'Cats, Dawgs are birds of a feather

SEATTLE - With the Arizona Wildcats already removed from post-season consideration and the Washington Huskies on serious life-support, a matchup between these two teams would hardly be the stuff of a letter home to Mom, let alone a television broadcast.

But the cameras will be rolling Saturday at Husky Stadium, and despite the fact the both programs seem to be heading in the wrong direction - at least on the scoreboard - it's not the only thing they have in common.

Wildcat Head Coach Mike Stoops is 14-28 since moving to Tucson four years ago, just slightly better than Tyrone Willingham's 9-21 in the three years since he was hired by Washington to turn things around. While Willingham has seen assistants come and go of their own volition, Stoops has been pro-active in trying to create a viable offensive threat to go along with his forte - defense.

To that end, he hired former Texas Tech passing guru Sonny Dykes to head up an offensive revival of sorts. The Wildcats averaged just 16.6 points and 253 total yards per game in 2006, and that's just not going to cut the mustard in a conference where right now the worst offense in the league is averaging over 24.

"The first year is always the hardest," Stoops said Monday about implimenting a more wide-open offensive attack. "We're going through some growing pains."

Envision the Oregon spread, but instead of a really mobile quarterback like Dennis Dixon, imagine a quarterback that distributes more from the pocket. Because of Dykes, the 'Cats have already thrown for 446 yards in one game (New Mexico), and racked up 567 total yards of offense in another (Washington State).

Those numbers should come as familiar ones to Willingham and the Huskies - who surrendered a whopping 661 yards to Oregon just this past Saturday. But that's been fairly common for the Ducks - who posted 624 yards on the road at Michigan and 589 at Stanford.

"They have it rolling pretty good right now," Stoops said.

"With the yardage we've given up on the ground, you might think teams will just line up in two-back and go right after us," Willingham said Monday. He was kind of joking, but not entirely. As a matter of fact, the 241 yards a game the Huskies are giving up against the run is the worst in the Pac-10 by nearly 80 yards.

Either way, it's doubtful the 'Cats are suddenly looking to be an I-formation team, as they currently hoist it in the air over 43 times a game. Their run/pass ratio is 38/62 percent. The Huskies are at 53/47 right now.

"If you hold a team to 20 points, you should have a chance," Stoops said about life in the wacky Pac-10. Problem is, there are only two teams in the conference right now doing that - and they aren't Arizona and Washington.

And while Arizona's final three games will be against the top-two teams in the conference - UCLA and Arizona State - and the other game against said Ducks, it's pretty clear that the 'Cats are looking north and smelling the scent of fresh dawg meat on their trail. Reasonably speaking, the game against the Huskies is their last chance to taste some success before shooting up the Pac-10 food chain with a bullet.

This can't be anything but mildly amusing to a Washington team that just went through a brutal stretch of six games where their opponents are a combined 38-5 - 24-4 in-conference. So while the 'Cats try to feast on their one apparent reprieve for the remainder of their season, the Huskies should be as hungry as ever. After all, the final six opponents they face are currently a combined 23-20 - and that includes a 7-0 Hawaii team.

"The team is determined to come up with a victory," Willingham said.

But one could also argue that we saw this last year. We saw a team that lost five-straight games heading into an absolute stone-cold lock win at home against Stanford. Stanford in 2006 was wretched. They were beyond pathetic. They were so bad, they lost every single game they played in...except one.

The Cardinal's 20-3 win in Seattle should be the first film the Huskies watched on Sunday in getting prepared to play Arizona. The team has to guard against thinking things are going to be easy - just because the final six teams they play combine for a record that's barely treading water.

"It's going to be very difficult to keep that thought out of the locker room," Willingham admitted. "But if you look at the games that have taken place, Arizona beat Washington State, Washington State played Arizona State close...any given week you have to bring your 'A' game, it doesn't matter who you play."

Or maybe all you need is a little divine intervention - such as Isaiah Stanback's 69-yard bomb to Craig Chambers as time expired during the first half of Washington's improbable 38-14 win in the desert two years ago. "There was a good feeling there that helped our team along," Willingham said.

Stoops acknowledges that Washington has had some 'unique' plays against his team, but he also knows that if the 'Cats plan on starting a mini-winning streak of their own, they'll need to execute. "They make you earn it," Stoops said of the Huskies. "We have to be good enough to execute for 60 minutes."

Sure sounds similar to these ears. A team on the ropes, hoping for a chance to take a breath, collect themselves, and prove that they can get the job done. Looks like Seattle and Tucson have a lot to talk about.

"This type of stuff takes time, takes a lot of patience and a lot of hard work," Stoops said. "If we had all the answers, we'd all be millionaires."

There will be at least two millionaires roaming the sidelines come Saturday. And Stoops is one of them.

"It's not as simple as it looks," he added, after a hearty laugh. "I don't see Washington quitting, so we're not going to quit either."

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