There will be much for the Washington Huskies to parse and ponder from their exasperating 35-28 overtime victory over the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday night.
The Huskies missed tackles and gave up too many big plays. They squandered several chances to take control of a game many expected them to win with ease. For much of this Pac-12 opener, they looked like something less than a top-10 team.
In five days, it seems, they will find out if they really are.
Husky Stadium on Friday will host a most enticing Pac-12 North matchup between the Huskies, ranked No. 10 in Sunday’s latest Associated Press top 25 poll, and the Stanford Cardinal, ranked No. 7.
They are the only two unbeaten teams remaining in the North — Stanford outlasted UCLA, 22-13, on Saturday — and they were the teams predicted during the preseason to occupy the top two spots in this year’s division standings.
This, after four weeks of mostly lackluster foreshadowing, is the prime-time contest the Huskies hoped for, the first game between top-10 teams at Husky Stadium since UW hosted Nebraska in September 1997. And there is precious little time to prepare for it.
Washington’s charter flight didn’t land in Seattle until just before 4 a.m. Sunday, an unfriendly timetable ahead of the 6 p.m. game Friday in Seattle. UW coach Chris Petersen said he planned to begin studying film on the plane.
“We’ve had to do a bunch of different things, move practice times around,” Petersen said. “But we’ve worked on it for three weeks, and we think we’ve got a good plan to give us a chance to compete on a short week.”
If Saturday’s game provided any kind of barometer of how the Huskies might fare against an opponent with capable offensive playmakers … well, they’re going to have to make efficient use of this short practice week. Arizona rushed for 308 yards and 7.2 yards per carry, an effort led by quarterback Brandon Dawkins and his 176 yards (on 13 rushes) and two touchdowns. J.J. Taylor, Arizona’s quick, 5-foot-6 tailback, added 97 yards on 19 carries before breaking his ankle.
“It was obviously a little bit of a frustrating game,” Petersen said, “because we didn’t play up to the standard I think we can play at.”
Stanford, with its slow, grinding, run-heavy style, offers a stark contrast to Arizona’s up-tempo spread. Cardinal tailback Christian McCaffrey, last year’s Heisman runner-up, might be the best player UW faces this season. But the Huskies won’t have to worry about chasing around a quarterback as mobile as Dawkins.
“Their style is completely different than we’ve seen the last four weeks,” Petersen said. “(We’re) used to these spread offenses and running quarterbacks and all those things we hadn’t seen. Now it’s two backs and pound you and all kinds of linemen. That’s what’s different.”
As much as UW struggled to stop the run on Saturday, the Huskies were able to move the ball on the ground too. Fourth-year junior Lavon Coleman scored on a 55-yard touchdown run and finished with 181 yards on 11 carries. UW rushed for a season-best 352 yards as a team, averaging 6.9 yards per rush — and the Huskies now rank 21st nationally in yards-per-carry at 5.36.
In a 31-14 loss at Stanford last season, the Huskies managed only 11 first downs and looked mostly lost offensively. Granted, backup quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels made his first career start in that game, in place of Jake Browning, who sat out with an injured shoulder. But the manner in which the Cardinal bullied the younger Huskies caused Petersen to remark afterward that Stanford looked something like what UW hoped to be.
Less than a year later, here they are, set for a Friday night showdown that could help decide the Pac-12 North champion.
“We want to do something great here at Washington,” Coleman said. “And we believe in these guys and what they want to do. I feel like we can do it. We’ve just got to go into the drawing board room and get everything done.”
FRIDAY: Stanford (3-0, 2-0 Pac-12) at Washington (4-0, 1-0), 6 p.m., ESPN, 1000-AM / 97.7-FM