the Ducks are. The Husky defense looked alarmingly out of sync against Oregon when the Ducks went hurry up just a couple of weeks ago. Will they be ready for it this time around?
Players on the spot
Keith Price - I feel bad about perpetually calling out the much maligned quarterback, but he is going to be on the spot until he pulls himself out of the funk that he is in. The good news is that he is finally facing the perfect defense to do that. Price has to stay relaxed on the road and getting things going early will be imperative not just for his confidence, but the whole team's.
Sean Parker - The Huskies pass defense has been impressive this season, but when they do give up plays, it is almost always in Parker's territory. Parker has played well, but has yet to make an interception or big hit on a receiver or tight end that can scare opponents from repeatedly testing the middle of the Huskies secondary. The Wildcats will assuredly test the middle with their bevvy of talented receivers, and Parker will have to help put a stop to it.
Micah Hatchie & Mike Criste (Or whoever starts at right tackle) - The lineup of defensive ends that the Husky tackles have faced this year is downright scary. I would say that they have already faced seven defensive ends that will be taken in the first few rounds of the next couple of drafts (Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner, Dion Jordan, Morgan Breslin, Wes Horton). Dominique Austin and Justin Washington are not as good as these guys and it will be imperative that the Husky tackles don't make them look like they are.
Going into the season, I thought that the Stanford game might be the most important game of Steve Sarkisian's tenure at Washington thus far, but I think it may have been replaced with this game, and I fully expect the Huskies to play like it is. Sarkisian seems to be able to get his team to play like they are on fire when they have been pushed against a wall (The start of 2009, the final four games of 2010) and that is when they are at their most dangerous. Also, I think finally playing against some softer competition will completely open the world up for the Huskies and Price, and they will finally get off to a good start for the first time since the Portland State game.
With that said though, this Wildcat team is far from a pushover, and after an 0-3 start in conference, their backs are up against the wall even more than the Huskies right now. Playing a team as hungry for a win as the Wildcats at home should be tough, but I think that the Husky defense will be able to make this one a lower scoring affair than anyone expects, and the Husky offense will be able to make just enough plays to get them the win in a nerve racking game for both teams.
Washington 23 Arizona 21