Washington is 1-11 against Arizona State in their past 12. How about some course correction this weekend?
Arizona State gives Washington fits, regardless of how good or bad either team is. The Sun Devils always seem to have a QB and weapons good enough to beat us, and athletes on defense. There’s is a reason they are a trendy pick as a Pac-12 “sleeping giant” most years. Anyway, on to this weekend’s game.
You know all about the Wilkins-Harry combo, which I am sure ASU will try to establish early. But, there are other athletic receivers who can beat teams while all the attention is on Harry. While I love our DBs against just about anyone, Frank Darby and Brandon Aiyuk are more than good enough to make them pay for mistakes. The trouble for Arizona State offensively has been running the ball, where they haven’t been able to get anything going. I doubt that starts on Saturday against a stout Husky rush defense.
Defensively, Arizona State feels much better coached this year, giving up less big plays and overall playing much more disciplined and smart defense. They’ll bring the odd 3-3-5 defense to Montlake, and if they’ve watched any tape whatsoever, will get after Jake Browning with everything they’ve got, especially with true freshman Merlin Robinson. The corners might be the strength of the defense with Chase Lucas; former WR Jalen Harvey has been a nice surprise at the hybrid safety/OLB spot. The defense is more balanced than most years and Washington won’t be able to simply rely on ASU mistakes to win (not like that’s worked in the past, anyway).
I expect we see Washington take a balanced approach against ASU offensively and to keep feeding Myles Gaskin, who will break a long run at home. Defensively, it’s all about getting after Manny Wilkins without getting burned deep. I think the Huskies get it done with three sacks and two forced turnovers from the defense.
Washington 31, Arizona State 14
Coming into the year I felt that the Herm Edwards hire would be a day one disaster more akin to what we’ve seen so far from UCLA with Chip Kelly. That hasn’t been the case, as they’ve shown that even if they’re not a top-25 level squad, they’re certainly top-50. There has been some bandying about of Washington’s 1-11 record in their past 12 games versus Arizona State but the more relevant historical statistic is that the Dawgs are 13-1 in their past 14 home games. Since ascending in 2016, the Huskies have almost always been able to pull the game out while at home. This year’s UW team doesn’t look like it’s as good as the 2016 team but they’re at least in the same range as last year.
At this point there’s really no reason to doubt that the defense is going to show up in a major way in this game. The combination of Manny Wilkins and N’Keal Harry is fantastic but Arizona State won’t be able to move the ball consistently unless their running game shows up. That doesn’t seem very likely given that their running backs have combined for 57 rushing yards in the two games they’ve played versus FBS competition.
The only way an upset occurs is if the offense completely melts down like it did in last season’s game in Tempe. Yes, the offensive line is in flux. Yes, Jake Browning has made some poor decisions. But I just can’t envision the offense being that inept for a full four quarters at home against a so-so defense. I expect Washington to have two occasions where they get within the 30 but don’t score. However, a pair of interceptions (by Jordan Miller and Myles Bryant) are enough for the Huskies to prevail.
Washington 27, Arizona State 9
After a 14-point win against a good team on the road, the Huskies still left plenty of room for debate about how good this year’s team really is. As the season goes on, I expect that win to look better because Utah’s defense will have similar performances against many other teams.
Arizona State has a solid defense, but it’s not of the same caliber as the elite Utah and Auburn units that gave the Huskies serious trouble. While the offensive line may remain an issue, the Sun Devils are not as well equipped to exploit it as the teams who held the Huskies to lower point totals. The game location matters a great deal, too. Some Vegas oddsmakers peg college home field advantage at 4-5 points. In other words, playing Utah at Husky Stadium could have swung the game by 8-10 additional points in UW’s favor.
Defensively, I expect that we will see another outstanding Husky performance. ASU’s best player is probably N’Keal Harry, so it’s fortunate that UW’s greatest position group is the secondary. All told, I expect a fairly comfortable Husky win, but will anyone be happy with it this time?
Washington 31, Arizona State 14
I think this is gonna be a really fun matchup, primarily based on the fact that ASU’s defense is so much more dependable than they were in years past (which is not to say that the Dawgs will magically score less than seven points *cough*). In general, the best way to describe the Sun Devils’ defense under Todd Graham was “sloppy,” and now—at least, for three weeks into the schedule—they’ve become antithetical to the labels we’re all used to them having. Washington is gonna have to earn their yards against this ASU defense which, under Herm Edwards, has been much improved at preventing mid- and short-range plays from turning into big chunks of yardage for opposing offenses. Effectively, as a neutral observer, I would both trust this ASU defense and this UW offense to be better than they were last year.
