The elephant on the table is that the University of Washington football team is trying to forget.
Forget the recent history of struggles in Tucson, Ariz., where the Huskies face the Arizona Wildcats tonight after losing their past two games there by a composite score of 92-28. Forget the recent string of top-25 opponents that left the Huskies sitting at 3-3 midway through the 2012 season after back-to-back, double-digit losses. And, most of all, forget about last Saturday afternoon, when mistakes at the most crucial times helped thwart UW’s comeback attempt in a 24-14 loss to USC.
That might be easier said than done for quarterback Keith Price, who fumbled twice and threw an interception during the fourth quarter of last Saturday’s loss to the Trojans.
“I’m ready to get back out there,” Price said this week. “It’s hard. I still think about the (USC) game, just knowing that we had an opportunity to win the game, and I didn’t get that done.
“I’ll be better. I’m going to make sure I do better.”
A good place to start would be with ball security. It was an area of emphasis this week, when coaches put Price through a so-called “gauntlet” drill that included three players trying to strip the ball from his grasp. After Wednesday’s session, Price said he fumbled only once and added that he’ll be taking better care of the football this week.
His biggest problem, Price said, is a habit of carrying the ball “like a loaf of bread” when on the run.
“But I’ve been like that since Pop Warner,” he said. “I’m ready to throw the ball at any time. When I do decide to tuck and run it, I need to be more secure with the ball. I haven’t done that these past two weeks.”
The Huskies (3-3 overall, 1-2 in the Pacific-12 Conference) undoubtedly will need a better performance from Price today if they want to snap their two-game losing streak. Points will be of significant importance against an Arizona team that ranks fourth in the country in yards per game (553.5) and 27th in scoring offense (37.0 points per game) in coach Rich Rodriguez’s first year running the program.
“We definitely plan on scoring a lot of points,” Price said. “We know they’re going to score, so we have to match that. Obviously our defense is doing a little bit better than last year, so we don’t have to rely on ourselves to score on every possession. That’s always nice.”
Said Huskies tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins: “Arizona’s offense, everyone knows, it’s pretty well-documented they can score. Their defense, we’ve watched on film, they’re good as well, but I think we can take advantage of some things.”
Arizona, under since-fired head coach Mike Stoops, scored 30 or more points in five consecutive meetings with UW — most of those coming with quarterback Nick Foles running the show. This year’s Wildcats might actually have more firepower despite a dramatic shift in scheme that features duel-threat quarterback Mike Scott in a spread offense that has elements of the Oregon system. It’s yet another huge challenge for an improved UW defense that has faced three nationally ranked teams — Stanford, Oregon and USC — in consecutive weeks.
“We’ve just got to hydrate up and be ready to go,” said Justin Glenn, UW’s senior safety.
This year’s Wildcats have fallen from the top 25 to the bottom of the Pac-12, thanks to three consecutive conference losses. Arizona is just as desperate as UW to turn things around, and yet the Wildcats represent the least daunting challenge, on paper, that the Huskies have seen since a Sept. 15 date with Portland State.
But as history has shown, a trip to Tucson is never as easy as it looks for UW football.