1. Who are some less talked about ASU players we should keep our eye on?
On offense, I'll say wide receiver Cameron Smith. The true freshman made his first start last week and hauled in one catch for 47 yards in the process. Smith is far from a polished product but he has the wheels to take some pressure off of All-World receiver Jaelen Strong. Arizona State has been searching for a No. 2 receiver all season long and it seems like Smith is on the verge of establishing himself as that. Having another big play threat such as Smith will go a long way to opening up the underneath crossing routes for guys like D.J. Foster and Chris Coyle as well.
On the other end, I'm going to go with defensive lineman Jaxon Hood. A lot of folks believe Will Sutton is the key to ASU's defense but you could make a case that Hood is just as much of a necessity. Hood's lane-clogging abilities take the pressure off of every other defender, allowing players like Sutton and Carl Bradford to focus on getting to the quarterback. Hood played limited snaps last week against Colorado after missing the USC and Notre Dame games with a partial tear of his hamstring. The 20-25 snaps he contributed made a huge difference as Colorado only gained 99 yards rushing. This week, Arizona State's best run-stopper is even closer to 100%. And that's pretty good timing if you ask me.
2. The Sun Devils have been pitching the ball around all year, and Taylor Kelly has been held under 300 yards just once (and that was due to the game being essentially over in the first quarter). What are his strengths and weaknesses as a passer, and how does he get forced into making mistakes?
At home, Taylor Kelly has seemed of nearly invincible for most of his career. On the road, Kelly has been an entirely different roller coaster at times, showing a tendency to hold onto the ball longer while also being far less aggressive. But since this game is being played in the friendly confines of Sun Devil Stadium, I'm going to focus on Kelly's Dr. Jekyll not Mr. Hyde.
Although lots of folks like to describe Kelly as a dual-threat, Kelly has been more about using his legs to extend plays this season. I think a lot of that has to do with Jaelen Strong now being in the fold. If you haven't heard, Strong is simply unstoppable, especially thanks to his back shoulder chemistry with Kelly. So instead of tucking and running, Kelly is tossing it up to Strong more times than not due to the margin of error he provides. The real reason Kelly is second on the team in rushing yards (165) is because he picks his spots wisely. And while he's now going through his progression more, he's still a deceiving threat in the open field.
All things considered, I have noticed Kelly has been a hair less accurate this season. A good portion of that blame should fall on his offensive line's shoulder for continually collapsing on the right side. But it's worth noting that Kelly already has six interceptions after only nine last season. Kelly is 2-7 in games in which he throws a pick so it's going to be all about whether or not Washington is able to rattle him.
3. Is there one area or player on ASU's offense that you would try to take away more than others if you were game planning against them?
Two words for you: Jaelen Strong. I've already dropped his name at least four times in this Q&A so that should be your first hint. Strong is the only thing that has consistently worked offensively or defensively for Arizona State when all goes to hell.
As for any hints to stop him, I can't help you there. He's burned bracket coverage, double teams and Stanford's All-American-worthy secondary en route to five consecutive 100-yard games. We've already touched on his incredible back shoulder abilities and his timing on jump balls is just as unparalleled. But if you do manage to contain the beast, this offense will crumble. Trust me.
4. Bishop Sankey has had his way with everyone the Huskies have played, including what are probably the top two Pac-12 defenses in Oregon and Stanford. Does ASU have the capability to slow him down?
If Arizona State plays its best game defensively, I still think that Sankey would get his on the ground. The Sun Devils defense is a bit undersized up front which has made them quite vulnerable to the run this season. Arizona State has had a hard time plugging the lanes this season, especially those off the edges. And Sankey is such a patient runner that I expect him to pick the appropriate holes more times than not.
I pretty much guarantee Sankey racks up at least 130 yards. More than anything, it's going to be about limiting the big plays off the edge. That's easier said than done though because Sankey's vision and burst makes him one of the best in the nation at turning a simple run into a huge gain. And it certainly won't hurt Sankey's cause that the Sun Devils have a propensity for two-hand-touch worthy tackling on the second level.
5. Under Todd Graham, the Sun Devils have looked like world beaters against lesser teams, but have seemed to struggle often against average-or-better Pac-12 foes. Is this a concern heading into this weekend and then with the rest of the schedule considering how deep the Pac-12 looks to be this year?
How should I put this lightly: uh, hell yeah! I'm a huge fan of Graham's work but it's worth noting he has yet to win a notable game in Pac-12 play. And yes, that's a shot at USC.
When you listen to Graham speak, you can tell he understands the magnitude of games such as Notre Dame (for recruiting) and Washington (for Pac-12 championship purposes). But when the game clock starts rolling, you never know what Sun Devil team you're going to get. Graham has done a poor job making in-game adjustments at times and has shown a suicidal tendency to stick to his guns (especially when the offensive play-calling isn't working). This is especially concerning when you consider that this stretch of Pac-12 games will be the second time most of this teams have faced Graham's Sun Devils. So yeah, I'm quite concerned. There's only two ranked teams remaining on ASU's Pac-12 schedule but I wouldn't be surprised if they lost as much as four of the final six.
6. What's your prediction for this game?
Washington 48, Arizona State 41
I'm going to be quite frank with you: I'm very afraid of this Huskies team. If this was in Washington, Arizona State would be a lock to lose by double digits. But since they're an entirely different team in Tempe, I'll call it close one.
Having Sankey to sustain drives will be the difference maker Saturday. So much of Arizona State's success is reliant on getting quick three-and-outs and jamming the ball down the opponent's throat in lightning quick fashion. And I highly doubt that happens for any prolonged period Saturday. The Huskies are going to force Kelly into a few mistakes and those will provide enough of a cushion.