Arizona vs. Washington: 5 things to watch and prediction

Arizona vs. Washington: 5 things to watch and prediction

By Anthony Gimino / Special for Tucson News Now

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Former Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood often greeted people with a thumbs up and encouragement to "Have a great Wildcat day!"

Some days were better than others.

But there haven't been many days - at least in the past 16 years - like right now.

The Arizona football team is 7-2 and ranked 14th in the country by the College Football Playoff selection committee. The Cats play host to Washington on Saturday, still alive in the Pac-12 South with a 4-2 league mark. For the record, here's what needs to happen:

--Arizona needs to win out vs. Washington, at Utah and vs. Arizona State, which leads the South at 5-2 heading into this weekend.

--UCLA must beat visiting USC on Nov. 22, giving the Trojans a third conference loss.

--Stanford must win at UCLA on Nov. 28, giving the Bruins a third Pac-12 defeat.

That all would leave Arizona in no worse than a two-way tie with ASU while holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.

(As I decipher the tie-breaking procedures, Arizona would lose any three-way ties with ASU and either UCLA or USC.)

Unlikely? Sure. But we're still talking about it, which is what you want to do in November, and it's a situation that doesn't come around all that often in Tucson.

"Coach was talking about how you can't eat an elephant in one bite," linebacker Scooby Wright said of the difficult three-game task in front of the Cats. "You have to take a couple of bites at a time."

Meanwhile, Arizona basketball begins its season Friday night, ranked No. 2 in the country.

Not since 1998 has the basketball-football intersection in November been this impressive. Back then, the football team was in the midst of what ended up being a 12-1 season; the basketball team was coming off a national championship and spent all of November ranked No. 1.

To keep the good feeling, the Cats have to take care of the Huskies (6-4, 2-4). Here are five things to watch:

1. Anu Solomon's cool under pressure

Arizona's redshirt freshman quarterback has been unflappable, a skill he needs as much as ever this week against Washington (tied for third nationally in sacks at 3.8 per game) and something he'll need even more next week at Utah, which leads the country with 4.78 sacks per game.

Solomon isn't the biggest of quarterbacks, but UA senior receiver Austin Hill is impressed the youngster's composure and ability to take a hit.

"He's gotten hit hard and he's been able to get up and make good plays after he's gotten hit," Hill said.

"He's starting to remind me of Matt (Scott), of how Matt used to get punished in the pocket and then the next play he would throw a line-drive, thread-the-needle touchdown or read the blitz and then run 20 yards for a first down.

"That's the most impressive thing I've seen from Anu - his composure. No matter if he gets sacked or hit hard or makes a bad throw, he's able to throw that aside and make a good play on the next play."

2. Injuries

Arizona released its longest injury list of the season Thursday, including the already-known news that slot receiver Nate Phillips is out for the remainder of the season because of a broken foot. Opportunity knocks for true freshman Tyrell Johnson, the fastest player on the team.

Elsewhere, the position to watch is cornerback. Starter Jarvis McCall, who has missed the past two games because of a shoulder injury, is listed as probable. His replacement, Cam Denson, the true freshman from Salpointe Catholic, is questionable because of a hip injury.

That could leave the start (or at least key playing time) to sophomore Devin Holiday, who is just getting back from a back problem that has limited him to two games. He came up with a key interception in the fourth quarter last week against Colorado.

"It was nice that he was able to step in there with how banged up we are," coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We would've been searching if he wasn't able to play."

Arizona could be without another member of the secondary; safety Will Parks is questionable because of a concussion. Starting nose guard Parker Zellers is also questionable because of an ankle injury.

Another key questionable: Running back Terris Jones-Grigsby. Get ready for lots of carries from Nick Wilson.

3. Washington LB/RB Shaq Thompson

Perhaps Arizona caught a break as the junior superstar is (mostly) moving back to defense this week after terrorizing Pac-12 defenses with 372 rushing yards in the past three weeks. UW coach Chris Petersen figured it was time to move Thompson back to outside linebacker because his running backs, including Deontae Cooper, are getting healthier.

Thompson could still dabble on offense and is a threat anywhere. He has scored four defensive touchdowns - three on fumble returns, one on an interception return - and keeping the big-play Huskies' defense away from the ball will be huge.

Arizona has been fantastic in that area, allowing only three points off turnovers this season, the lowest figure in the country. That's what winning close games is all about.

4. Punishing a young Washington secondary

Petersen recently dismissed insubordinate cornerback Marcus Peters, a potential first-rounder, and the state of the Huskies' secondary is such that the coaches are moving sophomore receiver John Ross to cornerback to start this week.

He replaces true freshman Naijiel Hale, whom Arizona fans will recall as de-committing from the Wildcats last winter.

Elsewhere in the UW secondary, there is a true freshman safety (Budda Baker), a true freshman corner (Sidney Jones) and a sophomore safety (Kevin King).

Time for Arizona to attack.

5. Washington's size

As was seen in the loss at UCLA, the Wildcats don't always get a good push on either side of the line, which is no way to go about trying to win games.

The Huskies are big and talented on their defensive front - Thompson, 339-pound nose tackle Danny Shelton and DE/OLB Hau'oli Kikaha (the nation's leader with 16.5 sacks) - are all potential first-round talents.

The UW offensive line is appropriately sized, except for right guard James Atoe, who is a massive 6-foot-7, 381 pounds. He "blocks out the sun," Rodriguez said. Arizona, of course, is small on defense.

If the Huskies control both lines, they could very well dictate the pace and direction of the game.


Washington isn't dynamic offensively, especially with Shaq Thompson starting again on defense and big-play receiver John Ross at cornerback. The Huskies' passing game is the worst in the league, at 177.0 yards per game, as quarterback Cyler Miles isn't asked to take a lot of chances.

The Arizona defense, although banged up, should be able to deal with Washington. The UA offense won't have an easy day against the Huskies' NFL talent up front, but Anu Solomon will eventually punch a few holes in the defense as the Cats climb the ladder to an even bigger game next week.

Arizona 33, Washington 21.

Anthony Gimino has covered University of Arizona athletics for more than two decades, including as the football beat writer for the Arizona Daily Star and the columnist for the Tucson Citizen.

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