The Huskies won the offseason national championship for the 13th year in a row and had a strong preseason, finishing ranked 9th in the nation. Now that the pre-season is over and we're entering conference play it is time to look at what we need to see against Arizona to have confidence going into the Stanford game. We largely took care of business during the first three games but some questions remain.
As a reminder, a fumble in the final minute enabled Arizona to pull out a miracle win. There were a lot of miscues, capped off by a coaching failure that cost us the game.
Do I expect this game to be very close? No. Did we win by the second largest margin in series history last year? Yes Have we won in Arizona since 2006? No. Can anything happen when you let your guard down? Yes. UW should win this game walking away but good teams get upset every week of the year so I demand a level of crispness unlike what was exhibited in 2014. Here is what we need to see.
Domination. Arizona may not be hugely different than Rutgers in terms of difficulty this year. In fact there are a number of Pac-12 teams this year that we may be able to completely smash. If that is the level of league competition we face at times, so be it. You have to be able to beat your conference foes whether they are bad or good because you play them every year. There are no excuses to be made about having them on your schedule so make the most of it. If we are going to be conference champions we wil have to show we can separate ourselves from the conference bottom feeders. We won every preseason game by a significant margin and we need to see a comparable score differential at the end of the game. Winning 35-28 will not be the resounding victory that suggests we are ready to contend with Stanford. I'm not sure that we really dominated any of the preseason from a pushing people around standpoint but we did get the job done which is what matters the most. Scoreboard baby.
1) If this isn't a dominating game, I need to see Jake Browning show he can remain cool under pressure and lead the team to a win. He needs to find his inner "it factor" and channel that in the clutch. Jake does a lot of great things at quarterback but he has never been clutch for the Huskies. If this is where he transcends to a big winner then that is a suitable alternative to domination.
2) The defensive ends and outside linebackers need to step up against Arizona. We are getting push up the middle and now we need heat from the edge. We need linebackers who can be mobile and make tackles. I am very concerned about losing contain against McCaffrey next week and Arizona is the last chance to face live opponents prior to that matchup. This is THE chance for these guys to show that they can hang with real competition before the season is on the line against Stanford. The thing that worries me here is that if they couldn't do it in the preseason, why would they suddenly get better while facing ostensibly tougher competition? None the less it is something I'll be keeping my eyes on while watching this game. (Assuming I can stay awake that late.)
3) While I have the one concern about the defense I am much more concerned about our offense. While I don't think our defense will be able to pitch near-shutouts against the best offenses in the country, I think our defense is good enough to hold its own against anyone out there. Our offense is a much bigger concern in my mind. We have some speedy receivers and a competent albeit potentially underutilized TE corps. Myles Gaskin proved himself last year and has made some plays out of nothing this year. Browning has already been addressed which leaves the offensive line. These guys need to come together as a unit, mature, and enable everyone else to make plays. Right now they may as well be speed bumps to the defense which doesn't allow us to put together a consistent offense. Our running game only exists because Gaskin could make do without an offensive line altogether. Jake has taken to rolling out of the pocket preemptively for the inevitable collapse which hurts our passing game. Our offense will be severely limited until the line is passable, which it isn't right now. This is somewhere that we may hope to see some improvement as the season progresses so hopefully it happens against Arizona. The Arizona defensive line seems to be undersized and potentially similar caliber as what we have faced so far. If our offense is clicking it will probably be because the offensive line has made strides. Maybe not the best competition to improve against but perhaps a fair measuring stick from the first three games.
4) Pete, not screwing this one up.
Domination, edge play, offensive line, no coaching blunders when the game is close. Is that too much to ask? It shouldn't be if we've arrived as a Pac-12 contender. We'll see how we measure up Sunday morning.