Washington still harbors bowl hopes in a year when most outside observers thought the Huskies would fall below .500 as they rebuild. While no Husky fan would say they're happy with 4-5 right now, the chances they can get to six wins and (probably) a bowl game are not bad, and given pre-season expectations, that should be considered a good sign for the future. For Arizona State fans however, 4-5 right now represents a significant let-down for a team that head coach Todd Graham had proclaimed before the year started as his most-talented. Riding a 3-game losing streak, the Sun Devils feel like the season is already a let-down, and while they certainly are capable of winning-out, they are probably looking (at best) at a fringe bowl - not what they had in mind when the season started. Does this make them more desperate? Will it matter? Here's how we see the game playing out:
First off, just to get this out of the way - I don't believe there's any curse against Arizona State. Not under this staff. Under Neuheisel, Gilby and Willingham, the Huskies simply were not the better team facing the Sun Devils. Under Sark we were evenly matched, but for whatever reason (tequila shots?) Sark couldn't get the win. Sark isn't coaching anymore, and I see no reason to think under this staff that there's any voodoo in the air that favors the team from the desert.
ASU has featured a fast-paced shotgun spread offense that has been quite effective under OC Mike Norvell. However that offense has had some consistency issues this season with the graduation of under-rated QB Taylor Kelly. Against strong defenses such as Texas A&M and Utah, the Sun Devils scored 17 and 18 points respectively, and just 14 points against the talented but also inconsistent USC defense. I probably don't need to remind you that Washington features a strong defense - in fact, by nearly all measures, the best defense in the conference. While I do have some concerns about our tackling against tough-backs like Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, I think we'll keep them mostly in check and will be able to harass Mike Bercovici into one of his poor games.
So the question will be whether the Husky offense can keep up the positive signs they've shown the past two games. You can be sure that ASU will bring a heavy dose of blitzes, and that's a concern given the relative inexperience of our OL and the true frosh at QB. However, the last time the Huskies faced this much blitzing was against Utah State, and Browning had a fantastic game.
I think this will be another pretty close game for a while, but I see the Husky defense holding ASU to 20 or less and the offense doing enough to exploit the aggressive Sun Devil defense to put up close to 30. I'll go with what I said on a Q&A with House of Sparky: Washingon 31, ASU 20
I anticipate one of those tightly-played games between two times fighting tooth and nail to keep themselves from stepping back onto the razor's edge of not going to a bowl game this season where whoever flinches last loses. The Huskies are more than due to finally pull out a close game this year (they are 0-4 in close games now), but I just don't know if I like this one to be it. I think the Husky defense controls Arizona State's offense much in the same way they did Utah's, but I think Arizona State's attacking defense will force the Huskies into the kind of turnovers that plagued them against Cal and Utah and spark their offense enough to get an extra score of two that is the difference. The Huskies will be able to recover and catch ASU's blitzes for a few scores themselves, but ultimately, home field, a little mobility from Mike Bercovici (Any QB that can move even a little bit other than Solomon has been poison this year) and some more fatigue from the Husky defense late will give the Sun Devils the slightest of edges. Arizona State 28 Washington 27
One of the more absurd streaks against a Pac-12 team will be put to the test on Saturday as Washington tries to avoid losing 10 straight (over a 14 year period) to the Arizona State Sun Devils. This year, both teams are in a desperate race to get bowl eligible and need to win 2 of their final 3 to get there. Like the Huskies, ASU ends their season against in an in state rival, and you'd never like a crazy rivalry game to be the game to get you bowl eligable. Suffice it to say that both teams view this game as a "must win".
How will it pan out? In years past I'd pencil this as a loss automatically because for whatever reason the Huskies wouldn't even get off the bus at least a couple times of year for road games. I'm pleased to say this year I haven't seen much of a drop off with road vs. home performances. Like pretty much every game this year, I think the defense will do more than enough to put the offense in positions to score. The key will be Washington's young offense, especially the O line, dealing with ASU's near constant blitz packages. Will they be able to pick up blitzes, and when they do, can Jake Browning find the opening quickly enough? How will the blizting effect Myles Gaskin and the run game? Dwayne Washington is the best pass blocking RB on the team, and a great option as a dump off on a wheel route, making him ideal to see a lot of snaps against ASU. However, with his fumble problems last week, how much will the coaches trust him?
I actually really like this matchup but I'm having a hard time picturing a UW victory. For all of ASU's ups and downs, they are a team capable of putting together a great performance and dominating their opponent. Mike Bercovici at QB can look incredible at times, throwing for TDs and scrambling for key gains. Their running backs are strong, physical runners, and DJ Foster is one of the most versatile weapons in the Pac-12. I think UW will again look good, but will not make the key plays on offense at critical times to escape with the victory. Arizona State wins it, 24-20.
This feels like a game that can go either way. The Sun Devils have disappointed this year as many (ok, me) thought that they'd be vying for the South Division lead. Well, I was wrong. The game will boil down to whether the Huskies offense can score against the Sun Devils and not turn the ball over. However, this is a young team as we saw against Utah last week. The Dawgs take a lead in this game but can't stop the ASU offense from scoring late. Bowl hopes will boil down to the last 2 games. Hang on. Arizona State 31 UW 23.