When the Washington Huskies last took the field at Sun Devil Stadium, they looked as if they hadn’t practiced in weeks.
They seemed unprepared, unfocused and uninterested, and they trailed 24-0 at halftime in a game they eventually lost … to the Oklahoma State Cowboys. In the Cactus Bowl. In January.
See? Even when Arizona State isn’t involved, the Huskies can’t seem to elude misery in the desert.
And especially not in Tempe, where Washington hasn’t won since 2001 — incidentally, that’s also the last time the Huskies beat ASU, a drought that spans nine games — but can take an important step toward bowl eligibility if it can snap that streak on Saturday afternoon.
The Sun Devils find themselves in a similar position. The teams have the same overall and Pac-12 record (4-5 and 2-4), though UW likely feels a little better about that than ASU — the Sun Devils were picked by media to finish second in the Pac-12 South, they were ranked 15th in the preseason AP top 25 poll, and coach Todd Graham told anyone who would listen that this is the best team he’s had in his four seasons at ASU (a particularly bold statement, considering they finished 10-3 last season).
The Huskies, meanwhile, were picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 North and most outsiders believed this to be a rebuilding year of sorts. So simply qualifying for a bowl game might be a feat that by itself would exceed expectations.
But that will be more difficult to accomplish if the Huskies don’t beat ASU. UW needs two victories in its final three games – at ASU, at Oregon State and home against Washington State – to reach the six-win mark. They’ll be expected to beat the hapless Beavers, but the Cougars have played well enough to believe that the Apple Cup will be the Huskies’ most challenging remaining game (and it’s probably worth more than nothing that WSU beat ASU last week by two touchdowns).
UW coach Chris Petersen sees the parallel between the Huskies and Sun Devils.
“I think they have a lot of similar feelings to what we have,” Petersen said. “We’ve been in some games where we’ve had a chance to win and we just haven’t been able to get over the hump.
“We know the type of talent those guys have. But we also know how hard this league is, and anything can happen. Some of that has happened to them like it’s happened to us. But this is a good football team. If we’re paying attention to their record, then we’re paying attention to completely the wrong thing.”
They will surely pay attention to ASU’s sack total. The Sun Devils rank fourth nationally both in total sacks (32) and sacks per game (3.56), numbers achieved via relentless blitzing from all angles.
That will be a challenge for freshman quarterback Jake Browning and UW’s offense, which allows 2.67 sacks per game despite ranking 86th nationally in total pass attempts.
“They’re disruptive, there’s no question,” offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said. “They’re an aggressive defense, come from a lot of different angles, bring a lot of different guys, and you can see they just fly around and play pretty hard.”
Against the Huskies, they always do.
WASHINGTON (4-5 overall, 2-4 in Pac-12) at Arizona State (4-5 overall, 2-4 in Pac-12)
12 p.m., Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
TV: Pac-12 Network. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7 FM.
The series: ASU leads the all-time series 17-15.
What to watch: The Sun Devils’ offense hasn’t been nearly as productive as coach Todd Graham hoped this season. Quarterback Mike Bercovici is talented and can make plays with both his arm and his feet, but his 59.2 completion percentage leaves much to be desired. He’s thrown for 2,473 yards, 19 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. … ASU’s offensive strength is its running game, led by sophomores Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage. Both are strong and difficult to tackle, and will be an interesting challenge for a Huskies defense that ranks 15th nationally in yards per rush allowed. … ASU gets to the quarterback frequently, but doesn’t defend the pass very well otherwise — the Sun Devils rank 103rd nationally in pass defense efficiency. They’re better against the run, ranking 19th nationally in yards per rush allowed. … The Huskies might again be without starting nose tackle Elijah Qualls and safety Budda Baker, both of whom are injured. But UW is so tight-lipped with injury information, it’s always possible that both could play, too. … ASU has lost three consecutive games — to Utah, Oregon and WSU — since a 48-23 win over Colorado on Oct 10. The Sun Devils are 1-2 at home this season against Pac-12 teams. … UW coach Chris Petersen said that last season, the Huskies had to take preventative measures to keep ASU from stealing their signals on the sideline. ASU has been accused of — and admitted to — doing the same in other games this season, too. … UW won 15 of its first 23 games against the Sun Devils, but ASU now leads the all-time series thanks to nine consecutive victories.
The pick: Washington 28, Arizona State 24.
Must protect quarterback from tough ASU pass rush.
Can young quarterback find open receivers quickly?
Two fumbles last week against Utah.
Unclear if injured star will be able to play due to concussion.
Has 775 rushing yards, 6 TDs this season.
Has collected 86 tackles, 4.0 sacks so far.
Doesn’t have many rushing yards, but is mobile.
Has 72 tackles, 16.0 tackles for loss this season.