The nation's second leading rusher Bishop Sankey will lead the 16th-ranked Washington Huskies in their Pac-12 opener against the Arizona Wildcats in what promises to be a shootout at Husky Stadium.
After running out to a 3-0 start, Arizona was idle this past weekend. Prior to the bye week the Wildcats picked up right where they left off from last season, by posting strong offensive numbers en route to wins over Northern Arizona (35-0), UNLV (58-13) and Texas-San Antonio (38-13). Head coach Rich Rodriguez has now led the Wildcats to 3-0 starts in each of his first two seasons. The trick now will be to avoid the three-game losing streak that followed last year.
"Our season started during week one. There are no pretend games in football," Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker said of Pac-12 play beginning. " You can't just go out on the field and expect a victory because somebody will come and smack you in the mouth."
While Arizona's offensive fireworks have come as no surprise, the resurgence of the Huskies has been more dramatic. Washington is 3-0 as well as it enters its Pac-12 opener, but the Huskies have done more than just win, they have dominated. In the three wins over Boise State, Illinois and Idaho State, the Huskies have outscored their opponents 131-30. During that time Washington has accumulated 500 total yards in each contest. It is the first time the Huskies have done so in three straight games in program history.
Only one of these teams was able to have much success on offense in last season's meeting. The Wildcats rolled to a 52-17 victory in Tucson behind 172 yards from Ka'Deem Carey. Despite the loss, the Huskies lead the all-time series, 18-10-1.
There is no secret to how Arizona prefers to pick up yardage. The Wildcats are fifth in the nation in rushing yards (322.3 ypg), while they have totaled just 326 yards overall through the air. That lack of balance hasn't hurt them though as the Wildcats are scoring a robust 43.7 points per game.
With a running back like Carey on their side it is difficult to blame the Wildcats for running so often. Carey has really excelled in Rodriguez's read- option attack as he has rushed for 299 yards and four touchdowns, despite missing the first game of the season. A year ago Carey led the nation in rushing. Daniel Jenkins (239 yards, TD) has not gotten as many carries since Carey returned, but still gets touches each week.
B.J. Denker has been the type of versatile quarterback that Rodriguez covets, although he is still improving. Denker has rushed for 224 yards and a team- high five touchdowns, completing 31-of-55 pass attempts for 326 yards and two scores. Denker has not been called on to throw very often, so it remains to be seen how well he can play when, or if, the running game stalls.
In terms of pass-catching threats, Garic Wharton (seven receptions, 109 yards) and Samajie Grant (six receptions, 60 yards, TD) have been the best options.
A year ago Arizona was unable to find much success on defense, which really derailed it's conference aspirations. The Wildcats have put up some impressive numbers in non-league play this year. They have allowed just 310.3 yards and 8.7 points per game. Only two other teams in the nation are giving up less points each week, while the Wildcats are also in the top 30 teams in the country in total defense.
It is difficult to imagine the trend will continue, but any signs of improvement are a welcome sight in Tucson. Tra'Mayne Bondurant has made quite a statement early on for the Wildcats. He is tied for the team-lead in tackles (19) and tackles for loss (3.0), while adding a sack and three interceptions.
Stopping Washington won't be easy. The Huskies have been lighting up scoreboards and stuffing stat sheets this season, ranking third nationally in total offense (629 ypg).
"I'm not surprised. I'm pleased," Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian said. "Offensively, we are really starting to find our stride in our ability to distribute the football."
Sankey has been a real key for the Huskies. The junior is averaging 7.0 yards per carry and 148.7 yards per game, which is the second best mark in the country.
Though Sankey has certainly been a vital part of the offense, the resurgence of Keith Price has possibly been more important. Price has looked much more like he did in 2011, when the threw for over 3,000 yards and 33 touchdowns. On the season he has completed 77 percent of his pass attempts for 879 yards and seven touchdowns with just a single interception.
Surprisingly, Jaydon Mickens (20 receptions, 199 yards, TD) has been the favorite receiver for Price this season. Kasen Williams (11 receptions, 204 yards, TD), who led the team in receptions and yards last year is still dangerous, as is tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who had his best game of the season last week against Idaho State (five receptions, 62 yards, TD).
Washington has been just a step behind Arizona in terms of scoring defense (10.0 ppg) but the amount of yards the Huskies are giving up has been even better at 279 yards per game. That number has the Huskies ranked 12th nationally in total defense.
Leading tackler John Timu (18 tackles), who missed last week's contest, is listed as questionable for Saturday's game with a shoulder injury. The defense should still be formidable with Sean Parker (12 tackles, 2.0 INTs), Hau'oli Kikaha and Josh Shirley (3.0 sacks apiece) on the field.