Sun Devils Present Unique Challenge to UW

Las Vegas isn't too far from Tempe, Ariz., and something is up because the line on the Washington/Arizona State game has jumped from three to six points this week in favor of the Sun Devils. Usually, a jump like that can only mean that the gamblers have some information that they didn't have earlier, like an injury.

The only injury the Huskies have is to an offensive guard, and besides they're returning three players they didn't have against Arizona, so go figure. It can't be an injury.

It's probably that Washington hasn't won on the road since 2007. Maybe it's because ASU has won the last five in a row. It might also be that the Huskies will be playing on grass and have had to practice indoors because it's 100 degree in Tempe and a miserable 50 and raining in Seattle. It might be because of the playing conditions.

Maybe it's just that the bookmakers don't believe in this team. Whatever, lines still don't usually move that much in one week, especially for a team that has only beaten Idaho State, Louisiana-Monroe, and Washington State. Considering the Huskies' first six opponents are a combined 22-5 (not including their games against UW), it's obviously not the quality of opponents.

So we are left with the real answer; Washington are underdogs again and need to prove they can go on the road and win a conference game. Somehow, and in some way, the overachieving Huskies have to find a way to keep themselves in this game and win another one in the fourth quarter. That's been their style and it has worked in nearly half their games.

Dennis Erickson has always been a one-back offensive coach, with the quarterback under center. The only thing that has changed is he now has the quarterback in the shotgun more, but essentially runs the same one-back runs; the stretch play outside, the zone play inside, play action off the zone play, and a variety of one-back sets including trips, trey, and double wide slot. He doesn't run the counter as much as he used to, but they will throw in a reverse and do the bubble screen. Yikes!

It is on defense where the Sun Devils have changed. They currently lead the conference in just about every defensive category, but that is also understandable considering the quality of their schedule. I have only watched their games against Oregon State, Georgia, and WSU and I think their quarterbacks are big, strong kids who don't run very well. On their stretch hand off play, which is their main outside running play, they will block down and pull as many as two linemen and often times it includes their center. The zone play is their basic inside running play and it almost always go opposite of where the back lines up in the gun. There is little or no option off their zone except the bootleg or play action pass.

They have two real good receivers and I think they throw better than they run. Considering how Notre Dame and Arizona used the pass I would imagine they will throw at least 40 times. And that is a major challenge for the Husky defense this week - mounting a good pass rush and defending against their three and four-wide receiver sets. They did throw three interceptions against the Cougars, and if Washington wins the turnover battle they have a great chance of winning this game no matter what the oddsmakers think.

But it is on offense where the Huskies will really be challenged. The Sun Devils lead the conference in take-aways and have intercepted 11 balls and recovered five fumbles. They are currently plus-7 in turnover margin. The Huskies are plus-3 on the season and won their last game with two key interceptions at the end. Ball security will be at a premium on Saturday night.

The Sun Devil defense only had three sacks in their first four games and then dialed it up for 12 against the Cougars. They have held opponents to an average of less than 50 yards per game rushing, but that is mostly because Washington State managed a robust minus-57 yards on the ground. So it's a little tough to get a handle on their defense because their stats are a bit misleading.

The Huskies need to clean up their own kicking game and that will really help as well. They also would do well to eliminate their penalties because ASU is the worst team in the conference penalty-wise, committing an average of nine penalties for over 80 yards per game.

Those are the major challenges; eliminate mistakes, reduce penalties, be solid in special teams, and move the ball consistently against the best defense in the conference, especially in the run game. If the Husky defense can get some turnovers, get off the field, and continue to win in the red-zone, the Dawgs have a great chance of pulling yet another upset, no matter what the bookies think. Top Stories