Through six games of the 2017 season, defending Pac-12 champion Washington's most aggressive challenge has come from ESPN.
OK, that's not exactly fair to any of the teams Washington has beaten on its way to a perfect start — especially Rutgers, Oregon State and Colorado, all of which were within a score of the Huskies at halftime. But Chris Petersen's bunch cranked up the intensity after intermission against all three and cruised. The Huskies' average margin of victory on the season is 32.8 points per game — the highest in college football.
Meanwhile, Washington has recently had to endure the potential distraction of increasingly hostile rhetoric, the response to Petersen's brief lament about playing late kickoffs. Well, Saturday's game at Arizona State kicks off about 45 minutes before the start of Saturday Night Live on the East Coast and will finish sometime Sunday morning.
The Huskies could be 7-0 in the wee hours — unless Arizona State springs a monumental upset.
Washington at Arizona State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 14 at 10:45 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Washington -18
Three Things to Watch
1. Huskies in heat
Trips to the Grand Canyon State have been difficult on Washington football teams. On their way to the 2016 Pac-12 championship, the Huskies first had to get past an overtime challenge from last-place Arizona. As far as visiting Arizona State, Washington has had a worse time than an undergrad who leaves his or her wallet at a Mill Avenue establishment.
Washington is winless at Sun Devil Stadium over the last 16 years. The Huskies' most recent trip there saw the visitors build a two-score lead early, only to see the hosts to rally and win by two scores. Whatever ails Washington when it comes to the Sonoran Desert, the Huskies need to shake it off to avoid the upset.
2. Let Gaskin step on the gas
In its first five games, Arizona State faced three of the very best running backs in college football: San Diego State's Rashaad Penny, Oregon's Royce Freeman and Stanford's Bryce Love. The Sun Devils lost two of those games, in the process allowing 216 yards to Penny and 303 yards to Love.
Oregon used Freeman somewhat sparingly — his 15 carries were a season low before he sustained a shoulder injury at Cal — and Arizona State took advantage.
Washington has not had to ride running back Myles Gaskin, but the junior playmaker can take over when called upon. Letting him loose against the ASU defense early should set the tone, opening up the field for quarterback Jake Browning to attack with the pass come the second and third quarters.
And that third quarter is especially important.
3. Pivotal third quarter
So far, half of Washington's opponents have been competitive for a half. None has held up in the middle quarters, a stretch in which UW has dominated to the tune of a cumulative 135-23 edge.
The Huskies typically pound opponents into submission by the third quarter. Arizona State needs to withstand the onslaught. Whether that means generating turnovers, something the Sun Devils have struggled with in 2017 — they have just five takeaways on the year — or solving Washington's stout defense, the third quarter should prove pivotal to the final outcome.
Washington's historical struggles in the state of Arizona are perhaps noteworthy. While each year is new with different players, something — heat, dryness, whatever it may be — impacts the Huskies in the desert. Last season's overtime escape from Tucson really underscores that point.
Still, Washington's return to the upper echelon of college football has seen the Huskies reverse other trends. In much the same way that the Dawgs ended their losing streak to rival Oregon with a statement in a blowout win, Washington should close the door on its Sun Devil Stadium losing streak emphatically.
Devils wide receiver N'Keal Harry (above, right) can be a handful, but quarterback Manny Wilkins can expect consistent pressure from the Washington defense, rendering the Arizona State passing attack moot.