ASU, fresh off an offensively sloppy but defensively masterful win at Washington State, has been dominant in the series during recent years, winning five straight matchups dating back to 2001, the greatest active drought of any Pac-10 team versus the Sun Devils.
Despite their recent success against the Huskies, the Sun Devils face a stiff challenge Saturday; one that may significantly determine the fate of the 2009 season as well as the level of fan support for the remainder of the year.
Projected Offensive Starting Lineup
QB 10 Jake Locker Jr. 6-3 226 Ferndale, Wash.
RB 1 Chris Polk RS-Fr. 5-11 210 Redlands, Calif.
FB 30 Paul Homer Sr. 6-1 237 Omaha, Neb.
WR 11 D'Andre Goodwin Jr. 5-11 183 Pacoima, Calif.
WR 3 James Johnson Fr. 6-0 193 Valley Center, Calif.
TE 80 Kavario Middleton So. 6-5 253 Lakewood, Wash.
LT 79 Ben Ossai Sr. 6-6 335 Bakersfield, Calif.
LG 52 Nick Wood So. 6-3 273 Poway, Calif.
C 65 Ryan Tolar Jr. 6-5 293 Pasco, Wash.
RG 56 Senio Kelemete So. 6-4 281 Seattle, Wash.
RT 71 Cody Habben Jr. 6-6 295 Sammamish, Wash.
It's no astonishing coincidence that Washington has had the surprise start that it has, given the health and continued development of quarterback Jake Locker. If the 2008 season proved anything about the Huskies it is that the team will go as does Locker, and sadly for Washington, the local phenom missed the majority of the season and the Huskies plummeted to a winless year. A new coaching regime has brought a new attitude to Seattle and Locker has been the poster boy for that change, while he has gained assistance from a variety of other offensive contributors thus far.
Ranked first in the league in total passing yards (1,423) and touchdown passes (10) with only four interceptions, the dual-threat junior has greatly rebounded from a sophomore season marred by injury and horrendous team play to guide the Huskies back to Pac-10 relevance.
In addition to Locker's contributions, redshirt freshman running back Chris Polk is perhaps on his way to a 1,000-yard season, with 486 yards on 115 carries (4.2 avg.) in six games, while Locker has also continued to be a legitimate weapon on the ground, totaling 199 yards on 60 carries (3.3 avg.) with a team-high four scores. Beyond Polk and Locker, there's a tremendous drop-off in rushing productivity, as those two have accounted for all but 40 of Washington's 725 net rushing yards, part of the reason why the Huskies rank eighth in the Pac-10 with a 120.8-yard rushing average. Four reserve running backs have earned minimal touches, combining to record 16 carries for 59 yards and one touchdown. The Huskies tend to employ the use of fullback Paul Homer, primarily for blocking purposes and as an occasional receiving option from the backfield.
In the passing game, true freshman James Johnson has been one of the league's top offensive rookies this season, catching a team-high 22 passes for 289 yards (13.1 avg.) with two scores. Sophomore receiver Jermaine Kearse (6-2, 198) ranks leads Washington with 298 receiving yards on 20 catches (14.9 avg.) with two touchdowns, while former five-star recruit, sophomore tight end Kavario Middleton is emerging into one of the Pac-10's top athletes at the position, having hauled in 17 passes for 158 yards (9.3 avg.) with a pair of touchdowns. D'Andre Goodwin, an honorable mention All-Pac-10 receiver a year ago, leads the Huskies with a 20.0-yards per reception average after receiving 11 passes for 220 yards, while sophomore Devin Aguilar (6-0, 184) sees ample time in Washington's three-receiver sets and has caught 10 passes for 150 yards (15.0 avg.) with two touchdowns.
With the season-ending injury suffered recently by guard Gregory Christine, the Husky offensive line will welcome a new starter, as Nick Wood, a defensive lineman until earlier this year; will supplant Christine as the top left guard. Luckily for Locker and the Huskies, continuity is found at the remaining four blocking spots as left tackle Ben Ossai, center Ryan Tolar, right guard Senio Kelemete and right tackle Cody Habben have each started every game this season at their respective position.
In terms of depth, senior Nick Scott (6-5, 318) is the backup left tackle while Ossai is listed as the top reserve left guard. Redshirt freshman center Mykenna Ikehara (6-2, 260), mammoth senior right guard Morgan Rosborough (6-6, 379) and redshirt freshman right tackle Drew Schaefer (6-4, 288) complete the remainder of the second-string offensive line for the Huskies.
