Last season Arizona stomped Washington 52-17 in Tuscon. That loss brought back memories of Nick Holt-led defenses. It was the kind of loss that Husky fans had started to assume they wouldn’t be seeing anymore. Losing 52-17 to Stanford or Oregon is bad, but at least those teams are consistently in the top-five. Arizona was 3-3 at the time of that beatdown, fresh off of a brutal stretch against Oregon, Oregon State, and Stanford, all three ranked at the time.
Losing horribly to good but not great teams on the road has been one of Coach Sarkisian’s biggest issues. The opportunity to avenge last year’s embarrassing debacle combined with the chance to spoil Arizona’s 3-0 start makes this one more of a must-win than Husky fans might realize. If the Huskies have really turned a corner, this is the sort of home game they should win decisively. If they plan on beating Stanford and/or Oregon in the two weeks that follow, this is the sort of home game they should win decisively. Beating Arizona won’t help to exorcise Sark’s road demons, but it will start Washington off with a win in Pac-12 play and the confidence needed to travel all the way to Stanford the week after.
Last year beating Arizona meant beating the Arizona offense. That is still mostly true this season, though the duo of quarterback Matt Scott and running back Ka’Deem Carey has been broken up, with Scott now attempting to make his way in the NFL. Carey remains. In 2012 he ran for 1929 yards to go along with 23 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 36 passes for 303 yards and a score.
He missed Arizona’s opener against Northern Arizona, but in the next two contests versus UNLV and UTSA he combined for 299 yards and 4 touchdowns. Those are weak teams, but those numbers should serve as a reminder that Carey is the backbone of the Arizona offense. With Scott replaced by senior B.J. Denker, who has so far shown himself to be a far less dynamic threat (326 passing yards and two scores through three games, 56% completion), Coach Rodriguez’s once-balanced spread attack now leans heavily on the run, which means it now leans heavily on Ka’Deem Carey.
As even a quick glance at Carey’s tape will show you, stopping or at least limiting the junior back would involve discipline and strong fundamental tackling. When running between the tackles, Carey consistently showed off his ability to burst through a nearly nonexistent hole. If linebackers over commit instead of waiting for Carey to hit their gap, he will get behind the bulk of the defense and once he has entered the second level, his open-field elusiveness and tackler-dragging power are usually good for an extra 5-10 yards at best, a long touchdown at worst.
In the aforementioned blowout last year, Carey shredded Washington for 172 yards and a score on 29 carries. In watching footage of that game, it’s very clear that Carey succeeded by playing a thoroughly-Carey game. He committed to a hole in the defense and his it hard, and once he found himself five yards downfield, he danced and powered his way down the field. Tackling was poor, with Carey almost always able to either break a weak, off-balanced arm tackle or at least drag his tackler a few yards downfield.
Coach Wilcox and his defense must learn from those mistakes. Their defense of Carey could serve as a manual on how not to defend a running back of his caliber. This year, the equation is simpler without the dangerous dual-threat Matt Scott to consider. The Huskies can likely focus on stopping the run, something they have done very well this year. If they fail to corral Carey, it could be a very rough night on Montlake.