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Huskies to watch

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Mike Christy
Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat The No. 15 Arizona Wildcats hosted the Washington Huskies in a Pacific 1o Conference matchup Saturday, Oct. 23, 2010 at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz. The Wildcats rolled to a 44-14 behind backup quarterback Matt Scott.

Washington running back Chris Polk poses a threat to Arizona’s defense that has struggled against the run

Remember when the Wildcats couldn’t stop the run to save their lives?

When LaMichael James ripped off a program-best 288 rushing yards at Arizona Stadium? When Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor ran over the Wildcats for a career-high 153 yards? When virtual unknown Oregon State back Jovan Stevenson went for a career-best 99 yards on 17 carries?

A week off followed by a coaching change and an impressive defensive performance against UCLA — 37 rushing yards on 25 carries — covered up Arizona’s defensive deficiencies for two weeks.

But the Wildcats won’t be able to hide their inability to stop the run this Saturday as they take on one of the conference’s premier backs in Washington junior Chris Polk.

“He’s probably as strong and physical a back that we have in this league,” said UA interim head coach Tim Kish. “I think he’s a fantastic running back. Believe me, people bounce off him. He’s physical, hard running, has a great knack for having a hole. We haven’t really seen a back like him this year, to be honest with you.”

Outside of James, Polk is far and away the best running back Arizona will face all season. Taylor overwhelmed Arizona with his power. James ran past the Wildcats with his speed. Oklahoma State running back Joseph Randle took advantage of gaping holes on his way to 121 yards and two touchdowns.

But Polk is the total package — power, speed and agility.
“He’s got great vision and once he breaks through that hole, he’s a strong runner,” said secondary coach Ryan Walters. “He never lets one guy bring him down so we’ve got to do a good job bringing him down.”

The 5-foot-11, 222-pound bruiser leads the Pac-12, ranks seventh in the NCAA in rushing and is 128 yards away from his third consecutive 1,000-yard season.

He’s run for more than 100 yards in every game but one this season, and if he doesn’t get it done on the ground, Polk is an accomplished receiver. The Redlands, Calif., native ranks fourth in the conference in all-purpose yards and has two receiving touchdowns to his name as well.

Despite his physical style of running, Polk still leads the conference in carries with 149. If the Wildcats don’t wrap up, they’re in trouble against the Huskies workhorse.

“He’s a premier back in our conference,” said senior cornerback Trevin Wade. “You’ve just got to gang tackle and not let him go.”
Robert Golden said former Stanford running back and current Minnesota Viking Toby Gerhart was the most physical, and arguably the best, back he’d ever faced.

But the senior safety admitted Polk is almost as powerful as Gerhart. Then add in breakaway speed and Polk becomes a defense’s worst nightmare. If Arizona’s front seven struggles like it did the first six games of the season, it could be a long night, and Polk will be on his way to his third straight 1,000-yard season only eight games into the season.

“It’s a good challenge for us. He’s a good running back,” said senior linebacker Paul Vassallo. “He runs hard and he’s got size but he doesn’t lack any speed, and I think he showed that last week. It’s hard to bring him down with one guy, so it’s going to be important for all of us to run to the ball.”

– Mike Schmitz

The Price is right: Sophomore quarterback among best in the nation as Arizona heads to Seattle to face the Huskies

Saturday won’t be an ideal time for Arizona to face the NCAA’s No. 6-rated quarterback in passing efficiency.

The Wildcat secondary is down two starters — cornerback Shaquille Richardson and nickel back Jourdon Grandon — and in the Pac-12 Conference, Husky quarterback Keith Price ranks only behind Stanford signal caller and Heisman trophy frontrunner Andrew Luck with an efficiency rating of 168.7.

Luck tops the league and ranks fifth in the nation with a rating of 180.

“I think the coaches up there would say he’s actually running the offense better than what (Jake) Locker did,” interim head coach Tim Kish said. “I’ve heard that comment made several times.”

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound sophomore has thrown for 1,713 yards through seven games to go along with 22 touchdowns and just five interceptions in his first season as the full-time starter. Price started one game in 2010.

Price’s decision making is nearly flawless. The closer the UW offense gets to the end zone, the better his numbers are. He completes 85 percent of his passes inside the 20-yard line, and 90 percent of his pass attempts from inside the 10-yard line for a Washington offense that ranks third in the Pac-12 in scoring, putting up 34.7 points per game.

“He’s having a tremendous year,” Kish said. “He throws the ball well. He moves well in the pocket. He doesn’t get himself in trouble. They have some real talent on that side of the ball.”

Price’s best numbers come in the fourth quarter, where he sports an efficiency rating of 210 and completes 78 percent of his passes.

Arizona safety Robert Golden also said Price is running the offense better than Locker did, but that even though Price saw limited action against Arizona in the Wildcats’ 44-14 win a season ago, he’s nowhere near the same player now as he was then.

“He’s become a player of his own throughout this season,” Golden said. “He’s been throwing the ball well. He’s a good quarterback, we’ve just got to go out there and get after it.”

– Alex Williams

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