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Wildcats, Huskies kick off season's second half

Associated Press Modified: October 19, 2012 at 12:01 pm •  Published: October 19, 2012

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona raced through the early part of its schedule, winning three straight games behind coach Rich Rodriguez's go-all-the-time offense.

The Wildcats followed with a gauntlet of ranked teams to open the Pac-12 season, losing all three while getting banged up and worn down by a pace that produced more plays than all but one team in the nation.

If any team needed a bye week, it was Arizona.

And even with the break, the Wildcats are still hurting; 13 starters missed practice last week and a half dozen may not be able to play this weekend.

"They should be hungry to play a game," Rodriguez said. "Our guys' focus has been good all year. But we needed this (the bye) probably a couple of weeks ago. We'll take it when we can get it."

Problem for the Wildcats is that it doesn't get any easier, with the next three games against opponents that are or were once ranked.

This next gauntlet of games starts with Washington on Saturday at Arizona Stadium.

The Huskies have played a pretty brutal schedule of their own, with four of six games against teams ranked No. 11 or better in the AP Top 25.

Washington was blown out in road games against LSU and Oregon, but beat Stanford, ranked No. 8 at the time, and stayed within 21-14 of No. 11 USC last week despite four turnovers and a blocked punt.

Washington starts off the second half of the season with a road game against Arizona and Rodriguez's tough-to-defend offense, then has No. 8 Oregon State at home next week.

"This football team has matured gradually throughout the season and I saw it again last week," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. "That's what the signs are pointing to. I'm confident of the fact that we're going to come out and play a good football game at Arizona and we'll see if that's good enough to win."

Washington's toughest task against Arizona will be keeping up with its offense.

The Huskies at least have had some practice against up-tempo teams.

It was just two weeks ago that Washington faced Northwest rival Oregon, arguably the fastest team in the country.

The Huskies didn't handle it too well then; the Ducks jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and rolled to a 52-21 win.

The experience of preparing for a no-huddle offense and playing against it live should at least help.

"(It) definitely helps; we've kind of seen it already," Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant said. "Oregon is a great team with their offense and Arizona does a lot of similar things. They want to get the ball out really quick in the pass game. So we have to be patient in the secondary and just go make plays."

Rodriguez is trying to stay patient in his first season in the desert.

The former coach at West Virginia and Michigan had a lot of work to do when he first arrived in Tucson and got off to a surprising start, moving the Wildcats into the Top 25 after three impressive wins.

Even as his team was winning, Rodriguez knew there were deficiencies, particularly a lack of depth on defense.

The Wildcats still had a chance early against Oregon in their Pac-12 opener, but failed in five chances inside the Ducks' 20 in the first half on the way to a 49-0 loss. Arizona followed with shootouts against two more ranked teams, losing by three to Oregon State and in overtime to Stanford in Palo Alto.

A couple more big plays at the end of the last two games and the Wildcats could be 2-1 in conference and not winless, which Rodriguez took into account as he judged his team's progress during the bye week.

"You always find out things, both good and bad, when you come into a new job. That's been the case every place I've been," Rodriguez said. "Is there a lot more work to do? Probably. I doubt every coach comes in highly optimistic and thinks to themselves it's not going to be too hard and after a few weeks or months or a year in, you realize it is. There is nothing I have seen that discourages me or anybody on our staff that we can't build the best program in America."