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Originally published September 22, 2013 at 7:28 PM | Page modified September 22, 2013 at 10:20 PM

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Husky defense flying high with big test looming vs. Arizona

The UW defense ranks third in the Pac-12 this year, but they face a Wildcats offense on Saturday that hung 52 points on Washington last year.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Arms stretched wide like wings, three Washington defensive ends zoomed from the sideline toward the middle of the field, weaving their way to the line of scrimmage like a small squadron of jetfighters.

After zeroing in on Idaho State in a 56-0 rout Saturday, the UW defense is indeed flying high heading into this week’s Pac-12 Conference opener against Arizona.

Washington (3-0), which moved up one spot to No. 16 in The Associated Press poll on Sunday, hopes it has found some answers against an Arizona team that handed the Huskies one of the worst losses of the Steve Sarkisian era, 52-17, last season in Tucson.

“We didn’t play great on either side of the ball,” Sarkisian said, looking back, “and they just got after us. We’re going to have to play much better.”

Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. Saturday at Husky Stadium with a national broadcast on FOX (Channel 13).

The Wildcats (3-0), as they did last season before playing UW, are coming off a bye week, and they feature a potent running back in Ka’Deem Carey, who led the nation with 1,929 yards rushing in 2012.

“They haven’t changed,” Sarkisian said. “Their schemes on offense and defense are very, very similar to what they were a year ago.”

The Huskies have changed quite a bit since then.

Sarkisian’s decision to switch to an up-tempo, no-huddle offense has paid dividends on both sides of the ball for UW.

The Huskies are averaging 42.7 points through three games and they rank third in the nation with 629.0 yards of total offense. Senior quarterback Keith Price, with seven touchdowns against one interception, is No. 1 in the Pac-12 with a passing efficiency rating of 186.13, and Bishop Sankey is No. 3 in the nation with an average of 148.7 yards rushing (with Carey No. 2 at 149.5).

Just as important, the UW defense — while facing the UW offense every day in practice — appears more prepared for the weekly task of trying to slow down the varied spread offenses, like Arizona, around the Pac-12.

The Huskies finished with seven sacks against Idaho State thanks in part to a new defensive line package called “The Jetsons,” which debuted a week earlier against Illinois. UW has also been running a formation called “Cheetah” in obvious passing situations.

“We’ve been working on (the pass rush), and it seems to get better every week,” said defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha, who had three sacks Saturday.

Indeed, the Huskies are flying around and moving fast on defense. UW is third in the Pac-12 in total defense, and 12th nationally, with 279 yards per game allowed, and it has given up just 23 plays of 10 yards or more this season — the fewest of any team in the nation.

“I think they’ve been great,” Sarkisian said of the defense. “We’ve faced three no-huddle teams three weeks in a row, and we go with our goods vs. our goods in practice a lot for that very reason — so they feel the tempo of it, and so far they’ve really responded to it.”

For the record, both Arizona and Washington have played FCS-level teams this month; the Wildcats opened the season with a 35-0 victory over Northern Arizona.

In Rich Rodriguez’s offense, the Wildcats have relied heavily on Carey and the running game, with 73 percent of their plays this season coming on the ground. Left-handed quarterback B.J. Denker, in his first season as Arizona’s starting quarterback, is last in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency (118.15), with two touchdowns and no interceptions and a 56.4 percent completion rate.

Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or On Twitter: @a_jude.

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