Three plays into Arizona's game with Washington, the Wildcats appeared to be unraveling. To their credit, it took until the fourth quarter against the 16th-ranked Huskies before the Wildcats and their house-of-cards offense, which was as stable as a soggy cardboard box Saturday, finally collapsed.
Blame the wind, the rain, the quarterback play, the overworked defense. Defeat doesn't come any easier to explain.
Washington wasn't exactly dominant, but it was more than good enough in the second half, pulling away for a 31-13 win over Arizona at Husky Stadium in Seattle. UA fell to 3-1 overall and 0-1 in the Pac-12 Conference. UW is 4-0 and 1-0.
Talk about role reversal. Arizona (3-1 overall, 0-1 Pac-12) destroyed Washington (4-0, 1-0) a 52-17 rout in Tucson a season ago.
Fast forward -- like Washington's offense at times -- to Saturday and, when it mattered, the Wildcats' couldn't consistently move the ball and couldn't stop the Huskies from doing the same.
Some thought this was Arizona's chance to show it belonged. Instead, the Cats appeared toothless in Seattle against an opponent that clearly represented a major upgrade from the previous three, teams Arizona beat by a combined score of 131-26.
It wasn't pretty early, it didn't get any better in the middle, and Arizona was overwhelmed at the end. The Wildcats started in a hole, as quarterback. B.J. Denker threw his first of two interceptions just three plays into the game.
Washington quickly turned that turnover into a 6-0 lead.
"We just didn't execute," coach Rich Rodriguez said on his postgame radio show. "The effort was pretty good for the most part. We've got to call some better plays and we've got to execute better. Defense was playing pretty well until the second half."
Washington and its come-right-at-you offense scored on a 95-yard drive and a 90-yard drive to begin the second half. By the time Arizona could look up, it was 25-13 and near the end of the third quarter.
"They made some key third-down conversions and ran the ball pretty well," Rodriguez said of Washington's methodical third-quarter drives. "We didn't get off blocks well. That was an issue with us defensively."
The Huskies outscored the Wildcats 20-7 in the pivotal second half after Arizona had held tough, pulling to within 11-6 on a Ka'Deem Carey touchdown in the final minute of the second quarter despite producing little on offense over the first 30 minutes.
But Arizona, a team feared more for its running game than its questionable passing attack this year, didn't have a whole lot of either against Washington. They clearly didn't have enough of the latter, as Denker struggled and finished just 14 for 37. He had plenty of overthrows and misguided passes, but the truly costly ones were the two interceptions, which gave Rodriguez cause for pause.
When asked about a possible change at quarterback, Rodriguez balked.
"We look at every position every day; if we are not getting the performance or if it's getting to the point to where we think the next guy is better, then we will," Rodriguez said. "But B.J. made some plays. He did some good things, but there were also some things that you should never do (as a quarterback), and that's the thing. The egregious errors are the things we have to eliminate ... and not just him. Our guys understand that. B.J. is conscientious enough to fix it for the next one."
The next one is against USC on Oct. 10 at the Coliseum.
"We have a lot of things to clean up," Rodriguez said. "We're going up against one of the most talented teams in the league and maybe in the country. We've got to get better."
Particularly in the passing game. Washington did what many suspected it would do: dare Arizona to pass. And the Wildcats didn't pass the test.
"Some of the things in the passing game should have been there," Rodriguez said. "We simply didn't execute."
To his credit, Carey rushed for more than 100 yards for the 11th time in 12 games, finishing with 132 on 30 carries to go along with Arizona's lone touchdown. But he was slightly overshadowed in this contest by Washington workhorse Bishop Sankey, who finished with 161 yards and a score on a school-record 40 carries.
But when Arizona returns home, it'll have to come to grips with what it still is: a team in search of a passing game, a team looking for ways to improve a running game that will have to carry it at times and a team looking to get stronger on defense.
"Like I told the team, we're going to be sick when we watch the film, because we had some opportunities out there," Rodriguez said. "We knew it was going to be an issue (because) people are going to force us to throw the ball. With the wind and the rain, both teams had trouble throwing the ball, but it's not an excuse weatherwise."
NOTES: Sophomore wide receiver David Richards and junior defensive lineman Dan Pettinato played Saturday, the first appearance for each this season. Richards had been out after foot surgery over the summer, and Pettinato returned after suffering an ACL injury to his right knee in the winter. "It was good to get them out there," Rodriguez said. ... Senior linebacker Jake Fischer left the game with an injury late in the fourth quarter. He needed help off the off the field as he favored his right leg. Fischer, the team's defensive leader, suffered an ACL injury in the spring of 2011. Rodriguez made no mention of the injury on his show.