To reiterate the theory that Locker's success drives that of the Huskies, if the Sun Devils can pressure him and prevent him from making plays on the ground, the Washington offense may stall; however if ASU is tricked by Locker's versatility, he has the talent and arsenal to capitalize.
Projected Defensive Starting Lineup
DE 66 Daniel Te'o-Nesheim Sr. 6-4 263 Waikoloa, Hawaii
DT 74 Alameda Ta'amu So. 6-3 348 Kent, Wash.
DT 99 Cameron Elisara Jr. 6-3 275 Spokane, Wash.
DE 59 Darrion Jones Sr. 6-2 256 Lynwood, Calif.
OLB 40 Mason Foster Jr. 6-2 244 Seaside, Calif.
ILB 9 Donald Butler Sr. 6-1 235 Sacramento, Calif.
OLB 22 E.J. Savannah Sr. 6-1 228 Bellevue, Wash.
FS 29 Nathan Fellner Fr. 6-1 198 Fresno, Calif.
SS 41 Victor Aiyewa Jr. 6-1 208 Fresno, Texas
CB 28 Quinton Richardson So. 6-0 203 Renton, Wash.
CB 6 Desmond Trufant Fr. 6-0 172 Tacoma, Wash.
Though Washington has shown a knack for making clutch defensive plays and buckling down in the red zone, in total the "D" has struggled; the Huskies rank among the bottom in the Pac-10 in all major defensive areas as they stand ninth in total defense (418.0), rushing defense (161.3) and pass efficiency defense (144.2) and eighth in pass defense (256.7), opponent first downs (127), opponent third-down conversion (37.7 pct.) and sacks (eight).
The clear strength of the Husky defense is in its stellar group of linebackers, led by senior Donald Butler who is tied for the conference lead in total tackles (51), while ranking fourth in the league in tackles-for-loss (7.5) and forced fumbles (two). Opportunistic outside linebacker Mason Foster, who allowed the Huskies to end their meeting with Arizona on the right foot a week ago, ranks second on the team and ninth in the Pac-10 with 42 tackles and a team-high five pass breakups. Senior E.J. Savannah, one of the conference's top ‘backers in 2007 before a season-long suspension last year, has returned with a vengeance, rating third on the squad behind Butler and Foster with 33 total stops.
Junior Matt Houston (6-0, 220) and senior Josh Gage (6-2, 225) are reserves at the two outside linebacker spots, while sophomore Cort Dennison (6-1, 220) is the primary reserve for Butler in the middle.
The Husky defensive front hasn't had widespread success this season, as Washington rates among the bottom two in the league in rush defense and quarterback sacks.
Lifetime starter Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, one of the Pac's most accomplished defensive linemen, leads the Huskies from his defensive end spot with two sacks and his 19 tackles are tops among defensive linemen. Tackle Cameron Elisara has totaled 13 tackles, including two for loss and one sack, however Washington's other two starting defensive linemen have had limited contributions as end Darrion Jones and tackle Alameda Ta'amu have combined for only 11 tackles and 1.5 tackles-for-loss, despite Ta'amu having started every game and Jones earning two first-string appearances.
True freshman Talia Crichton (6-3, 229) has started three games at defensive end and sophomore Kalani Aldrich (6-7, 250) has earned one start, but they have combined for only three tackles this year. Sophomore Everrette Thompson (6-6, 262) backs up Te'o-Nesheim and has posted two tackles so far.
At tackle, sophomore Tyrone Duncan (6-2, 272) and junior De'Shon Matthews (6-4, 261) provide depth.
In the secondary, true freshman Nathan Fellner plans to earn his second straight start at free safety, while either junior Victor Aiyewa, who started against Arizona, or Nate Williams (6-1, 208), the starter in the first five games before an injury, will earn first-team reps at strong safety.
Williams leads all Husky defensive backs with 26 tackles, while Aiyewa has chipped in 16 and three pass breakups. Fellner had seen limited action before being called into the starting lineup last week, totaling five tackles in three games on the year.
