Washington Preview

On paper, there is probably no better place for Arizona State to continue its momentum as they face a Washington squad it has beaten eight consecutive times. Nonetheless, on what should be a rainy Saturday night in Seattle, the Sun Devils’ next contest packs plenty of challenges. Joe Healey examines ASU’s next opponent.

Washington Offensive Personnel

Typically an offensive juggernaut while at Boise State, first-year Husky head coach Chris Peterson has been dealt a much weaker hand in his debut year in Seattle as Washington currently ranks last in the Pac-12 Conference in total offense and pass offense.

Potentially compounding the complications is situation at quarterback against Arizona State, as typical starter Cyler Miles left last week’s game after suffering a concussion and reportedly will not play .

On the year, Miles has totaled 1,043 passing yards with 10 touchdowns and one interception in six games while ranking third on the team with 124 rushing yards. Though his passing numbers aren’t out-of-this-world, Miles should be applauded for his care for the football as evidenced by his 10-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Redshirt freshman Troy Williams is set to get his first career collegiate start. Williams filled in for Miles against Oregon last week, completing 5-of-10 passes for 37 yards—the only passing attempts he has in three games on the year. Williams is a dynamic rusher with 33 yards and a touchdown on six carries, an area ASU certain has to account for if he is Washington’s starter on Saturday.

Jeff Lindquist, the starter in the season opener versus Hawaii when Miles was suspended, is an option as well but has underwhelmed in the time he’s been given, including a 10-of-26 passing effort with 162 yards—91 of which on a single touchdown pass—in the first game.

In the absence left by departed star runner Bishop Sankey, Washington has employed a handful of rushers in 2014, with Lavon Coleman and his 438 yards on 106 carries leading the way. Dwight Washington ranks second on the team in rushing with 239 yards on 63 carries with three scores, though both Coleman and Washington have been banged up of late and whether they will be at full speed Saturday is still unknown.

Last week against Oregon, Deontae Cooper was pressed into duty due to the injuries, and on the year Cooper has totaled 105 yards on 20 carries.

An “X-factor” on the team as a whole and potentially one specifically in the run game Saturday versus Arizona State, all-purpose linebacker Shaq Thompson has seen a handful of offensive snaps with 84 rushing yards on nine carries with a touchdown. Due to the rash of injuries atop the running backs depth chart for the Huskies, Thompson is an option to gain a greater offensive role versus the Sun Devils.

The heavy share of the passes have been split between Jaydon Mickens and John Ross, as Mickens has a team-high 36 catches for 323 yards with two scores, while Ross has a team-best 373 yards on only 16 receptions with four touchdowns.

One of the better deep threats in the Pac-12, Ross is a player ASU defensive backs can ill afford to run free, while Mickens can be used in short spaces as well as further down the field.

Both Mickens and Ross also get in involved in the run game as the pair has combined for 112 rush yards on the year.

Elsewhere in the pass game, DiAndre Campbell ranks third on the team with 14 catches for 155 yards and one touchdown. Aside from light involvement from the running backs, no other receiver or tight end on the roster averages much more than one reception per game.

Washington Offensive Summary

Comparable to Stanford a week ago, Washington’s offense generally lacks firepower and has a quarterback—whether it is Miles or any other option—that isn’t likely to shoulder a game and win all on his own.

If Arizona State brings the defense to Seattle that it did against Stanford, the Sun Devils gain a distinct advantage—one that can make a notable imprint on the outcome of the game.

However, if the Devils revert to the defensive sloppiness of, say, the UCLA game, Washington can game some offensive opportunities it otherwise realistically should not.

Washington’s offense could include some unknowns on Saturday with Williams starting and if Thompson is used to a greater degree in the backfield, ASU will have to face a few threats not widely shown on film thus far in 2014.

Washington Defensive Personnel

The defensive front seven for Washington is about as good as it gets in the Pac-12 and the group combines potency with experience as the line and linebackers consist of five seniors and two juniors. Bringing one of the nation’s most fearsome pass rush presences to the table from multiple angles, ASU will have its work cut out for it in resisting the oncoming attack of the Huskies.

Washington features one the most prominent quarterback sack artist in the country thus far in 2001, BUCK Hau’oli Kikaha, the nation’s leader with 12.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. A player of a mold similar to Carl Bradford, the 6-foot-3, 246-pounder also has 44 tackles and two forced fumbles.

The Will Sutton to Kikaha’s Carl Bradford is massive NT Danny Shelton, also in the nation’s top-10 with 12.0 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, while, at 339-pounds, amazing leading the Huskies with 57 total tackles.

If these two aren’t intimidating enough, Washington boasts the 2014 version of Myles Jack in do-it-all defender Shaq Thompson at linebacker, who has four defensive touchdowns (three fumble recoveries, one interception) while tying for second on the team with 53 total tackles.

Though overshadowed on larger scales as well as on his own team, junior cornerback Marcus Peters is one of the best around and leads Washington with three interceptions to go along with 21 total tackles.

John Timu ranks second on the team with 53 tackles and has a team-high six pass breakups this year from his linebacker position, while elsewhere on the defense, DE Andrew Hudson ranks third on the team with 3.0 sacks as part of his 34 total tackles.

