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October 22, 2010

Huskies offensive line faces ultimate challenge

Steve Sarkisian simplifies his University of Washington football team's plight Saturday in Tucson.

To him, the Huskies' success against the No. 15 Arizona Wildcats hinges on one key: Keeping Wildcats defensive ends Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed from bursting into the Huskies' backfield.

That'll be a tall order: Elmore and Reed are considered the Pacific-10 Conference's top defensive end tandem.

"The two ends, they're monsters," Sarkisian said with a laugh. "These guys, they are the whole game to me, in my opinion. Our ability to block them … in my opinion, is going to have a significant factor in the outcome of this ball game."

The challenge will be immense for a Huskies offensive line that has gone through injuries and position shuffling in recent weeks.

Left tackle Senio Kelemete is the only offensive linemen to start at the exact same spot for the Huskies in all six games.

He and Ryan Tolar are the only offensive linemen to start in every game as Tolar has split time at right and left guard.

But the Huskies (3-3 overall, 2-1 Pac-10) will bring some consistency into their game against Arizona (5-1, 2-1) with the same group upfront that started in the Huskies' double-overtime victory over Oregon State last week: Gregory Christine at center, Colin Porter and Tolar at guards and Drew Schaefer and Kelemete at tackles.

Porter, a true freshman out of Bothell High School, moved into the starting right guard role following the illness of guard Erik Kohler that caused a shuffling of positions that has included moving Christine from guard to center and Schaefer from center to right tackle.

Kohler, who has missed two games with mononucleosis, is expected to get some playing time against Arizona.

"We're just trying to give our football team the best opportunity to be successful," Sarkisian said. "Drew Schaefer at right tackle provides a little more stability, a little more athleticism out there to handle some of these rush ends that we're faced with. I felt like we needed to get bigger at guard especially with Kohler out, so that's why Porter moved in at guard, with Tolar on the other side. And Greg Christine's a bright guy, and he can get us blocking the right people at the right time, so that's why he's in at center."

The unit will be put to the ultimate test against Arizona's powerful ends.

The fifth-senior seniors have already dominated this season for the conference's No. 1-rated defense. Arizona leads the Pac-10 in scoring defense, allowing only 13.3 points per game.

Elmore, who's 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, led the Pac-10 in sacks in 2009 (10.5) and already has a conference-leading six this season.

Brooks, a 6-3, 262-pound hometown favorite from Tucson with long blond hair, is also among the leaders with 4.5 sacks.

"Yeah, they're really talented," Huskies quarterback Jake Locker said. "They're athletic, strong, physical guys. We're going to have to make sure that we've always got guys on them and helping keep that edge secure."

While Brooks and Elmore will be trying to neutralize the Huskies' most dangerous weapon in Locker, the Huskies' defense will try to force an inexperienced quarterback into making mistakes.

Matt Scott is in at quarterback for Arizona after Nick Foles injured his knee last week against Washington State. It will be the fourth career start for Scott, who like Locker, is a strong runner.

He'll face a Huskies defense that has allowed 31.3 points per game, second only to Washington State (40.1) in the Pac-10.

"He's just got to go out and play like Matt and not try to be Nick," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. "He has to do what he does well and if he has to improvise, then improvise and use his athletic ability."

Dawg bites: The game, set for 7:15 p.m. Pacific time, will be shown nationally by ESPN. … The game will be Arizona's homecoming in the school's 125th anniversary year. … Arizona's Stoops is 3-3 against Washington, while Sarkisian is 1-0 against the Wildcats. …

Last year's game in Seattle, a 36-33 Huskies' victory, ended controversially. Linebacker Mason Foster intercepted a Nick Foles pass that deflected off the foot of an Arizona receiver and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown with 2:37 remaining. …

UW sophomore tailback Chris Polk now has eight career 100-yard rushing games, including three this season. … Next up for Washington is Stanford, Oct. 30, in Seattle. That game has been set for 4 p.m.


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