Washington vs. Arizona college football

Washington LBs Cory Littleton (42) and Shaq Thompson team up to take down UA quarterback B.J. Denker, one of two sacks in the first quarter.

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star

SEATTLE - I kept waiting for Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to put on a hoodie, or at least something with long sleeves, something that didn’t make me shiver just looking at him.

It was raining sideways, after all, and Wilcox was wearing what amounted to a white T-shirt. I kept wondering: Is he that cold-blooded or is he just trying to show his guys, the Huskies defense, that you’ve got to be tough to win a game that isn’t against Idaho State?

And then I got it: Wilcox didn’t have time to put on his Nike-

issued rain gear. Arizona had five possessions in the first quarter, which must be a record, or close, and each time the Wildcats went 1, 2, 3, punt — except for the first time, when UA went 1, 2, interception, and the last time, when the Wildcats went 1, 2, 3, oops, bad snap, safety.

There was no time for Wilcox to zip up.

By then the Huskies led 8-0, and Husky Stadium would become a sun-don’t-shine kind of place for Arizona.

Wilcox glowed; his defense wrecked Arizona’s passing game, exposing the Wildcats as a one-dimensional team. Wilcox and the Huskies, 31-13 winners, left the field with a warm and fuzzy feeling.

“Our locker room scene was like we’d won the Rose Bowl,” said UW head coach Steve Sarkisian. “It was just really cool.”

Or not.

It was the first time this season that Arizona was matched against a team from the Big Boys Division, and it showed. It was a different game, faster and more physical, with people in purple everywhere.

It wasn’t like the good days at Washington, when the Purple Reign defense led the Huskies to a co-national championship, but the Huskies seized the advantage when Arizona essentially went 0 for 18, failing to get a first down in its first 18 plays, gaining just 13 net yards in that stretch.

“We really never made them face any adversity,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez said.

The weather wasn’t the deciding factor Saturday. Washington was. The Huskies were superior on the defensive line, and their secondary was so effective that Arizona’s young and small receivers had difficulty running accurate routes. Most of the time they weren’t where UA quarterback B.J. Denker thought, and hoped, they would be. And, of course, he missed a few, sometimes badly.

The Wildcats completed 14 of 37 passes. That’s not even 40 percent. That’ll get you beat every time. Do you realize Arizona has completed more than 60 percent of its passes every season for the last five years?

It’s not all on Denker. It’s also that his offensive line was not good, not even close. Not only did he have to pass into the rain, but with a hand in his face.

After four games last year, Austin Hill and Dan Buckner had combined to catch 50 passes, 25 each. This year, true freshman Samajie Grant leads Arizona with nine catches through the same period. True freshman Nate Phillips is next with seven, tied with Garic Wharton.

To his credit, Denker didn’t dodge a postgame interview session. He took it straight on.

“The first half was pretty rough,” he said, standing in a drizzle outside the UA locker room. “Nerves. First time playing on the road. My execution. Mentally. I was probably not as sharp as I wanted to be. That’s my fault.”

If RichRod thought redshirt freshman Javelle Allen was ready to do any better, Allen would surely have been put into the game before its 56th minute.

So what other option is there? Junior-college transfer Jesse Scroggins didn’t even make the trip. He’s off the radar.

It might not be fully accurate to say this Arizona team will go as far as Denker takes it, but there’s no Nick Foles warming up in the bullpen, as was the UA’s good fortune in 2009.

“It was really hard to be effective (in those weather conditions),” said RichRod, which was his way of being kind to Denker, who was facing a quality BCS defense for the first time in his life.

RichRod was composed and thoughtful after the game, far different from the RichRod who reacted bitterly after last season’s road losses at Oregon and Stanford. And that’s because he knows this is going to take a lot more time to get right.

This is a long-haul profession.

Washington doesn’t look like a powerhouse, but it’s probably an eight- or nine-win team in Year 5 of Sarkisian’s regime. At this stage, Arizona isn’t ready to beat a team like that, in Husky Stadium or anywhere.

Arizona has one star-level player, tailback Ka’Deem Carey. He led the Wildcats in rushing and receiving, gaining 181 of their 318 total yards. Imagine what’d happen if Carey wasn’t available.

In pure development, the Huskies are probably two years ahead of Arizona. But somehow, in an unfriendly situation, lacking in size and experience, the Wildcats had a chance to turn the game with five minutes remaining in the third quarter.

The Huskies led 18-13 but faced a third-and-six at their 14. Who knows what might have happened had the Wildcats made a stop in that situation. A fumble, a bad snap or a freak tipped ball could have made it a close game.

Alas, the Huskies completed a 14-yard pass, followed by one for 49 yards, and the game was soon over, 25-13, even though more than 16 minutes remained.

At that point, Justin Wilcox would have gone home at halftime, dried off, and Arizona wouldn’t have scored until Tuesday.

Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at ghansen@azstarnet.com or 573-4362. On Twitter @ghansen711.

Sports columnist for the Arizona Daily Star.