By Brent Stecker
The No. 16 Washington Huskies' new up-tempo offense is one of the biggest factors in their first 3-0 start since 2001, but it may not exist if not for this week's opponent, Arizona.
That's what Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday, citing last year's 52-17 loss to the Wildcats in Tucson as an eye-opening experience for his program.
Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey led the NCAA in rushing in 2012, and he may be even more dangerous this year. (AP)
"To go back a little bit to this game a year ago, I felt like Arizona's tempo got us," Sarkisian said. "And this is part of the reason why we are doing what we're doing offensively, to prepare for this game so that when teams go to this up-tempo style against us, we don't become uncomfortable on defense.
"It's an arena that we're used to being in, that we're used to excelling in. ... It is what people are doing in college football, and you better be prepared to defend it, or what happened to us a year ago in Arizona will happen to you."
So far in 2013, the Huskies have adapted well to the quicker no-huddle style offense, like in Saturday's 56-0 pounding of Idaho State. But if anybody can maintain a faster offensive tempo than Washington, it's Rich Rodriguez's Arizona squad.
"I would assume that they're gonna try to go really fast," Sarkisian said. "They went really fast against us last year, faster than anything we've seen so far this year, so it's imperative that we do some really good work (in practice this week) – our first offense against our first defense – to get that tempo. We did that today and it was a really good start to the week."
The running game will be the focus for the Huskies' defense, and with good reason – the Wildcats are led by junior running back Ka'Deem Carey, the NCAA's leading rusher in 2012. He's been exceptional this season as well, with 299 yards and four touchdowns on just 43 carries for an average of seven yards per carry.
"They're obviously an extremely talented offensive football team," Sarkisian said. "Ka'Deem Carey, (the) nation's leading rusher a year ago, is a guy that we know we have our work cut out for us trying to stop and defend him.
"We need to do a really good job on the defensive line of, one, not to get knocked back, and two, not allowing these big O-linemen – they've got a big offensive line – to get on our linebackers. We want to let our backers run and play in space. Then the second key, which may be more important, is we have to tackle this guy, and we can't rely on just one guy to tackle him. He's a very violent runner. He does a great job of running through tackles."
Arizona's running attack is especially potent this year with speedy senior B.J. Denker (224 yards, five touchdowns on 40 carries) under center instead of current Jacksonville Jaguars backup quarterback Matt Scott.
"B.J. is a scrappy guy. ... He's really, really fast," Sarkisian said. "I think they lean a little bit more on his legs than maybe they did with Matt Scott. They threw the ball a lot with Matt Scott. This kid's a runner and he's gonna run. He (is challenging) that way because of Ka'Deem Carey standing next to him, and when they run the ball in the read option, it's kind of pick your poison. Who do you want carrying the ball? And then you gotta try tackling him."
Earning their time
A number of reserve players caught Sarkisian's eye in Saturday's win over Idaho State, and he said he will aim to keep them in the rotation for playing time.
"I think (freshman defensive end) Marcus Farria and (senior defensive tackle) Josh Banks did some really good stuff on the defensive line, pressuring the quarterback. I think they had a combined 2.5 sacks," Sarkisian said. "(Freshman defensive back) Kevin King played really, really well in the back end, and he's a guy we have high aspirations for."
Receiver John Ross, who scored his first career touchdown on a 57-yard screen pass from fellow freshman Cyler Miles, was the offensive highlight from the game.
"I think we saw the glimpse of what John Ross can be. That was an electric run coming off the bubble screen from Cyler, so hopefully we will continue to try to incorporate him," Sarkisian said. "We want to keep trying to play all these guys. They've earned the right to play. They're not redshirting now."
• Sarkisian said LB John Timu and RB Bishop Sankey, the team's leading returning tackler and rusher, respectively, will be in action against Arizona. Timu missed the Idaho State game after injuring his shoulder a week before against Illinois, and Sankey sat out the final three quarters against the Bengals after bruising his shoulder.
• Sophomore WR/RB Kendyl Taylor, who has not played a down this year, will likely use his redshirt this season, according to Sarkisian.
"(Taylor) has not played for us this year intentionally because he has a redshirt in his back pocket that we didn't use last year," Sarksian said. "He's at a position right now where he's just behind a couple guys. We didn't want to burn his year for five or six or 10 snaps in one game. He understands it."
• Senior DB Taz Stevenson is out for the year due to shoulder surgery, Sarkisian said.