Huskies Insider Blog

Picking the Washington-Arizona State game

No. 14 Arizona State (5-1, 3-1 in Pac-12) at Washington (5-2, 1-2)

7:45 p.m. Saturday, Husky Stadium

The line: ASU by 3

TV: ESPN

Radio: 1000 AM/97.7 FM

In the stats: Here is Washington's team report, and Arizona State's

One week after losing to a team (Oregon) it hasn't beaten since 2003, Washington hosts a team it hasn't beaten since 2001.

Yes, Arizona State has won each of its last eight meetings against the Huskies, including UW's worst loss of the 2013 season, a 53-24 blowout in Tempe that capped a three-game losing streak.

The Huskies didn't really show up that day in any phase of the game, but ASU also proved to be a bad matchup for UW. And with quarterback Taylor Kelly returning from injury this week to lead an offense that operates at a pace similar to Oregon -- and though the Sun Devils move the ball differently, they move it just as well -- this feels like another really difficult task for UW's defense. They struggled to stop the Ducks and big running back Royce Freeman from running right at them a week ago. Can they slow Kelly and ASU's read-option, play-action-passing game?

And what about the Huskies' offense? Will redshirt freshman quarterback Troy Williams make his first collegiate start, or will Cyler Miles be cleared from concussion-like symptoms in time to play? And if Williams does play, how different will Washington's offense look, from a play-calling perspective?

Given the aforementioned, and a weather forecast that calls for a 70 percent chance of rain, it probably figures that the team that runs the ball most effectively will have the best chance to win. That's an obvious and simple conclusion, for sure. But one of the reasons the Huskies weren't able to compete with Oregon last week was because of their failures in the running game on both sides of the ball -- they couldn't slow the Ducks long enough to ever really have a chance to catch up, and when the Huskies did have the ball, they couldn't run it well enough to move the sticks or open up anything in the passing game.

ASU's defense isn't what it was last year -- the Sun Devils rank 92nd nationally against the run -- but they did limit Stanford to just 10 points last week and certainly have enough athletes to contend with what has so far been an inconsistent UW ground game. If redshirt freshman Lavon Coleman is healthy enough to play, he figures to be UW's top option out of the backfield, and Deontae Cooper should be a factor there, too. Beyond that, maybe Shaq Thompson and/or John Ross get a few carries in certain situations. It seems a bit of a hodgepodge at this point.

On the other side, ASU running back D.J. Foster averages 6.3 yards per carry, though has been more effective recently as a receiver out of the backfield. If Kelly truly is 100 percent, as he said earlier this week, then he figures to run more than backup Mike Bercovici did during his highly effective stint as ASU's starter. If the Huskies limit Foster and Kelly on the ground, they'll have a chance.

It should be noted, too, that the Sun Devils rank 11th nationally in passing yards per game. Bercovici was a big part of that, but Kelly is obviously just as dangerous -- and star receiver Jaelen Strong will be a handful for UW's secondary. Just like at Cal, if UW can get a few hits on Kelly early and make him uneasy in the pocket, that will make everyone's job easier. Forcing a couple turnovers will be key.

But I don't think we've seen enough from the Huskies' running game recently -- especially considering the uncertain status of Coleman and Dwayne Washington -- to believe they can keep up with whatever ASU does offensively.

The pick: Arizona State 31, Washington 21.

Christian Caple can be reached at christian.caple@thenewstribune.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple

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