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Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin is glad to have receiver Brian Casteel back for the UA's game at Washington.

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Here are three things to watch in the Arizona Wildcats’ 2020 road opener against Washington at Husky Stadium in Seattle (Saturday, 6 p.m., Fox/11), plus a score prediction and some pertinent preview links:


The most important matchup in the game pits Washington’s run game vs. Arizona’s run defense. We covered that ground extensively here. The runner-up: Arizona’s pass offense vs. Washington’s pass defense. The UA accumulated 286 yards and three touchdowns through the air last week against USC, but the receivers struggled to separate at times. That task won’t get any easier against the Huskies’ elite secondary. “They can diagnose route combinations better than anyone in the conference,” Pac-12 Networks analyst Yogi Roth said. “They know when you’re in certain formations, hash marks, down and distance, what combinations you can run.” Getting veterans Brian Casteel and Drew Dixon back should help the Wildcats. They and others will have to win one-on-one battles with the likes of senior Elijah Molden, who’s as good as any cornerback in the country, and sophomore Trent McDuffie, who’s approaching that level. Roth believes Arizona can run the ball against Washington; that, in theory, should create more opportunities for the wideouts. But given how much confidence they have in their defensive backs, the Huskies just might commit to stopping the run and dare the Wildcats’ receivers to beat them.


Arizona’s personnel on defense has changed dramatically since Kevin Sumlin became coach. The Wildcats have gotten bigger and deeper along the defensive line. They also suffered unforeseen losses in the linebacking corps this offseason. All of that got me to thinking: Why not go to a four-man front against Washington’s massive offensive line, which the Huskies sometimes supplement with a sixth O-lineman? Why not add someone like senior defensive tackle Trevon Mason to the starting unit and take a linebacker off the field against the run-oriented Huskies? Roth doesn’t see that happening. “I would be shocked if they altered their scheme,” said Roth, who played at Pitt when first-year Arizona defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads was the DC there. “He sees his defense as multiple. He can instantly get into a four- or five-man front (with base personnel), cover up gaps, cover up the tight end. You will see the structure look a little different. But they’re not going to change how they play. It’s too early for that to happen.” One change that Sumlin hinted at: Folding the freshman defensive linemen into the rotation. Fresh bodies will be at a premium in this one.


McDuffie became Washington’s punt returner this season, and it took him all of one week to make an impact. McDuffie returned two punts for 56 yards against Oregon State, including a 45-yarder. The return set up a UW touchdown that gave the Huskies a 24-14 lead. “What an exciting part of the game that was,” UW coach Jimmy Lake said. “He’s just so natural, so explosive. We saw him in practice making guys miss and causing our scout team issues. So we knew it was going to happen in a game. Teams here moving forward are definitely going to have to make sure they don’t outkick their coverage, and they’re going to have to know where 22 is and make sure they’ve got guys that can tackle him. He’s one of our fastest players.” The UA punt team functioned well against USC. Freshman Tyler Loop averaged 45.3 yards per attempt, with a net of 39.7. He and the coverage team will have to be sharp to keep McDuffie contained. The Southern California product ran the 100 meters in 10.82 seconds in high school.

FINAL SCORE: Washington 24, Arizona 20


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Contact sports reporter Michael Lev at 573-4148 or mlev@tucson.com. On Twitter @michaeljlev 

This article originally ran on tucson.com.



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