No. 7 Washington rolls heavy artillery into Arizona

Field Level Media

September 26, 2023 at 5:24 pm.

No. 7 Washington rolls into Tucson with the nation’s best offense and the top-rated passer to face an improved defense when the Huskies visit Arizona on Saturday night.

The Huskies (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) received one vote at No. 1 in this week’s Associated Press poll, have scored at least 41 points in each game and have won every contest by at least 27 points. The closest was last weekend’s 59-32 decision vs. Cal.

Michael Penix Jr. threw for more than 400 yards in three of those games, including 473 at Michigan State. He is averaging 409.0 passing yards, while the Huskies are putting up 593.2 total yards per game.

“We never relax,” Penix said. “We want to make sure we score every time we get the ball. That’s our mentality.”

Arizona (3-1, 1-0) has been building program momentum in coach Jedd Fisch’s third season, and the Wildcats are expecting a Red-Out sellout crowd of about 51,000 for Saturday’s game. Arizona is giving up 314.2 yards per game, and the defense has dropped its average yards per play allowed to 4.97 from last season’s mark of 6.59.

But the Wildcats barely scraped past Stanford in a 21-20 road victory last week and haven’t faced anything close to the kind of firepower that Washington possesses.

“We need to have an incredible environment on Saturday night,” Fisch said. “We have to play our best football. We’ve got to play better than we played all year.”

It’s not clear if Arizona will have starting quarterback Jayden de Laura, who left late in the third quarter against Stanford with a right ankle injury. He was the Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year at Washington State in 2021 before starting the past 16 games for the Wildcats.

Redshirt freshman Noah Fifita finished up against Stanford, leading the go-ahead drive and finishing 4-for-4 passing, including completing two throws that helped take the final 3:08 off the clock to preserve the victory. Fisch said the offense would be the same, no matter who is at quarterback.

“They’ve learned the offense the exact same way,” Fisch said of his quarterbacks. “They’ve been at the exact same meetings and they have very similar skill sets in a lot of ways. So nothing changes.”

The Huskies surround Penix with arguably the nation’s best receiving corps, including Rome Odunze (27 catches, 544 yards, four touchdowns), Ja’Lynn Polk (21-427-4) and Jalen McMillan (20-311-3). McMillan missed last week’s game against Cal due to a minor injury, but DeBoer said Monday he is “very optimistic” he would be available at Arizona.

Last year’s game was a shootout in Seattle, with the Huskies winning 49-39. Penix threw for a career-high 516 yards to go along with four touchdowns. For Arizona, de Laura threw for an even 400 yards and four scores.

“We continue to grow,” Washington coach Kalen DeBoer said.

“We know what we want to be. I can tell you the energy in the locker room the last two weeks, first half and second half, it’s been different than before. There’s energy but there is like this determination and this focus to come out of the locker room, hard-charging and to separate ourselves. I think there is a killer instinct that this team is developing.”