TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Washington has dominated to start the 2023 season, putting up massive offensive numbers while already being touted as a potential College Football Playoff team.
No chance the seventh-ranked Huskies will start looking ahead. Not with the improvement its next opponent, Arizona, has shown and certainly not after what happened last season.
“They’re aware that we fell short a year ago when we went on the road after being 4-0,” Washington coach Kalen DeBoer said. “Championship teams with the right mindset are going to prepare extra special hard to make sure that doesn’t happen the second time around.”
Washington (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) opened last season 4-0, lost its first Pac-12 road game to UCLA and dropped the next game to Arizona State, all but ending its CFP hopes.
The Huskies have looked even better starting this season.
Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has put himself in the Heisman Trophy conversation, leading the nation with 1,636 yards and 16 touchdowns with two interceptions while hitting nearly 75% of his passes. He has three of the top-10 passing games in Washington history already this season, including 473 against Michigan State.
Behind Penix, Washington leads the nation with 593.3 total yards per game, passing yards at 467.3 a game and has had two 100-yard receivers in every game this season. The Huskies' offensive line has allowed one sack in four games, also tops in the nation.
Washington received a first-place vote in this week's AP Top 25 for the first time since 1997.
“I think there’s an expectation that our team has to play like a top-10 team and beyond that (one week)," DeBoer said. ”We know that we’re going to get everyone’s best shot.”
Arizona (3-1, 1-0) is a nearly 18-point underdog, but may not be a walkover. The Wildcats pushed Washington in a 49-39 loss in Seattle last season and have gotten off to a strong start in their third season under Jedd Fisch.
Arizona is coming off a road win over Stanford to open Pac-12 play and has made huge strides defensively while the offense has continued to churn.
“We need to have an incredible environment on Saturday night,” Fisch said. “We have to play our best football. We’ve got to play better than we played all year.”
The Washington trio of Rome Odunze, Ja’Lynn Polk and Jalen McMillan has posted dizzying numbers on passes from Penix.
Prior to this season, the Huskies had eight instances in school history of two receivers having 100 yards or more in the same game. Washington has done that in all four games this season. It was Odunze and Polk in the opener vs. Boise State; Odunze and McMillan vs. Tulsa; and the past two weeks the Odunze and Polk combo.
McMillan missed the win over California last week with a lower leg injury suffered late in the first half of the win at Michigan State two weeks ago. There’s a good chance he returns to face the Wildcats.
Arizona has yet to name a starter for Saturday's game after quarterback Jayden de Laura suffered an ankle injury against Stanford last week.
If de Laura is unable to go, Noah Fifita will get the start.
Fifita saw his first significant playing time as a college player against the Cardinal and handled himself well. The sophomore was in control of the offense after de Laura went down in the fourth quarter and orchestrated a nine-play, 67-yard drive to set up the go-ahead touchdown.
“I don’t even flinch with Noah,” Fisch said. “Noah did a great job, great job handling everything, and I would have no concern whatsoever if he started for us on Saturday night. But I’d really like to see how Jayden’s ankle is.”
How the Huskies play against Arizona could be a sign of their maturity considering what sits on the horizon.
Washington will have next weekend off before hosting one of the most anticipated showdowns of the regular season when No. 9 Oregon visits on Oct. 14 — with all the hype that will come from that rivalry matchup.
If Washington wants to keep the stakes as high as possible, it can’t afford to be looking past the Wildcats, especially with how last year’s game in Seattle played out. The Huskies led by 18 in the second half but needed a late TD to hold on for a 49-39 win.
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this story.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll