If you look at football like a chess match, Arizona and Washington both lost some valuable pieces from their boards last week.
The No. 15 Wildcats (5-1) go into tonight’s game against the Huskies without their most important board piece, their starting quarterback. Washington’s starting defensive end, the guy that chases after the quarterback, was also knocked from the board last week.
Both went down with knee injuries.
Unfortunately, Arizona’s loss is much more significant, even though Talia Crichton has been an important part of the Huskies’ defensive pressure, starting the first six games of the season and accounting for 12 tackles.
But stepping into Crichton’s shoes is 6’3″, 238-pound Hau’oli Jamora.
Jamora has been playing, but not starting. He’s generally credited with helping to kick the Washington pass rush into high gear lately, something that was missing earlier in the season. He had 1 1/2 sacks last week in a double-overtime win against No. 24 Oregon State.
But Arizona’s backup QB, Matt Scott, has to step in tonight to replace the starter who happens to be ranked No. 3 in the Pac-10 in passing effiiciency. Nick Foles returned to his home in Austin, Tex., this week to have a full medical examination done on his dislocated knee; he will be out for at least the next few weeks.
Actually, Scott is just taking his job back. The junior was the starter at the beginning of the 2009 season and won his first two games before losing to Iowa, which is when Foles stepped in to replace him and never gave the job back. He’s gone 11-5 since the Iowa game.
Foles relied heavily on his arm, but Scott is a dual-threat quarterback and has more foot speed than Foles – which accounts for the fact that he has more career rushes than completed passes in the 19 games he’s played over the last three years.
Last year, the 6’3″, 215-pound Scott actually averaged more yards per run than his teammates, rushing for 309 yards on 41 carries.
His passing stats against Washington State in his second-coming weren’t bad, though. He completed 14 of 20 passes for 139 yards. But he was running an offense tailored to Foles; that will change this week.
But Washington comes into Tucson behind a quarterback whose 8,635 passing yards ranks 18th in Pac-10 history. Jake Locker, a likely NFL first-round pick next year, now ranks second in school history in career pass completions, attempts, and total yards.
Arizona counters with one of the best defenses in the country. The Wildcats lead the Pac-10 in total defense and rank 1oth nationally. They also lead in both scoring defense, holding opponents to just over 13 points a game, and rushing defense, where they limit opponents to 88 yards per outing.
But the Huskies bring in the Pac-10 leader in tackles, senior linebacker Mason Foster, who is averaging 12 tackles per game. His 72 tackles so far this season puts him on track to set a Pac-10 record. He and Jamora will present a challenge for the Wildcat offense.
And that’s not good news for Scott, who was sacked five times after taking over for Foles in the Washington State game. Arizona is having some difficulty in that area, giving up 17 sacks through six games – more than allowed during the entire 2009 season.
Washington (3-3, 2-1) holds a 17-8-1 advantage in meetings between the two teams.
Last year, the game pivoted on a wild play that resulted from a Huskies linebacker intercepting a Foles’ pass that bounced off the foot of the intended receiver. That interception by Mason Foster was returned for a score late in the game and Washington held on for the 36-33 win.
This year it’s Homecoming for the Wildcats and they have a chance to not only win the game in front of a sell-out crowd, but can accomplish something even more important.
A win tonight will make the Cats bowl-eligible for the fourth time in five years.
Arizona 31, Washington 21.