No. 16 Huskies face tough stretch to start Pac-12

SEATTLE — Washington’s electric start to the season and an offense that’s among the best in the country are about to get a test that will help determine just how good these Huskies really are.

A Pac-12 Conference slate that starts with four difficult games against Arizona, at Stanford, vs. Oregon and Arizona State should be telling.

“This is the beginning of our making the run to the championship or to the Rose Bowl, so we know this is our first obstacle and hopefully we can first handle it,” Washington quarterback Keith Price said.

Washington moved up to No. 16 in this week’s AP Top 25. It’s the highest ranking for the school since the 2002 season, when the Huskies were ranked as high as No. 11. They have the No. 3 overall offense in the country, averaging more than 600 yards per game, and have run their new up-tempo scheme precisely and efficiently as they have outscored their three opponents 128-30.

The Huskies (3-0) finished non-conference play with a perfect record for the first time since 2000 after last Saturday’s 56-0 romp over Idaho State of the FCS. Washington rolled up 680 yards of total offense, the second-highest total in school history.

Washington last started 4-0 in 2001 and the Huskies’ optimism entering this difficult stretch stems from the potency their offense has displayed. The Huskies have topped 500 yards total offense in three straight games for the first time since the school started keeping track of those stats. They’ve gone over 600 yards in the last two games against Illinois and Idaho State, a first in school record books as well.

Price believed this kind of output would be possible.

“Throughout the spring, throughout fall camp we’ve had a lot of explosive plays. … I knew that we had an explosive team,” Price said. “It’s just fun to play against other people to see how explosive we really are.”

Coach Steve Sarkisian hoped his offense would be able to produce like this when the Huskies made the decision in the offseason to play at a faster pace. After three weeks, the Huskies trail only Baylor and Oregon in total offense. The balance has also been impressive: the Huskies are No. 9 in rushing offense at 303.7 yards per game and No. 17 in passing offense at 325.3 per game.

“I’m not surprised. I’m really pleased. I’m pleased with our ability to execute,” Sarkisian said. “I think the offensive line has really embraced this transition to tempo and speed at which we’re working at. I think the system is doing what I was hopeful it would do, which is emphasize our skilled athletes. We have some really skilled, talented football players on our team that when they get the ball in their hands they can create and make plays.”

But have the Huskies really been tested yet? None of Washington’s three opponents are ranked in the upper half of their respective divisions. Boise State’s defense ranks 98th in the country in total defense. Illinois is 113th and Idaho State is 69th in the FCS.

The Arizona game will be the Huskies’ first chance to see if that offense can click against a stronger defensive unit. The Wildcats are 26th in the country, giving up 310 yards per game, although no one would consider Arizona’s non-conference opponents, Northern Arizona, UNLV and Texas-San Antonio, the most difficult trio to try to shut down.

Sarkisian said Monday that the long-term validation of the Huskies’ offense begins this weekend.

“This one for sure. I can’t speak for the games down the road. I know they are really good teams but I don’t know exactly how they’re getting it done right now,” he said. “I know this will be a tremendous test for us.”

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