If this game was being played in Seattle, the edge would probably go to Washington senior quarterback Keith Price. Fortunately for the Sun Devils, it is in Tempe at Sun Devil Stadium, where redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly plays notoriously better than anywhere else.
Kelly is averaging just over 327 yards passing per game with 16 touchdowns on the season, and that includes two blowouts where he sat all or most of the second half. Meanwhile, Price is averaging just over 262 yards per game with 12 touchdowns this season, but a lot of the Huskies’ offensive success will rest on the shoulders of junior running back Bishop Sankey.
When Washington features the nation’s leading rusher, it really doesn’t matter who ASU has. Even with senior Marion Grice, who leads the nation in touchdowns, junior Bishop Sankey gives UW the edge. Sankey averages 149.8 yards per game to Grice’s 65.8, and has rushed for nine touchdowns, one behind Grice’s 10 (though Grice also has five touchdowns receiving).
Sankey thrives against top competition, putting up 125 and 167 yards against Stanford and Oregon, respectively. If he is not the best running back in the Pac-12, he is at least second-best to UA’s Ka’Deem Carey.
Washington and ASU are just about even if you look at their supporting receivers, but redshirt sophomore Jaelen Strong tips the scales for the Sun Devils. Strong has been a godsend for a team that has no other legitimate deep-ball threats. He averages 16.1 yards per catch with four touchdowns this season.
UW’s best receiver is juniortight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who has been as good as any tight end in the nation but has not been utilized nearly as much as Strong. He has only 16 receptions to Strong’s 42, but still has three touchdowns. Seferian-Jenkins’ 6-foot-6, 276 pound frame will be a nightmare for the ASU defense.
Senior safety Alden Darby and redshirt senior cornerback Osahon Irabor have carried the load for ASU in the secondary. Each has two interceptions, and each has scored a touchdown this year.
For the Huskies, sophomore Marcus Peters has done everything his predecessor and current Atlanta Falcon, Desmond Trufant has done. Safety Sean Parker is well on his way to a berth on the All-Pac-12 team, and his three interceptions are a big part of it. Combined, the duo has five interceptions and could give Kelly problems if he isn’t careful.
The Huskies have a very good linebacking corps, and all four are very productive. Senior Princeton Fuimaono leads the team in tackles by a thin margin with 44. Sophomore Shaq Thompson and junior John Timu are both right behind Fuimaono with 41 tackles apiece. The only thing the Huskies’ linebackers don’t do is make a lot of tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Combined, their three linebackers have only one and a half tackles for loss.
The Sun Devils have only one linebacker with more than 40 tackles this year, and that is senior Chris Young with 41. After Young, there’s a steep drop off in production at linebacker. Redshirt junior Devilbacker Carl Bradford and Sam linebackers redshirt freshman Salamo Fiso and senior Steffon Martin are tied with 24 tackles apiece. Redshirt senior Anthony Jones, who has played both Spur and Will linebacker spots, has only 10 tackles. ASU’s linebackers do a better job of getting after the ballcarrier in the backfield. Bradford, Young, Fiso and Martin combined have 15 tackles for loss this year.
A big reason why junior running back Bishop Sankey is the nation’s leader in rushing yards has to do with his offensive line. They aren’t an exceptionally big group, and they don’t get a massive push off the line, but they do a great job of giving Sankey open lanes to run through. In the passing game, the Huskies’ offensive line ranks No. 9 in the Pac-12 in sacks allowed (12), but it’s better than the 11th-ranked Sun Devils who have allowed 14 sacks this season. The unit is experienced and led by junior right guard and season captain Colin Tanigawa.
The Sun Devils rebounded from a terrible showing against Notre Dame by dominating an overmatched Colorado defensive front. As a whole, ASU allowed only one sack all night vs. Colorado as compared to six against Notre Dame. That said, the Sun Devils are still second to last in the Pac-12 in sacks allowed (14) and No. 8 in rushing yards per game.
It’s been a slow start for the ASU defensive front. So far, redshirt senior Will Sutton has had a quiet year with only one sack and two-and-a-half tackles for loss. However, senior Davon Coleman is coming on strong with five tackles for loss and one and a half sacks of his own.
The Huskies don’t get a particularly big pass-rush out of their front four. At 6-foot-1 and 327 pounds, junior nose tackle Danny Shelton is a force controlling the A-gap. Junior defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha leads the team with 3.5 sacks.
Neither team has had the greatest special teams depth this season. The Sun Devils have had punting issues and are only averaging 28.5 net yards per punt, making them last in the Pac-12. Freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez has been a bright spot in the Sun Devils special teams woes the past few games as he has made seven field goals in a row, including a career long 41-yard field goal last week.
Washington, on the other hand, has also struggled with its kicking game and would have most likely beaten Stanford on the road if it hadn’t allowed one kickoff return for a touchdown and another to its own 19-yard line. The winner of this phase of the game is a toss-up and a mistake by either could be the difference.
Overall EDGE: Washington
The Sun Devils’ home field advantage will most likely be overshadowed by their inability to stop the run, a problem they have been dealing with all season. Strong and Kelly will give ASU some offensive retaliation, but ASU’s rush defense will be too problematic against rushing powerhouse Sankey for the Sun Devils to secure a win in a game with immense conference implications.
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