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Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Washington needs to leave Notre Dame behind, focus on Arizona

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

 
  AP Photos
  Washington quarterback Jake Locker and Arizona's quarterback Nick Foles are both looking to make statements this Saturday.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


Washington, like many teams, has a "24-hour rule," which means every victory or defeat is left in the past as the team turns its entire focus onto the next opponent.

Ah, but sometimes rules are made to be broken, just as Huskies quarterback Jake Locker refused to talk to reporters after the controversial 37-30 overtime defeat at Notre Dame for the first time in his career.

"I didn't feel like I was in the best emotional state to answer questions," Locker said.

Locker wasn't so much sad. Think of a stronger word for angry and then apply it. Locker and the Huskies were unhappy with the officiating. And they were unhappy about blowing myriad opportunities to take control of the game.

"Jake was stressed out," running back Chris Polk said. "He didn't say anything to anybody. It really took a toll on him. But he's OK now."

He needs to be. The Arizona team coming to Husky Stadium on Saturday is better than the Fighting Irish, particularly on defense.

And this game has some heft to it. The Huskies have lost two in a row since upsetting USC and are facing the prospect of 2009 becoming a close-but-no-cigar season.

Arizona, which is coming off a bye week, can make a statement against the Huskies in the Pac-10 race that might earn the Wildcats a national ranking.

Wildcats safety Cam Nelson wouldn't say the Huskies got jobbed by the officials at Notre Dame, but his admiration for Locker is clear -- and not just because of how quickly Locker became an adept passer after many had pigeonholed him as a running back playing quarterback.

"Funny story: My sophomore year I knocked myself out of the game hitting Jake," Nelson said. "I was kind of looking forward to a rematch with him."

He's more likely to face it in pass coverage. Locker, once a 235-pound bull of a runner, is presently the conference's leading passer with 257 yards per game. His seven touchdown passes is tied for the conference lead. Meanwhile, he's only rushed for 107 yards.

"I think he's as good a player as there is in college football," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said.

Stoops and Nelson also are happy with their quarterback, Nick Foles, who made an impressive debut at Oregon State in the Wildcats 37-32 victory. Foles leads the conference in passing efficiency and has hurled five touchdown passes with no interceptions.

Nelson said the poise Foles showed making his first start in a hostile environment didn't surprise him.

"We knew he was going to make good passes and smart decisions," Nelson said. "It was just everyone else who didn't know about Nick who doubted him."

Foles' giving the Wildcats a passing attack they didn't have in the first three games will take pressure off Nelson and the defense and should bolster an already strong running game. The bye week also appears to have helped the offense, which should get back running backs Nic Grigsby (shoulder) and Keola Antolin (ankle) as well as two starting offensive linemen who are recovering from concussions.

Foles will face a test at rejuvenated -- read: loud -- Husky Stadium, which can make things tough on a young quarterback. Nelson and the Wildcats defense also will face a Washington offense that has picked up its rushing attack with Polk now ranking sixth in the conference with 90 yards per game.

Polk has two touchdowns this year. Check that. His second TD was overruled in the replay booth at Notre Dame.

While their fans are still grumbling -- and not without justification -- the Huskies need to get over their experience at Notre Dame.

"We're over it," Polk said. "We know we should have won and they know we should have won. I'm at peace with it. Everyone in the nation knows and we know and they know. But there's nothing we can do."

Other than look ahead to a matchup in Husky Stadium that could have significant ramifications in the Pac-10 race.