Coming out of the shadow of NFL first round pick Jake Locker, Keith Price had to work to create his own reputation in Seattle. Fast forward a few years, Price, now a third-year starting quarterback, finds himself atop or near the top of virtually all UW career passing lists.
The most experienced quarterback ASU fill face all year, Price has developed excellently after a disappointing junior season in 2012, with current numbers of 1,576 passing yards with nearly a 70% completion rate and a solid ratio of 12 touchdowns to four interceptions. Washington upgraded its offense to a faster paced attack this offseason and the results have been admirable thus far as Price has responded with some of the best football he's played during his years with the Huskies.
As a perfect complement to Price's experience, Washington's featured running back likely surprises many to be the current national rushing leader. Though he had a sensational season last year, Bishop Sankey is still significantly off the radar of most college football fans, but his 899 rushing yards speak for themselves as the greatest total to date at the FBS level. Also a capable receiver, Sankey has totaled 14 receptions for 134 yards and has 10 total touchdowns (nine rushing, one receiving). Sankey likely will hit the 1,000-yard mark on the year against ASU and his presence gives this game a noteworthy wrinkle of featuring the current national rushing leader (Sankey) versus the current national scoring leader (ASU RB Marion Grice).
Though not a full-fledged dual-threat quarterback, Price adds a little in the run game as his total this season is in a positive standing at 60 net yards with one touchdown.
In the pass game, Price likes to spread the ball to a trio of receivers as well as a potential All-American tight end.
Jaydon Mickens (34-323-2), Kevin Smith (24-389-2) and Kasen Williams (24-374-1) are generally used on equal scales and bring various tools at wide receiver. Mickens brings a Jamal Miles type of element to the Husky offense as a smaller, quicker option, while the 6-foot-2 Williams and the 214-pound Smith add larger physical presences.
Though he returned as the top statistical tight end in college football, Austin Seferian-Jenkins began the season in the team's dog house (pun intended) and hasn't fully emerged this season as he has 16 receptions for 185 yards with three touchdowns. Sure, his numbers are definitely above average on a general scale, but aren't on par with the 69 receptions for 852 yards he totaled in 2012.
True freshman John Ross has also gotten involved in the action this season with nine receptions for 123 yards and one score.
Offense in a Nutshell
Washington comes to Tempe with a number of tools to use; Price is the most experienced quarterback in terms of career starts that ASU will face all season, while Sankey is, of course, the nation's leading rusher. UW has no shortage of targets in the pass game, and with Price's experience, the Devils can't simply hone in on only trying to limit Sankey's impact on every down. Also a decent factor as a receiver, expect Sankey to touch the ball well over 30 times Saturday, possibly even closer to 40.
The Huskies undoubtedly will test the maligned Sun Devil rush defense with heavy doses of Sankey, followed by targets to Williams, Smith, Mickens and Seferian-Jenkins in the pass game.
The Sun Devil defense will have its hands full to say the least when the Huskies have the ball and discipline and pressure are absolute musts to limit Washington's scoring opportunities.
Washington operates out of a standard 4-3 defensive front with NT Danny Shelton (23 tackles, 1.0 sack) and DT Evan Hudson (11 tackles, 1.0 sack), a converted tight end, inside with ends Hau'oli Kikaha (26 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and Cory Littleton (24 tackles, 1.5 sacks) around them.
In the secondary, Marcus Peters (29 tackles, 2 INTs) is praised as being the next great Husky cornerback, while Gregory Ducre (16 tackles, 5 PBUs) has performed admirably at the other corner position. Sean Parker (34 tackles, 3 INTs) has been a ball-hawk at one safety position with veteran Will Shamburger (29 tackles) also slated to start at safety.
Defense in a Nutshell
The statistical strength of the Husky defense has been its defense of opposing passers, as UW allows only 182.2 yards per game through the air, good for 17th in the nation. However, last week Washington was decimated by Oregon's passing attack, albeit by Heisman Trophy front-runner Marcus Mariota.
Washington hasn't fared nearly as well against the run, ranking 68th in the nation by allowing 162.0 yards per game. The Huskies apply decent quarterback pressure, standing tied for 23rd in the nation averaging 2.67 sacks per game.
Though it plays to Washington's defensive strength, it can still be assumed that ASU will take the fight to the air more often than not, hoping Jaelen Strong can continue to dominate defensive backs while his supporting cast can continue to allow ASU QB Taylor Kelly to gain chunks of yardage through the air in mass as he has through the first half of the season.
Special Teams Preview
Travis Coons handles placekicking and punting duties for Washington and has been greatly solid so far by making all five field goal attempts and averaging 40.7 yards on 24 punts.
John Ross and Kevin Smith typically handle kickoff returns and the Huskies have one of the least potent punt return units in college football, collectively averaging only 3.4 yards per return with Ross as the primary return specialist.
Keys to a Sun Devil Victory
Stay Smart and Honest
When on defense, ASU has to primarily account for the rushing abilities of Sankey, but can't forsake the skills of Price and his targets. If the Devils allow Sankey to gash the defense for consistent gains, holes will evolve in the pass game that Price has the experience to exploit. Tackling must be sound by the Devils in the run game and persistent pressure must be applied to Price.
Attack the Air
Despite last week's poor performance to potential Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, Washington's pass defense has been greatly above average during the first half of the season. ASU's offensive strength has proven to be the pass game guided by QB Taylor Kelly. It'll be tough sledding against the Huskies if the Devils struggle in the pass game, making Kelly's precision an absolute must.
In quite a few ways, Washington under Steve Sarkisian has been somewhat of a Pac-12 north version of ASU as the Huskies have had talented players and gifted coaches but have struggled to push very far past the .500 mark.
Washington impressed national critics during the early third of the 2013 season, but the past two weeks have been unkind to the Huskies in their attempts to unseat division powers Stanford and Oregon.
At 4-2, Washington enters Saturday with somewhat of a "must win" mentality to prevent another mediocre season from being the final result in 2013. ASU is in a similar boat, as a loss to the Huskies would greatly impair the team's hopes to battle for the division and conference titles.
Washington boasts excellent offensive skill talent, lead by a dangerous duo of veteran passer Keith Price and national rushing leader Bishop Sankey. ASU will undoubtedly need its best overall defensive performance of the 2013 season to prevail Saturday and on offense, QB Taylor Kelly must find holes in the Husky secondary and make intelligent decisions with the ball.
ASU LB Chris Young signed with Washington out of high school before attending Arizona Western College.
Washington Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator Dan Cozzetto coached at ASU from 1992-99 and from 2007-08.
Washington OL Cory Fuavai attended Auburn (Wash.) High School, as did ASU LB Chris Young.