It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Then it was the best of times again. Then things just got worse. Really, really worse. Few could have predicted a slim 6-3 scoring margin in the second quarter would ultimately end in a 51-27 final, but that’s what happened as Washington dominated Arizona in the second half to win what was once a competitive, albeit sloppy game going away.
The Huskies (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12) outscored the Wildcats 38-10 after trailing 17-13 at halftime.
So, what went wrong for Arizona?
Well, just about everything imaginable.
Notably, Arizona started the first and third quarters, poorly. On their first five possessions, Arizona punted the ball back to Washington four times and turned the ball over on a muffed punt. The start of the third quarter was equally poor, with Arizona punting twice and turning the ball over two times on four of their first five possessions to fall behind by 24 points.
Overall, four Washington drives started inside the Arizona 36-yard line, with a fifth drive starting at the Wildcat 43. Of course, none of this includes the whacky fumble by Khalil Tate at the Arizona 5-yard line that resulted in a scoop and score for the Huskies. On the play, Tate scrambled back under pressure and appeared to lose the football while attempting to throw the ball away left-handed. Maybe? No one is really sure, but few are sure exactly what the Wildcats were doing all night in all three phases of the game.
The Huskies defense forced three Wildcat turnovers, limited Arizona’s offense to 360 total yards, and also blocked a punt in the first quarter while nearly blocking a second punt attempt that actually resulted Washington muff its own punt return for a fumble and turnover.
Indeed, things were strange on Saturday.
What wasn’t strange was Washington’s second half dominance as the Huskies outscored Arizona 38-10 after halftime.
Quarterback Jacob Eason finished the game 15-of-22 passing for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, Arizona’s Tate, who threw for a career best 404 last weekend in a win over Colorado, seemed overwhelmed by Washington’s constant pressure and back-side containment to complete just 13-of-25 passes for 184 yards. Tate did throw an interception, but also accounted for two turnovers, including the fumble recovery for a touchdown.
While Tate’s decision making on the night is partly to blame, the Wildcats had no answers along the offensive line against Washington’s blitzing style. Safeties and cornerbacks had straight-line blitzes to the quarterback all game, while the Husky interior linemen were bull rushing into the backfield. There were stretches where there was literally no pocket formed. Other times, Tate abandoned the pocket too early, throwing the ball away or taking unnecessary losses. Washington produced nine tackles for loss for minus 54 yards. Combined with penalties, Arizona’s offense was seamlessly moving backwards too often.
Amazingly, as bad as things looked on the field, the Wildcats were still in the game late in the third quarter.
Trailing 27-17, Arizona appeared to score on a JJ Taylor run on first and goal. However, a holding penalty away from the action nullified the score. Rather than trailing 27-24 with a full quarter remaining, a quarter that had seen the Wildcats outscore their previous three opponents 29-3, Arizona settled for a field goal by Lucas Havrisik to cut the deficit to 27-20.
From there, the flood gates opened wide.
The Huskies scored three touchdowns and added a field goal over the final 13 minutes of action to win going away.
Washington answered the Havrisik make by driving 75 yards in just four plays to score on a 22-yard pass from Eason to Aaron Fuller. Arizona then went 3-and-out on its next possession. Washington would score again, this time marching 63 yards in five plays to lead 41-20. A Tate interception on the first play of Arizona’s ensuing possession gave Washington the ball at the Wildcat 36. The Huskies would convert a chip-shot field goal to go up 44-20 with 6:59 to play.
The challenge for Arizona now is figuring a way to bounce back in time for next Saturday’s showdown with USC. The Wildcats are in a four-way for first place in the South Division standings along with USC, Utah, and Arizona State.
The Wildcats seemed to open up some old wounds on Saturday, with questionable decisions, turnovers, penalties, and mass confusion against a physical defense rearing its ugly head in the ugliest of ways. It’s the type of football that has plagued the team going back more than a decade. The challenge becomes facing a Trojans team on the road in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum that is as physical, as fast, and as talented as Washington.
What lessons were learned in the loss to the Huskies? How will the team handle the criticism that will undoubtedly follow after the loss? Will the defense revert to giving up 40+ points, or can the same defense that held the Huskies in check for the game’s first 45 minutes – despite Arizona’s offense and special teams doing everything possible to make their life difficult – resurface?