Where Washington should hold a pretty significant advantage is in the times their defense is on the field. Eno Benjamin is productive, N’Keal Harry is a monster, and Manny Wilkins has gotten better each year but, as the Michigan State and SDSU games displayed, the offense as a whole isn’t so dynamic that a disciplined defense can’t take control. I also could see Wilkins being baited into a handful of ill-advised throws and wouldn’t be shocked if the secondary gets a couple picks. That being said, I could also see him having one or two moments of escaping for a longer run and in the process making Dawg fans pull some hair out. Plus, we get to see a matchup between childhood friends, Byron Murphy and N’Keal Harry.
Washington 31, Arizona State 17
Not that they necessarily need any extra motivation, but it is hard to ignore the fact that a vast majority of this current UW roster was around for last season’s trip to Tempe and the scenes of horror that unfolded in the desert that night. I would expect a very different outcome on Saturday night.
This iteration of the ASU Sun Devils is very different from what we saw in Todd Graham’s program. Herm Edwards, from his golden perch as “CEO” of ASU, emphasizes ball control, bend-don’t-break defensive schemes, and big plays to all-everything superstar N’Keal Harry. Early returns would indicate that Edwards’s strategy is paying early dividends, particularly on defense. Last year through three games, ASU was giving up nearly 38 points per game. This year? 16.
As remarkable as the defensive turnaround has been, the offense hasn’t lived up to its potential. Harry and his QB, Manny Wilkins, have been terrific. But the reworked ASU offensive line and the rushing attack, led by new RB Eno Benjamin, have struggled to get on track. One might surmise that a road trip to Seattle won’t do a lot to improve that lot.
I suspect UW will not have as much success in containing ASU’s passing attack as they’ve had against the past three opponents. However, the one-dimensional nature of ASU’s offense leads me to believe that Wilkins will be operating behind the sticks on most of his snaps. That’s going to be a problem for the Devils.
UW clearly presents the most challenging offense that ASU will have faced to date, no matter what you think of Jake Browning’s overall performance. I expect ASU to play with a focus on preventing explosive pass plays and daring UW’s developing line to beat them with the rushing attack. With Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, and Sean McGrew behind them, I like UW’s line to definitively win that challenge and for the Huskies to cruise.
Washington 34, Arizona State 17
With the exception of the Oregon Ducks and their 12-game winning streak that lasted from 2004 to 2015, no team in the Pac-12 has given Washington as much trouble over the course of the last generation as Arizona State, whom the Huskies have beaten just once since 2001. In 2017, two of UW’s losses—to Stanford and Penn State, which finished the season ranked No. 20 and 8, respectively—were understandable, but the third (to Arizona State) was utterly confounding. In 2017, ASU had one of the most porous defenses in the conference (6.33 yards per play and 32.8 points per game), but on that October night in Tempe, they limited the Huskies to 3.8 yards per play and seven points, season lows in both categories for the Dawgs.
To avoid another season-ruining stubbed toe against the Sun Devils, Washington will need first and foremost to establish a ground game behind Myles Gaskin. In particular, the Huskies have had considerable success this season running to the right side of the field behind offensive linemen Kaleb McGary and Jaxson Kirkland. Forcing ASU to defend the run first by dropping an extra defender into the box will open up the play-action passing game, which the Huskies used on comeback routes to great effect last week against the Utes.
Arizona State’s best offensive weapon is N’Keal Harry, the 6-4 preseason All-American wide receiver who is all but certain to become a first- or second-day pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Jordan Miller and Byron Murphy, who is a longtime friend of Harry’s, will face their stiffest challenge of the year so far in limiting his big-game potential. Don’t get me wrong: there’s not a better unit in the Pac-12 than Washington’s secondary, but Harry is the kind of transcendent player who could put together a career day even against such stiff competition.
I think the Dawgs win this one, but even I was taken aback by the 17.5-point spread afforded to the Huskies. ASU has been an easy out for UW precisely one time since the Lambright era, and the Washington offensive line has shown enough holes this season to make me wary of thinking that it’ll go off without a hiccup. Washington 24, Arizona State 17
Predictions Straight Up:
Washington- 6; Arizona State- 0
Predictions Against Spread (UW -17.5):
Washington- 1; Arizona State- 5
Average Final Score:
Washington- 29.7 over Arizona State- 14.7