The Washington Huskies play their final home game of the season on Saturday against the struggling Arizona State Sun Devils. Here are five things to watch from the 4:30 p.m. kickoff.
1. Can the Huskies end The Streak?
What, you thought it was over when Washington beat Oregon back in October?
Sure, that 70-21 victory ended a 12-game losing streak to the Ducks, and it was the first time UW had beaten Oregon since 2003. But it’s been even longer since the Huskies have beaten Arizona State.
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Washington’s last win against the Sun Devils came in 2001, a 33-31 victory in Tempe keyed by John Anderson’s 30-yard field goal as time expired. The Sun Devils have won all 10 meetings between the teams since. And the Huskies haven’t beaten ASU at Husky Stadium since 1997. Seriously. It’s been 19 years, though these teams have only met in Seattle five times in that span.
The Huskies ended a 10-year streak of not winning in the desert by defeating Arizona earlier this season, then snapped their 12-year losing streak to the Ducks. They came close to ending their losing streak against ASU last season, taking a 17-0 lead in the first half before collapsing in a 27-17 defeat. As 27-point favorites, they will be expected to finally make it happen on Saturday.
2. ASU’s defense is really bad.
This statement is accompanied by one caveat: ASU does rank 24th nationally in sacks per game at 2.8, and will blitz more frequently than any team the Huskies have played this season. That’s just what the Sun Devils do.
But if they don’t get to the quarterback, they give up yards. A lot of yards. In fact, ASU ranks 126th nationally (out of 128 teams) in yards per play allowed at 6.82, and the Sun Devils rank 124th in pass defense efficiency — and 127th in yards per pass attempt allowed (a stunningly bad average of 8.9 yards).
This all bodes well for UW quarterback Jake Browning and the rest of a UW offense that was mostly pushed around last week in a 26-13 loss to USC. Browning has been at his best this season when teams load the box in an effort to stop UW’s run game, and UW has the weapons on the outside — John Ross and Dante Pettis — to make defenses pay when their blitzes don’t hit.
ASU is much better against the run, ranking 40th nationally in yards per rush allowed, a number aided by the Sun Devils’ sacks total.
“They create some havoc back there,” UW offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said. “Obviously in the run game, tackles for loss, their numbers are way up. Sacking the quarterback goes into rushing stats. We have to be good there. They create a lot of one-on-one matchups, and we have to win those.”
3. UW could get its pass rush back on track.
Few teams in the country protect the quarterback worse than Arizona State, which ranks 57th nationally in total pass attempts yet ranks 121st in sacks per game allowed (3.3) and yielded 11 sacks — yes, 11 — in a loss last week to Utah. The Utes finished that game with 22 total tackles for loss.
That’s good news for a UW pass rush that has totaled just four sacks in its last four games after racking up 24 in the first six games of the season. It is not a coincidence that sacks leader Joe Mathis, out with a foot injury, has not played in the last four games.
UW coach Chris Petersen said he thought the Huskies’ pass rush was OK last week against USC, and they did pressure quarterback Sam Darnold into a couple of bad decisions despite only sacking him once. But they will surely hope for more production this week against ASU.
“You’d like to be able to sack ’em, but you’ve got to get pressure,” Petersen said. “You’ve got to make sure the ball is coming out of their hand. We’re always paying attention to it. That’s the name of the game. When the offense has the ball and the quarterback has it, how do we get to him, and if it’s the running back, we’ve got to stop him. So that’s always an area we’re trying to figure out.”
4. Keep an eye on the middle linebacker position.
With Azeem Victor out for the rest of this season while recovering from a leg fracture, the Huskies will have to rely on some relatively inexperienced players to replace him.
First up will be redshirt freshman DJ Beavers, who has appeared in eight of UW’s games this season and notched 21 tackles in that span. Beavers had a career-best six tackles in relief of Victor last week.
“I think he’s a good football player. He’s one of those guys that understands the game, he feels the game. We can only coach so much in terms of getting them in the right places and then guys gotta go out and make plays. And I think he’s one of those guys.”
True freshman Brandon Wellington is listed on the depth chart behind Beavers, and sophomore Ben Burr-Kirven, the most experienced of those three players, could see some time there, too, though he is more comfortable at weakside linebacker.
5. Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard.
While ASU’s offense hasn’t been nearly as productive as the Sun Devils would like — they rank 95th nationally in yards per play — they do have a pair of running backs who can be difficult to tackle.
Ballage, in particular, is a handful. At 6-foot-2 and 227 pounds, the junior has 13 rushing touchdowns this season, and will occasionally line up in the wildcat formation and run the ball off a direct snap.
Richard, the team’s leading rusher with 534 yards, goes 5-10, 219 pounds. He has been limited recently, but ASU coach Todd Graham told reporters he should be able to play this week.
“In a traditional sense, when you’re defending offenses you don’t usually account for the quarterback,” UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. “Now the quarterback is a 6-2, 230-pound running back. We have to spend time on that, make sure we fit it up, and get the guy on the ground.”
No. 6 WASHINGTON (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12) vs. ARIZONA STATE (5-5, 2-5)
4:30 p.m., Husky Stadium
TV: Ch. 13. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM.
The series: Arizona State leads the series, 18-15.
The pick: Washington, 49-20.
3 — Jake Browning, QB (6-2, 209, So.)
35 touchdowns, five interceptions in 10 games
1 — John Ross, WR (5-11, 190, Jr.)
Only three receiving touchdowns shy of school record
7 — Keishawn Bierria, LB (6-1, 221, R-Jr.)
Has 55 tackles and two tackles for loss
21 — Taylor Rapp, DB (6-0, 202, Fr.)
Had two interceptions last week
5 — Manny Wilkins, QB (6-3, 197, R-So.)
Has 1,730 passing yards, seven TDs and seven interceptions
1 — N’Keal Harry, WR (6-4, 220, Fr.)
Has 494 yards receiving and four touchdowns
3 — D.J. Calhoun, LB (6-0, 228, Jr.)
Accumulated 62 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks
4 — Koron Crump, LB (6-3, 218, Jr.)
Racked up nine sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss this season