Admit it. You did not want to talk about Arizona State this week. Nobody did, really.
Sure, you knew the Washington Huskies had to beat the Sun Devils before they could devote full attention to Friday’s historically important Apple Cup game at Washington State. And sure, UW’s players and coaches concerned themselves with ASU, and ASU alone.
But the outcome of Saturday’s game at Husky Stadium seemed preordained, as so many blowout victories against weak opponents have for the Huskies this season, and so discussions about UW football this week centered mostly on the Apple Cup and the College Football Playoff and what Washington must do to correct the mistakes it made in its loss last week to USC.
Did the Huskies do that against ASU? Hard to say. The Sun Devils are not very good this year, and they were not very good on Saturday night. So it didn’t matter that UW’s offense looked sluggish and Jake Browning threw two interceptions in the first half.
Washington’s defense bullied ASU for three quarters, Browning and the offense eventually remembered they were facing one of the worst defenses in all of major college football, and the Huskies breezed to a 44-18 victory before a crowd of 65,467 on senior night at Husky Stadium.
And even as they locked in on Arizona State this week, it was impossible to ignore, at least not completely, what awaits on the Palouse six days from now.
“We don’t focus past the (current) week,” UW defensive lineman Elijah Qualls said. “But we see it.”
Now, finally, the main event can be properly dissected. Friday’s Apple Cup game in Pullman will decide the Pac-12 North champion. No other results need to be considered, no scoreboards monitored. The Huskies are 7-1 in Pac-12 play. The Cougars, after losing 38-24 at Colorado on Saturday, have the same record. So the winner of Friday’s game will represent the North division in the Pac-12 championship game Dec. 2 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
“Now,” UW coach Chris Petersen said, “it’s like everybody hoped it would be.”
As for ASU? Washington’s victory was significant mostly for trivial reasons: it gives the Huskies their first 10-win season since 2000, and it snaps a 10-game losing streak against ASU that dated to 2001. It is also the first time the Huskies have beaten the Sun Devils at Husky Stadium since 1997.
Otherwise, it was just another blowout. UW seemed unaffected by the loss of leading tackler Azeem Victor, who sustained a season-ending leg injury last week and was replaced in the starting lineup by redshirt freshman DJ Beavers. Arizona State used a big fourth quarter to finish with 245 yards of total offense, though it had only 84 through the third quarter and had only 48 in the first half.
The Huskies sacked ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins six times, including four in the first half, after managing only four sacks total in their previous four games, and held the Sun Devils to 15 yards rushing.
The closest ASU came to scoring a touchdown of any consequence was on Koron Crump’s interception of Browning in the second quarter. Crump returned the pick for a touchdown, but an illegal blocking penalty instead gave ASU the ball at Washington’s 13-yard line.
Three plays later, ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins lofted a pass to receiver N’Keal Harry on a fade route from UW’s 10-yard line. But UW cornerback Kevin King covered it perfectly, leaped, palmed the ball with his right hand and landed in bounds in the end zone for a most impressive interception.
Browning seized that opportunity by throwing a quick pass to receiver Chico McClatcher with ASU bringing heavy pressure on a blitz, and McClatcher sprinted for a 75-yard touchdown to give the Huskies a 10-0 lead.
They scored two possessions later on a 46-yard touchdown pass from Browning to Dante Pettis, and again just before halftime when Lavon Coleman scored on a 1-yard run to cap a 7-play, 62-yard scoring drive with 16 seconds left in the first half.
“I thought we were moving the ball well the whole time,” Browning said of the sloppy start. “We just had some bad turnovers by me. I was missing on some throws that I usually make, and that part’s on me.”
Cameron Van Winkle added a pair of field goals in the second half, and Washington led 30-0 before ASU finally got on the board with a Zane Gonzalez field goal with 2:17 left in the third. Wilkins added a pair of fourth-down touchdown passes in the fourth, and UW added a 45-yard touchdown run by Myles Gaskin and a 45-yard return for a touchdown by Keishawn Bierria of an ASU onside kick attempt.
Despite an inauspicious beginning, Browning wound up completing 27 of 44 pass attempts for 338 yards. Pettis caught seven passes for 105 yards. Junior receiver John Ross snagged 12 passes for 95 yards. Gaskin rushed for 127 yards on 16 carries. ASU’s two fourth-quarter scores did little to change the complexion of the game.
This beating, ultimately, felt pretty routine. And now it’s time for an Apple Cup featuring stakes that are anything but.
“What else do you want?” Browning said. “You’ve got one game left, and it has all the meaning in the world.”