Sophomore Quentin Richardson has started every game at one cornerback spot, while true freshman Desmond Trufant, who strongly considered attending ASU, looks to earn his fourth consecutive start. Richardson has tallied 23 stops this year while Trufant has collected 17 tackles and last week's game-ending interception. Behind Richardson and Trufant stand junior Vonzell McDowell, who started the season's first three games, and freshman Adam Long.
Beside its linebackers, Washington does not present a fearsome defensive group, a matchup ASU can take advantage of if Sun Devil quarterback Danny Sullivan can perform efficiently and the team can avoid defeating itself with turnovers and offensive penalties.
Projected Special Teams Lineup and Preview
K 17 Erik Folk So. 5-11 185 Woodland Hills, Calif.
P 46 Will Mahan Jr. 5-11 200 Bakersfield, Calif.
KR 82 Jordan Polk So. 5-8 162 Portland, Ore.
28 Quinton Richardson So. 6-0 203 Renton, Wash.
PR 23 Johri Fogerson So. 6-1 191 Kent, Wash.
Much like his brother Nick, formerly of Arizona and currently with the Dallas Cowboys, Erik Folk has emerged into one of the Pac-10's elite kickers, having made nine-of-10 attempts this year, including the game-winner against USC, while first-year punter Will Mahan, a junior college transfer this offseason, ranks seventh in the league with a 41.4-yard average on 23 total punts.
The Huskies haven't had many significant plays on special teams returns, as Quinton Richardson averages 19.4 yards on 19 kick returns and Johri Fogerson has both of Washington's punt returns this year, collecting 23 and 14 yards on the two runbacks.
There seems to be as much excitement in Seattle as there has been since the Marques Tuiasosopo days at Washington, however many Pac-10 eyes will be on how the Huskies can perform in league play, especially on the road. This contest certainly presents a greater challenge than any fan would have expected at the start of the season, and there is no doubt that this game is crucially pivotal for the Sun Devils as they look to gain a winning league record.
Few will predict that ASU will repeat its 12-sack defensive performance from last week, but the group as a whole hopefully will remain possessed by motivation, and if an early tone can be set by the Sun Devil defense on Jake Locker and the Washington offense, that will greatly limit the amount of work necessary from Danny Sullivan and crew. But if Washington is able to successfully move the ball and score in the game's early moments, ASU will suffer if needing to turn primary game control over to its offense.
Injury Report and Lineup Notes
- Offensive lineman Garth Gerhart is sidelined with a toe injury.
- Wide Receiver Chris McGaha, who didn't practice this week, and kicker Thomas Weber are expected to see some playing time.
- Cornerback Omar Bolden is questionable. Terell
Carr is expected to start again in his place. LeQuan Lewis will move back from wide receiver to bolster depth at his original position. - Quarterback Danny Sullivan will start. Quarterback Brock Osweiler is expected to continue and see the field early in the game.
Five Questions: Arizona State vs. Washington
- How efficiently will ASU quarterback Danny Sullivan – and the offense as a whole – be able to play after a six turnover performance last year?
- Will ASU's top receivers – namely Chris McGaha and Kyle Williams – be at full health by kickoff?
- What type of role will kicker Thomas Weber be able to provide?
- What can be expected of true freshman wide receiver/kick returner Jamal Miles in what is expected to be his collegiate debut?
- How can ASU's defense follow its 12-sack performance from a week ago?
- Center Gregory Christine was a former high school teammate of ASU quarterback Samson Szakacsy and the two have also collaborated on musical recordings.
- Offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto was previously an assistant coach at ASU under head coaches Bruce Snyder and Dennis Erickson (1992-99, 2007-08).
- Graduate assistant coach Brent Miller was a tight end at ASU (2004-07).
- Linebacker Kurt Mangum graduated from Chandler (Ariz.) High School but also played at Chandler Hamilton High School, teaming with current Sun Devils Colin Parker, Gerell Robinson and Kerry Taylor on Hamilton's 2006 state champion squad.
- Defensive back Matt Mosley, who originally committed to ASU before signing with Washington, is a Tempe native and graduate of Corona del Sol High School.
- Defensive tackle Tyrone Duncan attended the same high school as former ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter.
- Fullback Kimo Makalua attended Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii, the same school as ASU wide receiver Brian Matsumoto.
- Running back Johri Fogerson was a high school basketball teammate of ASU guard Jamelle McMillan at Seattle (Wash.) O'Dea High School.