Washington (4-5, 2-4 in Pac-12) at Arizona State (4-5, 2-4 in Pac-12)
12 p.m. PT Saturday, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: 1000 AM / 97.7 FM
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The line: ASU by 3
The key to a Washington Huskies victory on Saturday, it seems, is simple.
Simple to identify, that is. But maybe not so simple to achieve.
Arizona State is tied for fourth nationally in both total sacks (32) and sacks per game (3.56), and the first thing UW’s offensive coaches and players will tell you about ASU’s defense is that the Sun Devils will blitz. A lot. And from a lot of different angles.
So I’m probably not going out on a limb by predicting that UW’s success in this game will be largely dictated by how often quarterback Jake Browning is able to stand upright in the pocket and deliver a pass. If the Huskies protect Browning -- legitimately give him time to throw, and not just simply avoid sacks -- I think they win, because in spite of its pass rush, ASU’s defense hasn’t been all that great against the pass this season. The Sun Devils allow 8.1 yards per pass attempt, which ranks in a tie for 106th nationally, and they rank 103rd in pass defense efficiency.
They’re much tougher against the run, allowing only 3.38 yards per carry, and my guess is their blitzing might have something to do with that. So it could be a bit of a challenge to get Myles Gaskin going, though it will obviously help if UW can establish some threat of a passing game -- and I do think Browning has thrown the ball well enough lately that UW should feel pretty good about its chances of hitting some big plays against a defense that has allowed 54 plays of 20 yards or more this season (only 18 FBS teams have allowed more).
Defensively, the Huskies will have to contend with a pair of physical, tough-to-tackle running backs in Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage. Tackling has been an issue at times for UW against bigger backs, and coach Chris Petersen said he felt like the Huskies wore down late in last week’s loss to Utah. That will be something to monitor, though the Huskies do rank 15th nationally in yards per rush allowed.
ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici is crafty enough to burn opposing defenses on the ground if he has to, and they do design a few runs for him, too. But he completes only 59.2 percent of his passes and the Sun Devils rank 73rd nationally in pass efficiency. Seems like UW’s secondary should have a bit of an edge there, too, if they can limit the run and force some obvious passing situations (Budda Baker’s uncertain status complicates this matchup a bit, too).
ASU coach Todd Graham said earlier this week that this feels like a game between teams having similar seasons, and he’s not wrong. They do have the same record, after all. Both need to win two of their final three games to become bowl eligible, so there’s plenty at stake.
The Huskies haven’t beaten ASU since 2001, which was also the last time they won in Tempe. Predicting a UW victory in the state of Arizona, then, feels a little like predicting that the sun won’t rise in the morning.
So here’s a guess that it will be a gloomy day in the desert.
The pick: Washington 28, ASU 24.
Christian Caple can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple