Tim Kish revitalized the team in virtually every facet of the game, and that infusion of positivity showed itself on the field. For a team playing merely for pride and for each other, the Wildcats showed up in a major way and have many wondering, is this the UA team that we should have seen from week one, or was the team's effort against the Bruins merely a hoax?
The Wildcats will have their first opportunity to answer that question on Saturday against a Washington team largely overachieving this season. The Huskies were slotted as the third best team in the Pac-12 North, but no one expected UW to compete with Stanford or Oregon for the title in the division.
With the graduation of Jake Locker, success in 2011 for the Huskies was far from a guarantee, and Steve Sarkisian's team has responded well and is a victory away for being bowl eligible for the second consecutive season.
This game is sure to be a shootout through the air, as it features the conference's worst two passing defenses and scoring defenses as well. With Washington quarterback Keith Price doing well replacing Locker, and Nick Foles, the nation's leading passer, both teams will undoubtedly look to the air.
Above all else, Kish has put the fun back into football for the Arizona football program again. His players have responded well to his style of coaching and while they've said they are playing to honor their old head coach, it is clear that above all else, the team has come together in an effort to win for each other.
Few would give a 2-5 team a chance against a team that is 5-2, but UA's effort last week has instilled a bit of confidence back into the team and the fan base. We'll see Saturday if UA's effort against UCLA is a one hit wonder, or if more victories are on the way for Arizona in 2011.
Players to watch:
#1- RB, Chris Polk: The junior running back is the Pac-10 rushing leader with 872 yards, and he's averaging nearly six yards per carry. Arizona did very well containing Johnathan Franklin and the UCLA running game, but still have the Pac-12's third worst rushing defense. The Wildcats are sure to get a steady dose of UW's big, bruising running back.
#9- WR Devin Aguilar: The Huskies have one of the best receivers in the conference in Jermaine Kearse, but it can ill afford to sleep on Aguilar. The senior has just one fewer catch than Kearse, but is averaging nearly 16 yards per reception and is the team leader with 401 yards on the season. UW will look to get him the ball in space and let his play making ability take over from there for big gains.
#88- TE, Austin Seferian-Jenkins: Few offenses utilize the tight end the way UW does, as the redshirt-sophomore Seferian-Jenkins has developed into one of the team's top receiving threats. He averages 16 yards per reception and is third on the team with 321 receiving yards. For a team that struggled as mightily as UA did against all of Stanford's tight ends, Seferian-Jenkins could be in line for a big game against the Wildcats.
#1- SS, Sean Parker: For a secondary that has struggled as mightily as the UW secondary has, Parker has been a bright spot for the defense as a whole. He ranks second on the team with 50 tackles, and he's been great so far in run defense for the Huskies. He'll likely be around the ball throughout the contest for Washington, and has shown the ability to finish plays when given the opportunity.
#6- CB Desmond Trufant: With two picks on the season, Trufant has been the anchor of the Huskies pass defense this season. He'll likely match up with Juron Criner for the duration of Saturday's game, and how well he fares against Arizona's top target will likely play a huge role in how successful UA will be at moving the ball through the air.
#31- ILB Cort Dennison: The Pac-12's leading tackler so far in 2011, Dennison has been rock solid in the middle of the Huskies' defense this season. He's a sideline-to-sideline defender that has a nose for the football, and when UA takes to the ground, it'll likely have to go through the UW middle linebacker to have any success.
Keys to the game:
1. Score first: With a touchdown on the opening drive of the game against UCLA, Arizona's nerves and excitement that the team had heading into the contest settled. With the first road game of the post-Stoops era coming on Saturday, another opening score will help to settle the butterflies that come with playing on the road.
2. Cortez Johnson: Arizona had four defensive backs suspended for Saturday's game, and it is likely Johnson will be thrown into the fire and asked to hold his own. With all of the talent in the UW receiving corps, Johnson is likely to have his hands full. If he can hold his own, it will go a long ways towards an Arizona victory.
3. Passing game: Nick Foles is the top passer in the country through the team's seven games, and he'll be taking on the nation's 110th ranked passing defense on Saturday. Foles could be in line for a big game this weekend, and Arizona should place all of its hopes on the right arm of their senior quarterback.
4. Protect the football: As two of the nation's worst pass defenses square off, it's likely Saturday's game is a shootout from the first snap. Arizona will need to put the ball in the end zone, not in the hands of Washington, in order to keep pace in a high-scoring game.
5. Passion: The fire that the Wildcats played with last Thursday was tangible in Arizona Stadium, and it's clear that Tim Kish has revitalized a team that has been playing without much enthusiasm for much of the season. Arizona's excitement level will loom large in the outcome of Saturday's game, and with Kish at the helm, it's likely UA will be ready to go when it takes the field against Washington.