ASU vs. Washington game preview

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No. 20 Washington Huskies (4-2, 1-2) at Arizona State Sun Devils (4-2, 2-1)

Kickoff: 3:00 p.m. PST / 6:00 p.m. EST

Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ

Point Spread: ASU -3

TV/Radio: Pac-12 Network/620 AM

Weather Forecast: Clear, mid 80s

Series History: These teams have not met since 2010, when ASU beat UW on the road. The series is tied at 15-15, but ASU has won seven straight.

ASU's Uniform Combo: Gold helmets, maroon jersey and pants

Fun Fact of the Week: ASU has won seven straight against Washington, tied for fourth-longest active win streak among Pac-12 opponents.

ASU on Offense: To stay in this game, the Sun Devils may need to score well into the 30s, or even higher. Thankfully, they have that ability and a workable match-up against a solid, if unspectacular, Husky defense.

Philosophically, ASU's offensive scheme is built to be a run-first attack, but this year, their success has largely been through the air. Quarterback Taylor Kelly will be the man to keep ASU in a game that figures to be a high-scoring affair. At home, he is one of the nation's most efficient quarterbacks when given adequate protection.

That last part will be the trick. Washington doesn't have a dominant pass rusher, but they bring pressure from a number of areas and angles. Ends Hau'oli Kakaha and Josh Shirley each have three sacks on the year, and UW will often shuffle them to different spots on the line. The Sun Devil offensive line will be heavily counted upon to keep Kelly upright, as he continues to be prone to bad mistakes when hurried.

If ASU can win the war in the trenches, or at least fight it to a stalemate, their playmakers should have an advantage.

Wide receiver Jaelen Strong now has five consecutive 100-yard games, and has proven to be a match-up nightmare for any cornerback due to his size and speed. He will continue to be the team's top target, and could be in line for a double-digit reception performance. UW's top cornerback Marcus Peters will be called up to limit Strong. ASU's other wide receivers continue to be a non-factor, and will need to step up in order to ease pressure off of Strong. Freshman speedster Cameron Smith made his first start last week, and could see a bigger role in stretching the defense downfield. Tight ends Chris Coyle and De'Marieya Nelson could each see some additional targets against an undersized linebacker group.

ASU's ground game has struggled all year long, but could be in line for a better day against a UW defense that is 68th nationally against the run. lead back Marion Grice continues to lead the nation in scoring, and the speedy D.J. Foster should get his share of carries as well. While that duo should be able to generate some yardage, their biggest contributions should once again be as receivers. ASU will want to run to win, but at a minimum, will need to run enough to keep Washington's offense from keying totally on the Sun Devil passing game.

Key Match-ups:

  • WR Jaelen Strong vs. CB Marcus Peters: There has yet to be a cornerback who can stop Strong, and Peters will be the next to try. A talented sophomore, Peters gives up five inches to Strong, so he will need help in slowing down Strong.
  • ASU Offensive Line vs DL Hau'oli Kakaha: Kakaha has emerged as UW's best rusher with 3.5 sacks on the year, and he lines up everywhere—left end and right, as well as inside on passing downs. The Sun Devil line will need to keep the speedy 250-pounder out of the backfield to sustain drives.
  • RB Marion Grice vs. LB/S Shaq Thompson: Like ASU's SPUR position, Thompson plays a hybrid linebacker/safety spot due to his outstanding athleticism and skills. He'll see a lot of Grice, both on runs and passes out of the backfield.

ASU on Defense: During his weekly press conference, ASU head coach Todd Graham said that the Washington offense had many key similarities to the Sun Devils' scheme. Both operate a fast-paced attack that is a run-first in philosophy, but each has a mobile quarterback who can get it downfield.

Leading the way for the Huskies is the man leading the nation in rushing, Bishop Sankey. The 203-pound junior is a dangerous player, having racked up 899 yards and nine rushing scores on the year. He is a quick and powerful runner who makes good reads behind Washington's zone blocking scheme. While backups Jesse Callier and Dwayne Washington are mixed in, Sankey gets the vast majority of the carries, and limiting him will be ASU's No. 1 priority.

The Sun Devil front seven will need to do a much better job against the run than they have all year. They will get a major boost with the full-time return of defensive tackle Jaxon Hood to solidify the middle, but they group must be much more sound in their alignments, angles to the ball, and tackling than they have all season long. The linebackers are once again shuffled this week, with Chris Young, Salamo Fiso, and Anthony Jones the starters.

Quarterback Keith Price is the most experienced signal caller in the conference, and is having a terrific rebound season. He's completing nearly 70 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Price is a very capable passer, and while he can make plays with his legs, he is a clear pass-first, run-second player.  ASU will need to be effective in their pass rush against an average Washington offensive line before Price can get the ball to a number of talented playmakers downfield.. Carl Bradford has played better in recent weeks, and this would be an ideal time for Will Sutton to return to his pass rushing ways. ASU loves to bring blitzes from all angles, but will need to account for Price's mobility.

The Husky pass catchers are a varied and talented group. Jaydon Mickens is a smaller, quicker slot receiver that the team uses similar to how Jamal Miles was used by ASU. He will see short passes, screens, and swing passes to get him into space. On the outside, Kevin Smith and Kasen Williams are dangerous downfield targets, but the biggest match-up advantage may be at tight end. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is arguably the nation's most talented tight end, and is a very good receiver. His size—6-foot-6, 276 pounds—presents major match-up issues for a small ASU secondary. Look for Seferian-Jenkins to receive extra coverage attention downfield on Saturday night.

Key Match-ups

  • All Sun Devils vs. RB Bishop Sankey: Stopping the nation's leading rusher will be an "all hands on deck affair" for the Sun Devils. Sankey will get his yards, but ASU take better angles against him and must bring him down so as not to allow yards after contact.
  • Devilbacker Carl Bradford vs. QB Keith Price: UW has a dangerous passing attack led by the veteran Price. If allowed time, he has the skills and weapons to carve ASU up, so the pass rush, led by a resurgent Bradford, will be key.
  • S Alden Darby vs. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins: Tight ends have had success against ASU, and Seferian-Jenkins may be the best yet. At 6-foot-6, 276 pounds, he is a match-up nightmare, so ASU will nee to adjust their coverages in a big way to stop him.

Special Teams: The wait continues for ASU's special teams to deliver. The punting game—ranked dead last in the nation—continues to be a mess, and it looks like kicker Alex Garoutte may see more work punting this week. The return game has yet to get on track, but the one bright spot comes at kicker. Zane Gonzalez made two field goals against Colorado, extending his consecutive field goal streak to seven.

Travis Coons doesn't kick many field goals for UW due to their offensive prowess, but he has made all five of his kicks this year, but just one over 40 yards. Coons also is the team's punter, and has placed 10 of his 24 kicks inside the 20. John Ross has been the primary kickoff and punt returner, and has done a mediocre job in both departments.

ASU's To Do List:

  • Limit Sankey's damage
  • Generate consistent pressure on Price
  • Finish drives with touchdowns, not field goals
  • Win the turnover battle

What It All Means: This game could be a situation of the winner is whichever team has the ball last. UW comes in angry after two straight losses to Stanford and Oregon, while ASU is looking to continue their drive to the South division title. Both defenses are struggling and figure to give up lots of yards and points to two very good offenses. If one defensive unit can force a key turnover or two, that could very well be the difference. The edge here may be Sankey, as ASU's defense has yet to prove that they can slow down the run.

Prediction: Washington wins 45-41