LB Travis Feeney has chipped in 32 tackles so far, while DT Evan Hudson has totaled 13 tackles including 1.0 sack.

In the secondary, the standout Peters is surrounded by a trio of youngsters, with freshmen slated to start in CB Sidney Jones and S Budda Baker, with sophomore Kevin King listed starting opposite Baker at safety.

On the year, Baker leads all defensive backs with 44 tackles, while King has 33 of his own and Jones has tallied 22.

Washington Defensive Summary

If the Pac-12 Conference Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year Award was given today, it is perfectly reasonable to think that Washington could have the top three vote-getters as Kikaha, Shelton and Thompson have had incredible years thus far. Add in Peters, one of the nation’s most underrated defensive backs, and Washington surely packs a major punch in its defense.

In all, Washington ranks third in the nation with 27 total sacks, while also boasting an above average run defense that ranks third in the Pac-12 Conference.

With the exception of Peters, however, the Husky secondary has some exploitable holes, as the Washington pass defense ranks 11th in the Pac-12 Conference. Though the Jaelen Strong vs. Marcus Peters matchup should be a good one and a constant battle, the likes of Cameron Smith, Ellis Jefferson and D.J. Foster should have some good looks as receivers if the Arizona State line can hold the Washington pass rush at bay.

Without a doubt, Washington will look to attack the Sun Devil backfield and press Taylor Kelly (presuming Kelly is the starter) into turnover situations to create scoring opportunities and short fields for the Husky offense.

Washington Special Teams Summary

John Ross provides a presence worth watching on kickoffs as he averages 22.7 yards on 14 returns. As refreshing as last week’s special teams coverage against Stanford, a speedster like Ross is still one that can bring back bad memories of players such as Ishmael Adams and Nelson Agholor.

On punt returns, true freshman Dante Pettis has done a solid job with a 10.5-yard average on his 16 returns.

In the kick game, Cameron Van Winkle has enjoyed an excellent start to the season as he has connected on 9-of-10 field goal attempts. Korey Durkee averages 42.2 yards on 33 punts, while in a fashion similar to ASU the Husky quarterbacks have combined for five punts on the year.

Final Analysis

ASU’s recent dominance over the Huskies is something of general historic value, as the Devils’ active eight-game win streak over Washington is the longest Arizona State has generated over a conference foe since joining the Pac-10 Conference in 1978.

Last season’s blowout victory over a ranked Husky squad essentially ignited ASU’s momentum toward the Pac-12 south crown and this year’s meeting holds similar gravity as a win would take the Sun Devils one step closer to retaining their division title with two compelling contests up ahead in Utah and Notre Dame.

Similar to last week against Stanford, this weekend’s game will feature a ‘strength-versus-strength’ battle of units when the Sun Devil offense takes the field against the Husky defense. All eyes will be on the Arizona State backfield watching presumed starter Taylor Kelly in his first game action in six weeks. If Kelly stutters in any way as he resumes his senior season, an aggressive Washington defensive front can take severe advantage.

On the Husky side, if Miles is out of action and Williams gets the nod, the Sun Devils will face the risk-reward situation of encountering a redshirt freshman in his first career start. Despite minimal game experience and zero college starts, Williams brings athleticism to the lineup and, of course, a total lack of game film for ASU to scout.

If Williams gets the call, the Sun Devil defense from a week ago and not that of the UCLA game will be a must in order to ensure Williams is limited in the run game.

On paper, this has all the makings of a ‘trap’ game for Arizona State – two emotional victories precede Saturday’s game with two integral contests to follow. However, with the vastly unpredictable nature this season in the Pac-12 Conference—and college football as a whole—it’s unlikely the Sun Devils will overlook the Huskies toward the Utes, Fighting Irish and the remainder of their 2014 schedule.

Washington’s defense and tenacity in the turnover margin gives the Huskies much more than just a fighting chance in this one, but the development shown by ASU against Stanford and the question marks on Washington’s offense figure to tip the scales in favor of the visitors.

Should ASU return to Tempe with a victory, head coach Todd Graham would join some truly elite company, as since the Sun Devils joined the Pac-10 Conference in 1978, the only other time Arizona State began the season 4-0 on the road was the legendary 1996 season.

Familiar Faces

• ASU S Jordan Simone is a native of the state of Washington and attended Sammamish Skyline High School, as did UW WR Kasen Williams.

• UW LS Ryan Masel is an Arizona native and attended Phoenix Desert Vista High School, as did ASU LB Marcus Washington

• UW WR Taelon Parson is an Arizona native and attended Gilbert Perry High School, as did ASU DL Mo Latu

• UW WR Kendyl Taylor is an Arizona native and attended Chandler Hamilton High School, as did ASU DL Jaxon Hood and OL Christian Westerman. Taylor’s brother, Kerry, played at ASU from 2007-10.

• UW TE Derrick Brown attended Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta High School, as did ASU QB Coltin Gerhart

• UW DL Joe Mathis attended Upland (Calif.) High School, as did ASU S James Johnson

• UW TB Gavin McDaniel attended Coppell (Texas) High School, as did ASU WR Cameron Smith

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