ASU football prepares for 'big challenge' at No. 6 Washington

With a win in Seattle, the Sun Devils would send shockwaves through the College Football Playoff landscape

Who: Arizona State at No. 6 Washington

Where: Husky Stadium

When: 4:30 p.m. PT on FOX

Series: ASU leads 19-15 all-time

Last meeting: Sun Devils won 27-17 on Nov. 14, 2015 in Tempe

One by one, the dominoes have fallen – first, it was No. 12 Colorado snapping its seven-game losing streak against ASU football to capture its first win over the Sun Devils (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) in program history.

Then-No. 20 Washington State beat ASU in Tempe for the first time since 2001. When faced with a chance to snap a nine-game losing streak to Oregon in Eugene, Oregon, the Sun Devils fell 54-35 and extended their futility against the Ducks (3-7, 1-6 Pac-12) to beyond a decade.

ASU’s bye week came and went, and it was followed by a Thursday night home game with then-No. 15 Utah, which had lost 11 of its last 12 meetings with the Sun Devils. And again, ASU suffered its fourth double-digit defeat and third by a margin of at least 20 points.

Now, the Sun Devils head to Seattle with their prospects looking grim for an active win streak with yet another conference opponent – No. 6 Washington. The Huskies (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12) have dropped their last 10 straight games against ASU and haven’t beaten the Sun Devils at Husky Stadium since 1997 but are 27-point favorites heading into Saturday’s contest.

What is it that Washington does better than anyone else? Head coach Todd Graham respects Washington head coach Chris Petersen’s track record – he went 92-12 in eight seasons with Boise State, helped the Broncos evolve into a perennial at-large bowl contender, and oversaw their move from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West.

Even more admirable is Petersen’s work in his third season at the helm in Seattle, taking the Huskies from an average Pac-12 North program, as they were under Steve Sarkisian, to a playoff contender just eight years after bottoming out at 0-12 in 2008. This came during the last season of Tyrone Willingham’s miserable four-year run – his .229 winning percentage was the worst in program history aside from Stub Alison’s lone season of .167 football in 1920.

Apart from having one of the most efficient offenses in the country, the Huskies also have a Biletnikoff Award finalist (an honor given to the nation’s top receiver) in junior wideout John Ross, and sophomore receiver Chico McClatcher leads the Pac-12 (and is 10th overall) in yards per reception, with an average of 20.5.

Sophomore running back Myles Gaskin is one of 28 running backs in the country who have rushed for at least 1,000 yards – the only other Pac-12 running back to do so is some guy from Stanford you may have heard of, junior running back Christian McCaffrey.

“Explosive plays, would be one,” Graham said. “Ross is probably the best player, the most dynamic player in our league. They play really good defense, I mean they’re really physical against the run and they’re really good in the back end. So, I would say explosive plays and defense are the two things that I think of that describes how they play the game. They’re very well coached, that would be the third thing is they’re very, very well coached.”

Containing the balanced Washington offense will be a tremendous task for redshirt sophomore safety Armand Perry and the ASU defense. But Perry does have fond memories of his 61-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Huskies on a rainy, windy night in Seattle in 2014. 

"I was just doing my job," Perry said. "We were in a conservative coverage, and I just saw the ball, got the ball, ran it back and sealed the game for us." 

And while the Washington offense and sophomore quarterback Jake Browning’s remarkable stat lines have elevated the Huskies to being in prime position for a playoff spot, it’s their defense that has provided the launchpad.

Junior safety Budda Baker and junior cornerback Sidney Jones are NFL prospects and two of the best back-end players in the country, having earned Pac-12 First Team honors in 2015. The duo has combined for four interceptions and have anchored a unit that has allowed just 17.9 points per game this season.

None of this, aside from a slight reprieve in the pass rush department and the loss of Azeem Victor after the junior linebacker had season-ending surgery, will be particularly helpful to redshirt sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins, who will be starting in his third Pac-12 road game Saturday.

“All I can say about Manny is that he is very courageous in the way he has overcome his injuries,” Graham said. “I am very proud of his leadership and toughness. He has had more than his fair share of adversity.”

Offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey has indirectly had success against Washington in the past – his old Southern Miss team put up 31 points in a loss to Washington in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Dec. 26, 2015 – and Golden Eagles quarterback Nick Mullens was the last quarterback to put up 300 yards against the Huskies.

Lindsey had already accepted a job at ASU to replace Mike Norvell and left Southern Miss before their bowl game, but his offensive philosophy remains instilled in Hattiesburg, Mississippi – and has been a bright spot for the Sun Devils in an otherwise disappointing season.

“They’re going to make you earn it, for sure,” Lindsey said. “I think they’re very comfortable in their system, and it will be a big challenge for us.”


Reach the reporter at smodrich@asu.edu or follow @StefanJModrich on Twitter.

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