It didn’t take long for ASU football to face another elite team after its tough four-game stretch.
The Sun Devils’ (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) focus quickly switched to No. 20 Washington following ASU’s 54-13 blowout over Colorado last Saturday.
The phrase “must-win” can sometimes be overused, but ASU coach Todd Graham believes it’s imperative that the Sun Devils win their final six games, starting with the upcoming one against a Pac-12 North contender.
“It’s a big game for us, and we’ll find out exactly where we’re headed,” Graham said.
ASU and Washington (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) meet for the first time since Oct. 9, 2010, when the Sun Devils defeated the Huskies 24-14 in Seattle.
Washington is coming off two straight losses against Stanford and Oregon, and Senior safety Alden Darby knows from experience that teams like Washington are difficult to face following those losses.
“They’re like, ‘Man, we’re not losing another game,’” Darby said. “They’re mad. They’re going to play with a lot of anger.”
Graham gave the Huskies a lot of respect for their talent, but after ASU’s four-game stretch against Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame, hardly anything about the Huskies will be new to the Sun Devils.
“This team is extremely talented,” Graham said. “I’ve watched the film. As good as a receiving corps, really good running back, huge offensive line, quarterback is very active who is very good at extending plays. (It’s a) very similar talent level that USC has.”
Huskies junior tailback Bishop Sankey is the nation’s leading rusher, as he records 149.8 rushing yards per game.
“I really like (Sankey),” Graham said. “The effort he gives, he’s extremely tough. You can tell he’s a mentally tough person. … He’s the No. 1 player we have to stop. There’s no question about it.”
Washington’s offense is far from one-dimensional, though.
A combined pass and rushing attack gives Washington the No. 3 offense in the Pac-12 in total offense averaging 526.8 yards per game. Senior quarterback Keith Price is averaging 262.7 passing yards per game and completes 69.3 percent of his passes. His favorite endzone target is junior tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who stands 6-foot-6, 276 pounds and has three receiving touchdowns on the season.
Stopping Sankey is a priority, but ASU redshirt junior linebacker Carl Bradford knows the Sun Devils’ front-seven must contain Price as well.
“He’s definitely more of a pass-first quarterback after seeing the film … but he does have the ability of tucking (the ball) and running it,” Bradford said. “We have to be all over him and not lose containment.”
Defensively, Washington isn’t bad, either. The Huskies allow the third-least yards per game in the Pac-12 with 344.2. Washington has the second-best pass defense efficiency in the conference and forces quarterbacks to throw with an average rating of 101.2. The Huskies also have 16 sacks for the season.
“We kind of have to do what Oregon did to them — wear them down, just get plays moving quickly,” ASU junior tight end Chris Coyle said. “We have to establish the run on these guys. They’re big and physical, but the only way we’re going to get the passes open downfield is if we beat them up front at first.”
With all of the talent Washington poses, the Huskies make an imposing challenge for the Sun Devils.
Graham knows how much this game means to the rest of the season, and he thinks the Sun Devils are fortunate to host this game in Tempe. He thought the home-field advantage was also huge against USC.
He needs it again against another elite Pac-12 team.
“If you want to see a great game, come watch this one, because there’s going to be a lot of explosive athletes on the field,” Graham said. “It’s going to be an exciting game to watch.”
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Josh_Nacion