Wildcats open Pac-12 play in Seattle

Ka'Deem Carey

Arizona travels to Washington to open up Pac-12 play. Read on for a complete preview of Saturday's contest, including the players to watch and keys to the game.

Both Washington and Arizona are entering Saturday's contest without a loss and after both take the field at Husky Stadium, one of those teams will no longer be able to claim an unblemished record.

Washington has had the harder schedule to date, defeating Boise State, Illinois, and Idaho State. Arizona, on the other hand, has done exactly what it should have done, beating NAU, UNLV, and UTSA.

Still, Saturday's game has the feeling of the unknown. Much of that feeling has to do with Arizona's quarterback play, as B.J. Denker will get his first test of the season. So far, Denker has only completed 56 percent of his passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. In addition, he has added 224 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

Denker has heard all week that he is the weak link for Arizona and the biggest question mark on the road. During Monday's press conference he seemed to take offense to a question about the early schedule, making it known that each opponent Arizona has faced is capable.

"Our season started during week one," Denker said. "There are no pretend games in football, you only get 12. Yes, this is Pac-12 play and we understand this is a bigger deal and this is going to be the best team we will have played.

"We can only play who is put on the schedule, I don't think the normal fan appreciates that if they are I-AA (FCS) or you are a lower tier Division I football team, this game is rough. You can't just go out on the field and expect a victory because somebody will come and smack you in the mouth."

The quarterback that is getting all of the attention is Washington's Keith Price, who is off to one of the best starts of his career.

In three games, Price has thrown for 879 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception, Last season, Price finished with 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, so it seems that the 6-foot-1 signal caller has bounced back.

Price has spread the ball out well, but three players dominate the number of receptions. Sophomore Jaydon Mickens leads the Huskies with 20 catches this season and has 199 yards and one touchdown. Kasen Williams and Kevin Smith have similar numbers, with both going for 11 receptions and Williams having 204 yards compared to Smith's 201.

Freshman John Ross might be the most explosive of the bunch, grabbing six balls for 100 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown.

Of course, the biggest target is tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Seferian-Jenkins was suspended for one game, but has totaled eight catches for 70 yards and a score. Last season, he went for eight catches for 110 yards against Arizona last season and poses a similar threat this season.

Everything is made easier by the fact that the Huskies have Bishop Sankey coming out of the backfield. Sankey has 64 rushing attempts for 446 yards and four touchdowns despite only carrying the ball four times for 70 yards against Idaho State.

The biggest offensive storyline on Saturday may be the battle between Sankey and Ka'Deem Carey. Carey has 43 carries for 299 yards and four touchdowns and had he played a third game, chances are that his numbers would be right where Sankey's are.

"I haven't got to see him play, so I am excited to see him play," Carey said. "Like I said last year, I like to see great backs play in person. Take some style from them if I need to, but I can't wait to see the running backs this year. I can't wait to see the guy from Oregon and I love to go against competition.

"I'm a competitor. This team is competitive, so our defense is going to go out there and try to shut him down and their defense is going to try and do the same to me. I am excited and we will see who comes out on top."

Defensively, the Huskies are hoping that this year's game goes better than last season's, as Washington had no answer for anything Arizona did offensively.

Now, UW is transforming under defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and although it is only three games in, the results have been great. Washington is only giving up ten points per game, which is good for eighth in the nation. In addition, it is 12th in the nation in yards against, 25th in rushing against, and 22nd in passing.

The strengths and weaknesses of Arizona and Washington's defense are pretty similar. Linebacker John Timu is likely full go and has 18 tackles this season, which leads the Huskies. Princeton Fuimaono is right next to Timu and his best two games of the season have come against Washington's best two opponents.

UW also presents the best corner in the game in Marcus Peters. It will be interesting to see how Arizona attacks the Huskies' passing game because Peters has the ability to take the UA's best receiver out of the game.

In order to win, Arizona is going to have to play a balanced game and likely an efficient passing game. The weather calls for rain and wind, which should actually play in Arizona's favor if you believe the passing game is that big of a mismatch.

Beyond the field, Arizona is going to have to deal with easily the most hostile environment it has seen this season. If it is able to overcome that and contain Washington's offense, there is a good chance Arizona will start off the Pac-12 season with a win.

Players to watch:

#17- QB, Keith Price: It is hard to believe that UW can win if Price has an off game. Arizona had success last season in getting to Price and forcing him to make bad decisions and will likely look to do the same on Saturday.

#25- RB, Bishop Sankey: Sankey is one of the best runners that not a lot of people have heard about. He is similar to Carey in that he is powerful and it is difficult for one tackler to take him down. If Sankey gets momentum and the Arizona defense starts to wear down, Arizona could be in trouble.

#1- WR, John Ross: Washington is able to get solid kickoff returns from Ross and it is similar to why he is a good receiver: big play ability. Arizona is going to need to know where Ross is at all times, as he has the ability to make people miss once he gets into space.

#71, DT, Danny Shelton: Shelton has started every game this season and did the same last season as well. He may not put up eye-popping numbers, but Shelton is the anchor of the line. He is going to have to be able to hold his gaps in order for Carey to not get to the next level. In addition, his discipline will go a long way in deciding what kind of game Denker has.

#22, DE, Josh Shirley: Shirley has the speed to try to keep up with Denker on the option read and could see more snaps than usual. He had three sacks against Idaho State, but did not do much in the other two games. Still, the Huskies will need him in this one.

Keys to the game:

Contain Sankey: Stopping him could be hard, although Arizona did extremely well last season. If Arizona can contain Sankey, it forces UW to pass more and if the weather is as predicted, that is not a good thing.

Pressure Price: Arizona is very likely to blitz Price on obvious passing downs and maybe on other ones as well. In order for minimize the chance of Price being effective, Arizona is going to have to make him as uncomfortable as possible.

Get the passing game going: That does not necessarily mean that Denker has to pass for 250 yards, but he has to be efficient. 56 percent is likely not going to cut it on Saturday, but if he can get the screens and slants going, Arizona's offense becomes more effective.

Get an early lead: If Arizona wins the toss, it will be interesting to see what Rodriguez chooses to do. The crowd has been a topic all week, but the best way to take care of that is for the Wildcats to get some kind of early lead.

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