ASU’s passing game will test Myles Bryant, JoJo McIntosh and the UW Huskies secondary. (AP)
For the first time this season, the No. 10 Washington Huskies have momentum behind them entering a game.
UW rode a dominant defensive performance to a 21-7 win over Utah on the road last week, making them 2-1 overall and 1-0 in Pac-12 play. Now they return home to host Arizona State (2-1 overall) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night, marking the first meeting between the two teams since the Sun Devils upset Chris Petersen’s team in the desert a season ago.
On the call for the ESPN broadcast of the game will be 710 ESPN Seattle’s own Brock Huard. As we do every week, we sat down with Brock as he shared his keys to the game for the Huskies.
1. Strength on strength in the passing game.
It will be strength on strength between the UW secondary and ASU’s wide receivers. Arizona State WR K’Neal Harry is as pretty as they get in college football. He’s 6 foot 4, smooth and strong, and ASU lives to get him the ball in every wide receiver and slot position in their system. Washington’s Jordan Miller and Byron Murphy will be tested in one-on-ones vs. Harry, Frank Darby and ASU’s other big WRs.
Auburn got UW on some fade balls in Week 1 as did Stanford last year in the Huskies’ loss on The Farm, and ASU will try to do the same. Quarterback Manny Wilkins was furious post-game last week that Arizona State didn’t take advantage of its passing strength and size on the perimeter in the loss to San Diego State. I doubt he will leave Husky Stadium without taking many more big swings and big shots down the field.
As for Wilkins, just like Tyler Huntley did at times with his legs last week for Utah, expect him to be on the move on third downs, especially against UW’s three- and four-man rushes. Wilkins looks for the home run downfield with a wide receiver group he trusts immensely, and his running and hurdling over defenders have already created 13 career rushing TDs.
2. Build on the intimidation factor from last week’s win.
The physical nature of the Huskies’ defense was phenomenal across the board at Utah. Linebackers Benning Potoa’e and Ben Burr-Kirven and everyone in the secondary left their purple and gold tattoos on the Utes’ offensive players, but just as importantly now every future opponent has game tape of those hits that they won’t be able to get out of their minds. We’ve seen how this level of intimidation benefited another defense in this town for years.
The UW secondary plays so cohesively and every one of the defensive backs – even the undersized Myles Bryant – loves to hit. Burr-Kirven is the rock in the middle, and unlike ASU, which loves to attack up front, the Huskies’ very big defensive linemen set the table by eating up gaps and standing their ground. Everything is hard-earned against the Huskies, and if you are going to score points you will have to sustain long drives because explosive/chunk plays are few and far between.
3. Commit to the run game.
ASU is the most aggressive defensive front UW will face the rest of the way in the regular season. The Sun Devils stunt, move, shift pre-snap and fly around post-snap to confuse and harass the QB and offensive line. They have been a top 5 unit at sacking the QB the last five years in college football and their 12 sacks in 2018 has them fourth in the FBS.
Communicating up front, getting a hat on a hat as much as possible, and simply sticking with the run is imperative for the Huskies. UW knows ASU will create negative plays with its style but also be vulnerable with five men constantly attacking on the move up front. Springing a big run play against this scheme is inevitable if you stick to the plan.
4. Be ready for a different defensive look from ASU.
With new head coach Herm Edwards taking over at ASU this year, the schemes – especially defensively – are very different. That said, while at Boise State, Chris Petersen faced defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales at San Diego State three times. Gonzales’ style was hard to beat, as the Broncos went just 1-2 against the Aztecs.
The three ASU defensive lineman will be moving, stunting and harassing the UW guards and center all game long. They are not quite as big and physically gifted as Auburn, but as the Huskies learned in the desert last year they are close and can wreck a game plan with penetration.
5. Look for opportunities in space.
For UW, this is a game where tailbacks Salvon Ahmed and Sean McGrew and wide receiver Andre Baccellia will have opportunities in space. The Huskies can use them all with bubble screens, reverses and fly sweeps against such an aggressive foe. Remember it was Ahmed a year ago that had a huge 50-yard run for a TD called back on a reverse for holding.