An offensively anemic performance in the desert last October plagued Washington in a shocking loss at Arizona State. While the 13-7 decision at Sun Devil Stadium was not enough on its own to keep the Huskies out of the Pac-12 Championship Game — and, by extension, the College Football Playoff — their margin for error for the rest of the season was removed.
Washington enters the return matchup Saturday at Husky Stadium with its safety net already pulled, the result of a 21-16 loss in Week 1 to Auburn. That game featured some of the same characteristics as the loss to the Sun Devils, with the Huskies suffering misfires in the red zone. To return to the playoff, Washington likely needs to win 12 consecutive games; after wins over North Dakota and Utah, two of those are in the books.
Arizona State heads to Seattle coming off its own tough loss, a 28-21 contest last week at San Diego State. The Sun Devils' torrid comeback effort in the fourth quarter came a reviewed play away from possibly forcing overtime. Instead, Arizona State was forced to try an unsuccessful Hail Mary, and its stay in the Top 25 was brief.
Arizona State at Washington
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 22 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Washington -17.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Sun Devils run?
Each of the last two weeks, Arizona State has faced nasty run defenses. The results were predictably unfavorable for the Sun Devils: 44 yards Week 2 against Michigan State, and 36 yards a week ago against San Diego State. Up next is arguably the best front seven in the Pac-12.
Washington's run defense numbers through three games are not quite up to the lofty standard set in 2016 and '17, when the Huskies were in the top 10 nationally against the rush, but the personnel is there to dominate an opponent's ground game. Arizona State needs to find some kind of consistency with the run or end up in a situation similar to Week 3, with frequent third-and-long situations.
While quarterback Manny Wilkins is one of the Pac-12's most experienced signal callers, and Arizona State has perhaps the best receiver in the conference in N'Keal Harry, the Sun Devils cannot flourish as a one-dimensional offense — particularly not against a Washington defense capable of generating turnovers in bunches.
2. A double dose of sled Dawgs
Washington running back Myles Gaskin had his first breakout showing of 2018 in last week's 21-7 win at Utah, going for 143 yards. In the process, he continued his ascent up the Pac-12 all-time rushing rankings. Gaskin's consistency as the feature back is a cornerstone of the Washington offense, but it takes on added significance in Week 3.
Arizona State was outstanding against the run in Weeks 1 and 2, actually leading the nation in rushing yards yielded before San Diego State dumped 311 yards on the Sun Devils. Chase Jasmin stepped in for Juwan Washington, and both went for more than 100 yards. Washington has the ability to hit Arizona State with a similar double-dose attack in Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed. Ahmed was dinged up at Utah but should be back to give the Huskies a two-pronged attack against coordinator Danny Gonzales' defense.
3. Jake Browning's rhythm
Quarterback Jake Browning has shown flashes of brilliance this season for Washington, attacking outstanding Auburn and Utah defenses with deep balls to wide receivers like Ty Jones, Quinten Pounds and Aaron Fuller. Browning has also had a few mistakes, surprising for a player of his experience.
Browning has yet to play a wholly consistent game and has as many interceptions thrown (4) as touchdowns. Picks were not an issue for him against the Sun Devils a season ago, and Arizona State ran a much more aggressive scheme then under Phil Bennett (though Gonzales' zone pressure can cause interception opportunities). However, Browning managed just 4.6 pass yards per attempt in the loss.
The senior Browning must play with veteran savvy against an Arizona State defense featuring an abundance of young faces capable of huge plays, like linebacker Merlin Robertson. But that defense will also be stepping into its first truly hostile road environment of the season.
Washington has yet to play a complete game this season. Whether that's a positive or negative is debatable. Coach Chris Petersen would like to see a more consistent game, with offensive rhythm matching the defense's performance. However, the Huskies won in the tough environment of a road game at Utah, and they had Auburn on the ropes in Week 1 in what was essentially a road game.
If Washington puts all three phases together on the same day, this team could be scary. Arizona State's win over Michigan State in Week 2 was impressive, but it's evident coming out of San Diego State that Herm Edwards and his staff still have problem areas to iron out. Washington is built to exploit those areas.
It may not be a rout — Arizona State's defense is too talented, and Washington still needs to show it can deliver consistently, especially missing All-America offensive lineman Trey Adams. However, the Huskies should keep the Sun Devils at arm's length throughout, similar to their win last week at Utah.