Arizona State vs. Washington: Behind enemy lines with UW Dawg Pound

USA TODAY Sports

What's the secret behind Washington's improved defense? What the difference for Keith Price this season? We ask those questions and more in this week's Behind Enemy Lines.

One week after taking out their frustrations on the Colorado Buffaloes, the Arizona State Sun Devils are now faced with being on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Washington rolls into Tempe Saturday looking to right the ship following back-to-back losses to Oregon and Stanford. The Huskies have had a losing streak of at least three games each season since Steve Sarkisian took over in 2009 but this Washington team is an entirely different beast.

The Sun Devils will be tasked with taking down a group of motivated, highly-talented Huskies in what will be ASU's most challenging home game of the season. To learn more about one of the Pac-12's finest teams, we brought in Anthony Cassino of UW Dawg Pound. By the end of this Q&A, you'll know exactly why Todd Graham believes Washington is the toughest team Arizona State will play in 2013:

Q: What has been the difference for Bishop Sankey as runner this season? Additionally, what have you seen from Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the run blocking department?

Anthony Cassino: I don't know that there's really much difference between 2012 Sankey and 2013 Sankey. He was one of the better backs in the conference last season, he just didn't get the recognition he's getting this season. He has experienced the normal improvement you expect to see from season to season from a college player, and that has paired with the offensive line being healthier than it was a year ago as well as a year older and more experienced.

As a run blocker, ASJ is more than adequate. They frequently use him as a sort of 6th lineman when they go into unbalanced formations, and he is never over-matched. Given his size and agility combination, you'd expect him to be able to more than hold his own against the defenders he matches up against, and he does.

Q: On a similar note, it seems like Keith Price is a different player this season as well. We always knew he had the talent but what's your impression of his play in 2013? How much of it is having an elite run game to fall back on and how much of it is Price finally taking that next step as a playmaker?

I'd say it's mostly due to both Price's play and the change in the offensive philosophy. His accuracy has rebounded from a sub-par 2012 and is right up near 70% this season, and he's generally been smart with where he goes with the ball. His completion percentage has been bolstered by Steve Sarkisian's retooling of the offense to include more passes behind the line of scrimmage to guys like Jaydon Mickens and allowing them to do damage after the catch.

The biggest aid to Price though, has been his offensive line's improved play. Last season he was given basically no time to complete passes down field as his line was typically composed of one only one upperclassmen and a bunch of guys with no starting experience prior to the season. They were hit hard by injury along the OL heading into 2012, losing one projected starter in the spring to a medical retirement, two to injury nearly the entire year, and another for about half the season. In 2013 they've been almost completely healthy and the difference has been night and day.

Q: Besides Justin Wilcox being great at his job, what's the secret to Washington's vastly improved defense? Who are some of the more under-the-radar names getting the job done and what can you tell us about the Huskies' dominant linebacker unit?

The defensive improvement is primarily due to their ability to reload in the secondary. They lost a 1st round pick at corner in Desmond Trufant to the NFL, and somehow the corner position has been stronger this year. Sophomore Marcus Peters has played like an All-American, and Greg Ducre is one of those under the radar guys at the other corner spot and he has been lights out as well for most of the year. Aside from that, it's just more development of younger players, as all of the key pieces of the front seven are back this year.

The key to the linebacking crew's effectiveness is their versatility. The group is probably a little bit smaller than the average Pac-12 linebacking corp, but they make up for it with their speed and quickness.

Q: Obviously there's no shame in falling to Stanford and Oregon but what did you learn about Washington from their two most recent losses?

The Stanford loss showed us that the Huskies can go on the road and play with the upper level teams in the conference, which is something that they haven't done before this year under Sark. But with the game in Palo Alto as well as the week 2 win against Illinois in Chicago, there's some confidence that this team won't be the total pushover that it has been on the road in recent years.

Against Oregon, I'm not sure we learned much other than Oregon is really, really good.

Q: What's the best case scenario for Washington against Arizona State this Saturday?

The best case would be something like UW's game against Boise State. The offense would just overpower the ASU defense, while UW's defense keeps everything in front of it, limit big plays and the Huskies win comfortably.

Q: And what's the worst?

The worst case would be the role of USC in ASU's game with them. The Huskies defense looks completely hapless (which is not out of the question - they gave up scores to Oregon on the Ducks' final 4 meaningful possessions and 6 of the last 7) so that whatever the offense does is irrelevant.

Q: Finally, what do you expect to happen and what's your score prediction?

I'm expecting a close game, with a good amount of scoring. I give the Huskies a slight edge because of their defense, and I think they just end up making one or two more stops than ASU does, giving the Huskies a 42-38 victory.

To learn more about the Huskies, head on over to UW Dawg Pound.

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