No. 7 Huskies look to snap 10-game skid to Sun Devils
SEATTLE — Looking back, Washington’s collapse in the desert last November is where it all changed.
The Huskies melted down in the second half against Arizona State, watching a 14-point lead disappear into a 27-17 loss that put them on the verge of missing the postseason.
It proved to be the game that led to the rise of No. 7 Washington this year. The Huskies have won 12 of 13 games since that loss and will close out their home slate on Saturday hosting Arizona State with far more at stake than that game in Tempe, Arizona, a year ago.
The Huskies’ 12-game win streak was snapped last week by USC, putting into peril Washington’s hopes of a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Huskies (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12, No. 6 CFP) know they must win out to have a chance of being in the top four.
That’s not as simple as it sounds. Arizona State has won 10 straight meetings with the Huskies and Saturday’s game will be followed by the Apple Cup in Pullman and a possible Pac-12 title game.
"If you’re just so disappointed because of this loss with all this football left to be played then you’re in the wrong locker room and you haven’t been hearing a word that we’ve been talking about," Washington coach Chris Petersen said. "There’s a lot of football left and awesome things to play for and all that stuff."
Last week’s loss exposed issues that have otherwise been masked for most of the season. Washington’s pass rush was non-existent against USC, giving Sam Darnold plenty of time to find gaps in the secondary. The Huskies offensive line struggled to establish the running game. The Huskies were held to 17 yards rushing as a team, their fewest since having just 13 yards in a 2006 loss at Oregon.
Jake Browning threw two interceptions and the Huskies were held to their lowest point total since the 2015 season opener.
"I don’t think our protection was as good as it has been overall," Petersen said. "Toward the end you kind of get into that trying to make some stuff happen and that kind of never really goes great."
Arizona State (4-6, 2-5) may be just the opponent to allow Washington to get back on track. The Sun Devils are last in the Pac-12 in pass defense, giving up nearly 400 yards per game through the air, and have allowed at least 37 points in four straight games. Washington wide receiver John Ross has at least 100 yards receiving in three of the past four games.
"(John) Ross is probably the most dynamic player in our league," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said.
Other things to watch as the Huskies and Sun Devils meet for the 34th time:
TAKE ADVANTAGE: Washington can gain ground in the CFP rankings. The Huskies have already gotten help with Houston knocking off Louisville — No. 5 in the CFP rankings — meaning a win over the Sun Devils should move the Huskies to the cusp of the top four.
Last week, Clemson had lost before the Huskies even took the field against USC yet Washington was unable to capitalize on the opportunity.
SACK ATTACK: Arizona State allowed 11 sacks and 22 tackles for loss last week against Utah as the Sun Devils offensive line was unable to protect quarterback Manny Wilkins. That’s good news for Washington, which has just four sacks in four games since losing sack leader Joe Mathis to a foot injury in mid-October.
EXPLOSIVE PLAYS: The big play has been a key for Washington all season and a vulnerability for Arizona State. The Huskies were held to just three plays of 20 yards or more against USC, one of those from Ross on their first offensive play. Arizona State gave up big plays against Utah with the Utes scoring four touchdowns of 20 yards or more.
STEPPING IN: D.J. Beavers is expected to start at middle linebacker for Washington after leading tackler Azeem Victor was lost for the remainder of the regular season with a broken bone in his lower right leg. Beavers took over last week after Victor was injured and had six tackles but the Trojans also exposed his inexperience at times.