Washington's College Football Playoff hopes took a substantial hit last Saturday, when the Huskies lost at home to USC, 26-13. With two games still remaining in the regular season, and a Pac-12 Championship Game berth should Washington win out, head coach Chris Petersen can invoke Bluto Blutarsky in his next pregame speech:
Nothing's over until we decide it is!
Yes, like the Deltas and the Faber Homecoming parade, the Washington Huskies can ride their proverbial Deathmobile back into the playoff picture by closing out with three wins. Standing in the way is Arizona State, the last team to beat Washington prior to USC's upset win a week ago.
The Sun Devils rallied from an initial, two-score deficit in the 2015 encounter to eventually win 27-17. Arizona State still needs one more victory to become bowl eligible. Can the Sun Devils put an end to the Huskies' playoff aspirations?
Arizona State at Washington
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Washington -27
Three Things to Watch
1. A Big Bounce-Back for Browning
Quarterback Jake Browning endured his worst individual performance of the 2016 season last Saturday, dealing a blow to his budding Heisman Trophy candidacy.
Arizona State's No. 128-ranked passing defense may be the medicine to cure what ails Browning after last week's 17-of-36, two-interception struggles.
The Sun Devils again rank at the very bottom of college football against the pass, a byproduct both of inexperience in the secondary, and the high-risk nature of Todd Graham's blitz-heavy defense. While Graham has no reason to ease up on pressure, given last week USC made Browning's job exceedingly difficult with a steady stream of blitzes, the Arizona State back line will be vulnerable to big plays.
2. John Ross Looms Large
Speaking of those big plays, USC limited the Huskies' primary weapon by lining up cornerback Adoree' Jackson against him as often as possible. Jackson's one of the best coverage men in the game, and even he wasn't immune to Ross's uncanny, playmaking ability.
Arizona State lacks a defensive back that can go toe-to-toe with Ross nearly as effectively as Jackson a week ago. The Huskies will look to attack with their home-run threat from the outset — don't be surprised if it comes on the first play of the game, even.
3. Quarterback Protection
Both Washington and Arizona State lost home games last week due in large part to porous blocking. USC totaled three sacks against Washington, but the Trojans broke through with pressure routinely.
Arizona State's struggles manifested in a staggering 11 sacks allowed to Utah. That's one third of the 33 sacks the Sun Devils have allowed all season, ranking them No. 110 nationally.
Mobile quarterbacks have performed better against the stout Washington front seven than pocket passers, which helps Arizona State's cause. However, the Sun Devils' inability to establish an effective rushing attack (3.5 yards per carry, 144.3 yards per game) means the Huskies can attack more aggressively without fear of allowing long runs.
Arizona State comes into Husky Stadium on the wrong end of several factors. First, Washington's coming off a loss. Second, the circumstances of last season's loss in Sun Devil Stadium throw further gasoline on the fire. Third, Saturday marks the Dawgs' last game at Husky Stadium for 2016, and Senior Day for the outgoing veterans.
Every cosmic force points to a lopsided Washington win. Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, more tangible factors don't suggest anything different.
Washington should be able to exploit its various matchup advantages early and effectively. Style points may or may not be a factor for College Football Playoff selection committee members — TCU would probably tell you it's not — but that shouldn't deter head coach Chris Petersen and the Huskies from piling it on.