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Grading the Game: Arizona State

In which a win feels like a loss.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Passing Offense - F

While the final numbers show just one sack for ASU, they were more than successful getting to Michael Penix Jr. The interior of the offensive line struggled to hold up, and looking for answers, coaches moved C Parker Brailsford over to RG, and brought in true freshman C Landon Hatchett. None of the offensive line combinations worked particularly well.

Penix had 42 drop backs and per PFF was blitzed or under pressure for 21 of them, often throwing off his back foot or with a defender in his face. ASU also batted down three passes, one of which was deep in the red zone where Penix had WR Rome Odunze wide open in the end zone. The Huskies were in max protect - they had seven bodies in to pass block - but the interior of the line let two defenders knife in, one of which tipped the ball that was intercepted. Penix also threw a bad interception earlier in the game. He finished with zero “big time throws” after averaging three per game for the first six games of the season, and his lowest yards per attempt by over a yard and a half. Caveat: Penix was feeling “under the weather” per the coaches, and could still be managing pain from hits in the Oregon game.

This could probably a “D” grade. They did move the ball somewhat through the air, with 275 yards. WR Ja’Lynn Polk had a 100 yard game, but fumbled a screen pass. WR Rome Odunze was great as usual, averaging more than 16 yards on each of his five catches. There were some frustrating PIs not called, but the Husky defense got away with some, too. However, if not scoring a touchdown at home with this passing attack, against a largely middle of the road defense, isn’t the definition of a failure, I don’t know what is.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Rushing Offense - D

Per Christian Caple, Washington’s 13 rush attempts was an all-time program low for a single game. The Huskies didn’t try to run, and when they did, it didn’t work. RB Dillon Johnson had eight carries, and five were for lost yardage or no gain. He got loose once for 13 yards, as did RB Will Nixon, but other than two runs, the Huskies found no space at all. A sloppy hand off exchange - something that should never happen - between Johnson and Penix was Washington’s fourth turnover of the game. Arizona State had generated exactly one turnover all year going into the game. If UW had committed to run more and had the same lack of success, this would be an F.

Passing Defense - B+

While they certainly got away with fortunate non-calls on some obvious pass interferences, this group help up their end of the bargain, and it was ultimately CB Meesh Powell’s 89 yard pick-six that likely won the game for the Huskies. They finished with nine passes defended, including two each from LB Ralen Goforth and CB Elijah Jackson. CB Jabbar Muhammad was targeted six times and allowed only three catches for ten yards.

It’s been the case for most of the season: the Huskies generated some pressure from players like Bralen Trice, but were unable to register a sack. ASU QB Trenton Bourguet finished the night with 4.2 yards per attempt, an interception, and zero touchdowns. I’d give them an A or A-, but they benefited a little too much from some PI non-calls.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Rushing Defense - C+

There are still too many missed tackles - 11 against run plays per PFF - and the Huskies allowed the Sun Devils to get nearly 100 yards rushing after contact. The relative good is the Huskies still have not allowed a 20 yard rush this season. ASU’s longest run of the game was a scramble from QB Trenton Bourguet for 17 yards. CB Jabbar Muhammad stood out in coverage and also defending the run with two tackles for loss on the night. Chunk plays were rare for Sun Devil running backs, yet they finished with a healthy 4.7 yards per carry. That seems to be story against the Husky run defense this season.

Special Teams - A

K Grady Gross was 3/3 on field goals, including a 47 yarder. The Huskies even blocked a field goal, and I believe it was DT Faatui Tuitele who got his hands on the ball.

Coaching - C-

This had all the makings of a trap game, against a program that has frankly owned Washington in recent history. Easier said than done, but coaches had to know the team might be a little flat, playing against a team that’s desperate for a Pac-12 win and had an extra week to prepare.

I’m not sure that the Washington offense got “exposed” in this game. The book on how to beat a Penix-lead offense has always been out there - pressure him, and move him off his spot. He’s not an improvisational scrambling QB. Arizona State just did a really good job of it, and Penix is clearly not 100% healthy. This offense is built to throw aggressively down field, and it’s largely why the Huskies are 18-2 (!!!) with this staff. But, we’re getting into the dog (dawg?) days of the season, and the Huskies will have to start attacking teams differently, particularly if the interior of the offense line doesn’t get sorted. The return of Julius Buelow should help.

I probably wasn’t the only yelling at the TV on Polk’s 3rd-and-10 end around that went nowhere. The usually excellent LT Troy Fautanu couldn’t seal the edge and Polk was tackled for no gain, but it was a bizarre call to begin with. Then came the two point conversion after Powell’s pick-six. As our own Raymond Lucas said, “I don’t think anyone is falling for the Philly Special anymore.” That play should be retired from football.

But, a win is a win. It is slightly encouraging to see that the defense could carry the team when the offense feel completely flat, despite playing a mega-bad ASU offense.