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September 28, 2013

Pac-12 unbeatens Arizona, Washington open league play

For a month now, all that the Arizona football team has heard is that it has not played anybody tough.

Fresh off a bye and in the face of one of the tougher environments in the league, the Wildcats (3-0) will open Pac-12 Conference play on the road Saturday at No. 16-ranked Washington (3-0). Kickoff at Husky Stadium is scheduled at 4 p.m.

Despite winning four of the last six games in the head-to-head series, UA has dropped its last two contests in Seattle.

"Definitely an opportunity to showcase our abilities," UA nose tackle Tevin Hood said. "We've, according to everybody, played nobody so far. It's debatable, but going into an opponent's house - they're ranked 16th in the nation - on national TV is a great opportunity for us."

Through three games, Arizona has trailed just once this season against one of the weaker nonconference slates in the country. The Wildcats outscored Northern Arizona, UNLV and UTSA a combined 131-26 - including 24-0 in the third quarter.

Wildcats quarterback B.J. Denker has played virtually mistake-free football, throwing 55 passes without an interception to start the season. The senior has thrown for 326 yards and a pair of touchdowns, topping 100 yards for the first time two weeks ago in a 38-13 win over UTSA.

The attention to the lack of a passing game - UA has the seventh-worst average through the air in the nation at 108.7 yards per game - has struck a nerve with Denker.

"Most of the reason why the numbers weren't so well was because we were running the ball so well," said Denker, who has rushed for 224 yards and a team-high five touchdowns.

As a team, the Wildcats have the country's fourth-best rushing offense led by junior star Ka'Deem Carey, who is averaging 149.5 yards on the ground per game to go with four scores despite missing the season opener because of suspension.

The UA defense, which ranks in the top one-third of the league after finishing last in several major categories each of the last two seasons, will have its own running back to contain. If not for the Huskies' decision to limit Bishop Sankey's touches in a 56-0 romp over Idaho State last week, the junior running back may still be the nation's top rusher.

Sankey finished with just 77 yards and a touchdown on four carries, bringing his season totals to 446 yards and four scores.

Carey said he is looking forward to a matchup against one of the top running backs in the Pac-12.

"We'll see who comes out on top," Carey said.

But with a 100 percent chance of rain, UA head coach Rich Rodriguez had his players practice with soaked footballs throughout the week in order to make ball security a priority.

"Our guys should be accustomed to it," Rodriguez said of the "wet ball drills" in anticipation of the weather.

The defense also will have its hands full with UW quarterback Keith Price. The senior has bounced back from an up-and-down 2012 season - including a pair of interceptions in a 52-17 loss in Tucson last season - and has regained his form.

Price has connected on 77 percent of his throws for 879 yards and seven touchdowns to just one interception this season.

As an offense, UW has shown balance with top-20 passing and running attacks in a more uptempo attack that adds up to the nation's third-best unit at 629 yards per game.

"I'm not surprised. I'm really pleased. I'm pleased with our ability to execute," Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian said.

"I think the system is doing what I was hopeful it would do, which is emphasize our skilled athletes."

Hood said one observation on film has made Price look like a "different man."

"He took that knee brace off," Hood said. "Knee braces completely eliminate athleticism.

"He took that off and it's like a man reborn."

For the Huskies, it will be the first of a tough four-game stretch that also includes No. 5 Stanford, No. 2 Oregon and previously ranked Arizona State.

A win over the Wildcats would give the program its best start in 12 years.

"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," Price said.

The Wildcats will welcome back a pair of pieces on both sides of the ball. Defensive end Dan Pettinato (knee) and wide receiver David Richards (foot) both traveled to Seattle and are listed as probable. Both are expected to make their season debuts after missing all of spring and fall camp.

Richards may be the more limited of the two, suffering a minor setback more than a week ago before picking it back up this week. Pettinato, meanwhile, had been ahead of schedule throughout fall camp and is expected to appear in limited action each quarter as he gets eased back into the mix.

"It feels good," Pettinato, a starter last season, said of his return. "It's been a long time. But my knee is good, ready to go. Just can't wait to get back there."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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